Florida House unveils universal voucher bill, top priority of Paul Renner

'HB 1 will give every parent the freedom to customize their children’s education with a learning program that fits their unique needs.'

Parents of a K-12 public school-age child in Florida would be eligible to receive a voucher to send their student to a private school next year under a bill filed in the Florida House.

The bill (HB 1) is a top priority for House Speaker Paul Renner, a Palm Coast Republican, who touted the measure at a press conference Thursday.

“School choice empowers parents, creates competition, fosters innovation and raises the level of excellence in all of our schools,” Renner said. “HB 1 will give every parent the freedom to customize their children’s education with a learning program that fits their unique needs.”

However, there was immediate pushback from House Democrats, who decried the bill as an erosion of funding and support for public schools.

“This (bill) is a continuation of Republican attacks on our public education system that helped create the American Dream by providing education to the rich and the poor alike,” said House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell of Tampa. “Our public school system truly is the great equalizer but my Republican colleagues clearly do not believe that it should continue to be.”

Starting with Gov. Jeb Bush in 1999, Florida has led efforts to install and expand school choice programs. The bill would remove nearly all eligibility parameters on the Family Empowerment Scholarship program, which is currently limited to households earning at or below 375% of the federal poverty level.

If the bill passes, a family of four with an income of more than $104,063 per year would be eligible for scholarships worth $7,250 to $7,850 per student. The bill, though, will keep the priority for handing out scholarships in current law that are given to households making less than 185% of the federal poverty level, or $51,338 per year for a family of four.

Renner said other portions of the bill would eliminate the 9,399 special needs students on a waiting list for scholarships serving disabled students. An exact funding level for the bill isn’t yet available.

Moreover, the bill allows parents who home-school their children to be paid under the scholarship program, although that’s limited to 10,000 students.

Renner said he was unconcerned about opening the program up to allow wealthy families who might already send their children to private schools to receive taxpayer funds. He noted the preference given for households making 185% of the federal poverty level and said preference and funding would go toward clearing the waiting list for special needs scholarships.

“Universal choice is universal choice; we don’t pick winners and losers,” Renner said. “However, the bill sets forth the priority for people that have limited income to receive scholarships. It also puts at the front of the line — and the lion’s share of the funding for this bill is for — children with unique abilities to make sure we clear that waitlist.”

The measure quickly drew support from other House leaders and school choice advocates.

“The goal of providing more choice, more freedom and greater opportunity for families and students is paramount to educational success and moving Florida forward,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Tom Leek, an Ormond Beach Republican. “I eagerly look forward to working with the Speaker and my House colleagues on this effort.”

Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a free-market advocacy group backed by industrialist Charles Koch, has been pushing for universal vouchers for eight years.

“These proposals, including universal education savings accounts, represent commonsense reforms that will help parents and students obtain more freedom and educational choice,” said Skylar Zander, AFP Florida state director. “While Florida has long led the nation on the path toward educational freedom, other states have recently taken aim at one-upping us.”

No similar bill has been filed in the Senate, but Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, a Naples Republican, said she backs the proposal.

“This historic legislation empowers parents, ensuring they direct the significant funding Florida taxpayers are dedicating to education to the best education program for their child,” Passidomo said in a released statement. “Here in the free State of Florida, we trust parents to make the best decisions for their children. This visionary bill ensures school choice remains a reality for every child in every family across our great state by providing parents the chance to guide how and where the funding for their children’s education is spent.”

Renner said that while Gov. Ron DeSantis hasn’t seen the specifics of this bill, he’s been supportive of school choice expansion bills in the past.

Gray Rohrer


  • Paul Passarelli

    January 19, 2023 at 3:29 pm

    Let’s see: One year of school @ $7250/student X 24 students per classroom = $174,000 per classroom year.

