Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Monday in Miami that establishes an Education Savings Accounts (ESA) program under which every family in the state can receive up to $8,000 to cover education expenses outside of the public school system.
“The state of Florida is number one when it comes to education freedom and education choice,” DeSantis said at a press conference.
The governor said the legislation is the “largest expansion of school choice in the history of these United States.”
HB 1 expands the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program to include all Florida K-12 students and emphasizes parents are the individuals who direct their child’s education.
Gov. DeSantis Signs School Choice Legislation https://t.co/WMWAs96csy
— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) March 27, 2023
DeSantis explained the effects of parental choice in Florida:
What’s happened is over the years as Florida has embraced parental choice, education freedom, you’ve seen other entities respond, we now have over 360,000 students in charter schools, and our school districts, particularly here in Miami Dade County, have embraced choice within the school districts. So if you look at all the students in the state of Florida that are utilizing some type of Choice Program, private scholarship charter, intra district choice, it totals 1.3 million students across our state are utilizing some type of choice program that empowers parents that’s providing a parent with options to be able to find the best school for the child.
The legislation defines a “personalized education program” to mean “the sequentially progressive instruction of a student directed by his or her parent to satisfy the attendance requirements” of state statutes “while registered with an eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization.”
With the measure, first priority will be given to K-12 students from households with incomes that do not exceed 185 percent of the federal poverty line. Next, priority will be given to households with incomes that do not exceed 400 percent of the poverty line.
“Now, there’ll be primarily, there’ll be a preference for low and middle income families,” the governor said. “But at the end of the day, we fundamentally believe that the money should follow the student and it should be directed based on what the parent thinks is the most appropriate education program for their child.”
More Republican-led states have moved to universal school choice with Arizona being the first state to do so.
Florida House Speaker Paul Renner said the new law provides an “exit door” for families across the state.
“You know, the old way of thinking was like the Hotel California: Your kid could go into the school they were zip coded for, but they could never leave, no matter whether that school met their needs or not,” Renner said.
“And so school choice means there’s also an exit door and if you’re doing a great job, more people enter through the entrance door, and if you’re not, you’ll go through the exit,” he explained. “That’s what school choice really does and empowers innovation and competition.”
DeSantis also stated the bill will assist teachers “by eliminating barriers and red tape in the profession.”
With the legislation, the length of a temporary teaching certificate will be expanded from three to five years, with the general knowledge requirements for teachers also being waived.
Still, the Florida Education Association (FEA) condemned the legislation with the common narrative of teachers’ unions that allowing taxpayer funds to follow the child, rather than the government system, will weaken public schools.
“The universal voucher bill signed today by Gov. DeSantis will drain billions of taxpayer dollars away from the neighborhood public schools that nearly 90 percent of Florida’s parents trust to educate their children,” said FEA President Andrew Spar in a statement.
— Florida Education Association (@FloridaEA) March 27, 2023
“Additionally, this new law will hand over that public money to unaccountable, corporate-run private schools,” Spar added. “Average Floridians will be helping pay for millionaires and billionaires to send their kids to elite private schools that hand-select their students. Once again, we see Gov. DeSantis putting his political ambitions ahead of Floridians, including our students. We are deeply concerned that children will pay the ultimate price for the governor’s politics.”
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Susan Berry, PhD is national education editor at The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Ron DeSantis” by Ron DeSantis.