Teachers union says new voucher program will drain nearly $1B from public schools

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But the program's Republican backers say the FEA's calculations don't check out.

Florida’s new voucher program could be a billion dollar drain on the state’s public schools over the next five years, according to research from the Florida Education Association (FEA).

The report was first highlighted in Thursday’s Sunburn.

But the program’s Republican backers say the FEA’s calculations don’t check out.

The FEA is a union that works on behalf of teachers and public education workers. The group has starkly opposed putting increased money toward the state’s private schools.

The newest voucher program, dubbed “Family Empowerment Scholarships,” will offer up to 18,000 new vouchers at an estimated cost of about $131 million.

That’s money the FEA argues could instead be sent to Florida’s public schools. The group’s researchers looked at existing private voucher programs, such as the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, and projected a 21 percent growth rate year-to-year for the new program.

With costs increasing at that rate, the FEA’s numbers show more than $986 million will be spent on the program through the 2023-24 school year.

The new program’s supporters have pushed back on that math before, arguing the money is following students. In other words, they argue if a child utilizes the new scholarship to move from a public to a private school, that public school no longer needs funding to support that student.

But the FEA maintains the state’s public schools will get burned.

“The state legislators who backed vouchers and our Governor need to learn some addition. It appears that the only mathematical concepts they understand are subtraction and division,” said FEA President Fed Ingram.

“Subtracting money from local public school budgets and creating division in communities by failing to support the schools attended by 90 percent of Florida’s students does not serve the best interests of this state’s families.”

Republican lawmakers pushed the measure (SB 7070) this past Session over the objection of many Democrats. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill in early May.

Rob Kriete, President of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, also hammered the program.

“Right now, we have classrooms without teachers and education professionals leaving the field in record numbers, while more students than ever before are attending public schools in Hillsborough County,” Kriete said.

“How is our district supposed to deal with these issues if the Legislature keeps taking money out of our budget?”

The money to fund the Family Empowerment Scholarships comes from the state’s per-student funding pool.

The FEA also broke down the “lost” income by county. Miami-Dade County easily led the state, with the FEA’s projections showing their portion of that pot will dip by nearly $236 million over the next 5 years.

Orange County was second at more than $96 million, followed by Broward at nearly $95 million, Duval just shy of $72 million, and Hillsborough at just over $53 million.

The program aims to address a 13,000 student waitlist for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship. GOP lawmakers say a lack of funding led to otherwise-qualified students being unable to take advantage of that scholarship.

Ryan Nicol

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to [email protected]


One comment

  • Jan

    May 16, 2019 at 10:46 am

    Unlike a private school, a public school cannot pick and choose it’s students, nor can they turn any away.

    They have to “take them big, small, rich, poor, gifted, exceptional, abused, frightened, confident, homeless, rude, and brilliant.” (Excerpt from “The Blueberry Story.”

    They take them with ADHD, junior rheumatoid arthritis, learning disabilities, emotional disabilities, vision and hearing impaired, autistic, physically handicapped, mentally challenged and English as their second language. Even the undocumented, they have to take them all!

    And that is why a public school is not a business. It’s school.

    To be sure, there are some fine private schools, but parents may be disappointed if their children with “scholarships” do not meet the admission requirements or if the scholarship money from the state does not cover the full cost of tuition, books, uniforms, fees, transportation, etc.

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