    Let’s pay the teacher $75k (package), leaving $99k. For every 10 classrooms, let’s hire one Administrative clerk, one Librarian, and one Floater each @ $75k. That leaves $990k-$225k = $765k per wing/year. For two wings, we hire a Principal, a Nurse, a Classicist, and a Resource manager all at $75k That leaves $1,530 – $300 = $1,230k per year for O&M for a building enclosing 480 students, and 30 workers.

    That is tight. But there is great news. The tuition voucher I used for the calculation is the *lowest* valued one for “a family of four with an income of more than $104,063”. The next step up adds $600/year which is more than enough to cover “books” in this age of the internet.

    My point is not to submit a fully fleshed business plan for a private academy, but just to put some real world numbers on what my elementary school might look like today.

    Personally, I believe that parents should be the ones paying for their children’s education. But nothing I say is going to break the model of taxpayer funded schools in the near future. The only think that will unseat that bureaucratic, union driven, nightmare is a privatized system that kicks its collective ass.

    If parents contribute just $2400/year to the cost of education, that’s nearly a 30% increase in the available budget. In real world terms that a *HUGE* step-up in the basis and one that could provide for an enormous boost in sophistication. Double that and you are in the range of the the better private schools. Granted the best elite academies today are probably in the $20k+ range, but that is mostly due to very limited number of seats they have available, and that their campuses are valued in the tens of millions of dollars in old money.

    But competition brings vitality. So as long as the new private schools don’t become greedy and instantly start demonstrating ‘rent seeking’ behaviours, there can be a second renaissance of academic installations & student achievement.

  • Victoria

    January 19, 2023 at 5:13 pm

    You’ve left out heat and air conditioning, phy ed, security, art supplies, and counselors/disability specialists. You don’t have an admissions director, nor do you have an endowment manager to massage parents’ egos. You need to build a music wing. You need competitive sports and travel teams. You are competing with schools supported by religious institutions and you don’t have a building that meets state codes. Stay in the public system and make it work for all.

    • Paul Passarelli

      January 19, 2023 at 8:21 pm

      You didn’t read. I wrote: “$1,230k per year for O&M for a building enclosing 480 students, and 30 workers.”

      That’s $102,500/month — more than enough to cover utilities & security.

      You also missed: “… just to put some real world numbers on what my elementary school might look like today.”

      Based on what you wrote, Victoria, I’m guessing you are a Public School Teacher. Am I right?

      • Elliott Offen

        January 21, 2023 at 12:59 pm

        All the kids with nut job parents will end up in one school. How convenient for conservatives and how inconvenient for the poor kids. Later they might be resentful and turn into hardcore leftists. Everything conservatives do backfires. Iraq, Trump, deregulation of Wall Street, and all the far right propaganda and hoax accusations and investigations.

        • Paul Passarelli

          January 23, 2023 at 1:54 pm

          I find it satisfying when a Fake Alias demonstrates another area where the liar behind the poster is not only ignorant, but clueless as well.

  • Victoria

    January 20, 2023 at 10:36 am

    No, I feel like you are insulting me, but I am not a public school teacher. I did teach for one hideous semester in a charter school that lacked the basics that all public schools have, such as safe bus zones, library books, and experienced and qualified teachers. My apologies for not noting the small “k” at the end of your number $1,230k which I would have written as $1.2 million in my MBA program.

  • Paul Passarelli

    January 20, 2023 at 3:23 pm

    Charter Schools *ARE* Public Schools.

    1. a written grant by a country’s legislative or sovereign power, by which a body such as a company, college, or city is founded and its rights and privileges defined.
    “the town received a charter from the Emperor”

    Thank you for proving my point. People are essentially taught to believe that a ‘charter school’ is somehow special or even superior in some way. Nothing could be further from the truth. Charter schools are a technique that corrupt Boards of Education and the super corrupt Department of Education bureaucracies use to extract more taxes and hide problems inherent in the system. And the General Public is too uneducated to detect the con.

    Since you only did a one semester gig, I’m sure you will concur that ‘charter’ when applied to school is an antonym of ‘better’.

    I’m sorry I typo’d and missed the ‘k’s. I specifically didn’t want to introduce new ‘units’ i.e. Millions, because most people simply have no real idea what a million dollars is! Seriously. We see it every day. I was surprised that this story didn’t try to obfuscate the facts using that technique. Most media outlets are guilty of doing that to confuse readers, because it usually works.

    Adding on, to ny initial point. The reason private schools are lacking is because the public (aka government) schools are the default option for most parents.

    Normally I loathe the idea of the government putting money on the table for everyone to grab, but the way I see it regarding schools, is that the Teachers Unions are the ones that have erected the barbed wire around *their* feeding troughs.

    I see school vouchers as wire cutters and their champions as the ones shouting at government to pick up all this messy money that is attracting vermin to the troughs and put it in the table where everyone can see it!


    • Elliott Offen

      January 21, 2023 at 12:55 pm

      👆If this is what private education would turn a person into… anti-government terrorist supporter Paul Pizza.. I’ll pass. These so called private schools will teach religion in some way, shape, or form, and be conservative factories. Younger people will be exposed to nothing outside the box at least. At most, they’ll be taught watered down or distorted versions of the past and present. Then when they get to college they’ll be shocked at how naive and behind that they are in critical thinking.

    • Fat Cammack

      January 21, 2023 at 1:51 pm

      Caio my ass. You’d be lynched by the left in Europe. Only the AFD or Meloni Baloney would have a glass of cheap wine with you. Hell, you’re further right than that so maybe not. Go on over there and give them your money. They’ll do much more with it than you.

      • Paul Passarelli

        January 23, 2023 at 1:51 pm

        Who said anything about religion?

        the Fake Alias wrote: “… they’ll be taught watered down or distorted versions of the past and present. Then when they get to college they’ll be shocked at how naive and behind that they are in critical thinking.”

        Wow! Right from the Joseph Goebbels playbook — “always accuse your enemies of what you are doing yourself”

  • I am that guy

    January 23, 2023 at 4:23 pm

    If teachers did their JOBS teaching reading, science and math instead of CRT they might get the money they deserve. Also teachers need to be able to drag trouble makers out of the classroom by their heals when the little relics are preventing others from learning and are demonstrating violent behavior. People are tired of having to tolerate relics at the expense of their kids and staff.

    • Vince Edwards

      January 23, 2023 at 8:49 pm

      It is against the law to drag children out of the classroom. That is not teaching. As to teaching CRT, you might be better informed if you stop watching right-wing media and listening to the Governor. CRT is not taught in any classroom in Florida except perhaps in a law school elective course.

      • Paul Passarelli

        January 24, 2023 at 12:05 am

        A lot of things are not ‘taught’ in the classroom, but they are used to indoctrinate children.

        You are playing with semantics to try to defend an untenable position.

        In your opinion who exactly is ‘in charge’ of the classroom? Is it the 12 year old hellion or the 28 year old teacher? Because at some point the little shits that figure out that they are untouchable are the ones ruining it for the entire class, and it only takes one to destroy the prospects for thirty.

        • Vince Edwards

          January 24, 2023 at 10:47 am

          Indoctrination belongs to religious institutions, the military, and foreign relations.

          Today’s teachers teach children to think for themselves. Teaching is messy, and very difficult. It is based on building a relationship with the students. Gifted teachers spend the first two weeks establishing those relationships. Even “the little shits” that you refer to are reachable with the right project, software or leadership job in the classroom. But the good teachers are leaving the classroom in droves due to long hours and parent interference.

  • Paul Passarelli

    January 24, 2023 at 11:41 am

    you wrote: “… parent interference.” Wow! That’s just too much. It’s a parent’s *responsibility* to educate their children. It’s a teacher’s job to teach lessons that provide sound data, and a broader perspective than some parents can manage.

    The schools should be a place of order, facts, data, discipline, rigor, responsibility, accountability, respect, etc. The problem is that the schools have become a place of “entitlement”, “inclusion”, “sameness”, “compliance”, “uniformity”, “equity”, and as I wrote *indoctrination*, but not in the way these words were originally defined.

    You parrot the talking point that: “Today’s teacher teach children to think for themselves.” That is so painfully false that it makes my ears hurt. Today’s teachers teach to the tests that the children must pass to bring additional funds into the districts. They are denied history, they are denied effective mathematical tools, they are denied the physical sciences, they are denied the dismal science in favor of MET, practical skills like how to clean house, and so many other things that they are emerge at age 18 and are nearly as useless as the six year olds they were 12 years earlier.

    I do not keep it a secret that I believe the entire Public (aka Government) School System should be abolished. Every Public Union Teacher fired, and every remnant of that system obliterated. Not because I’m opposed to education, but because the system is so deeply corrupt that purging it is effectively impossible.

    Then it needs to be rebuilt from the bottom up. Based on *private* schools that compete for the students that will bear the responsibilities of the future. That doesn’t just mean gifted kids that will be doctors & lawyers, but the kids that will fill in the gaps.

    As of 2023 it is *critical* to understand that Artificial Intelligence is pushing us as a society to the edge of the cliff. In a few years (a decade and a half at the most) menial jobs will be *OBSOLETE*. The Pandemic proved that many workers can be remote. How long before the work they did can be phoned in by an AI instead of a real person? Other tasks, like truck drivers are likely to be eliminated even sooner.

    The current system of education was obsolete four decades ago. In another two it will be a millstone around the necks of the children to come.

  • Vince Edwards

    January 24, 2023 at 1:21 pm

    Yes, parent interference. Examples, since you don’t seem to have spent much time with the kids in the bottom half of a class which is where new teachers land.
    + When a child copies 100% of a paper from the child in the desk next to her, receiving a “0” and the parent comes in screaming and the principal agrees to her demands that you call her twice weekly for the rest of the year to discuss her child rather than her logging on to the grade and behavior info system.
    + When a parent ignores all communication throughout the semester until the day grades are posted, arriving at the school office yelling.

    Private schools don’t want these parents who are clueless and sometimes illiterate. The only education their kids get is from their teacher or a TV set. Facts and data won’t fill in the gap when the parents are mentally ill, or drug-addicted or overwhelmed. Families are in catastrophe status now in many cases. This is an urgent problem.

    The unions in Florida are weak; they are there because they provided liability insurance to the teachers.

    Yes, AI will change a lot, favoring those who interface well with machines.

  • Paul Passarelli

    January 24, 2023 at 1:43 pm

    Hi Vince,

    You seem to think that I’m disagreeing with you. I acknowledge that the points you just made are 100% spot on.

    What is the solution? Social Promotion? That’s not solution , it’s a passing of the buck.

    So, who is *responsible*? I say it’s the parents. But here’s the thing. Until those addled parents are confronted with the reality of failing their children and the associated consequences, *NOTHING WILL CHANGE*. The current system isn’t handling the problem, but it is throwing vast sums of money at it without effect.

    Here’s the thing. School age kids, meaning six-year olds, are a remarkably uniform raw material. Sure there is a bell curve distribution of abilities, but it more resembles the distribution of height & weight at that age.

    If their education begins well at that age they can all be brought up to standard far more easily. And if there are certain kids that are deficient then just like in manufacturing it makes more sense to identify them early than later. If that means failing them and retaining them so be it. The parents can object, but the parents only coin is the voucher. There are no ‘government bureaucrats’ gaming the system. If the kids failure is due to the parents failure, then the blame can be placed.

    Look, I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. And it’s certain that there will be bruised egos. But unless there are a lot more tough SOBs like me, the the softies will eventually drag the whole thing into the muck. Or, I should say; the softies have already dragged the whole system down into the muck.

Comments are closed.


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