State’s largest teachers’ union slams school choice legislation ‘checks to millionaires’

Empty school classroom in cartoon style. Education concept witho
The legislation that could transform education is speeding toward the Governor's desks.

The oncoming reality that all students will be offered school vouchers regardless of income has the state’s largest teacher’s union pushing back, saying universal vouchers will “make a bad situation worse.”

Legislation (HB 1) approved Friday that would transform the state’s education system, potentially transferring hundreds of millions — and some say billions — to private schools, is rocketing toward reality. The Senate’s version (SB 202) is expected to win approval this week and head to the Governor’s desk.

Controversy has erupted over how much the plan is going to cost, but the Florida Education Association (FEA) says the vast majority of Florida’s children who attend public school can’t afford more resources drained away from the public system.

“This bill is going to make life tougher for a lot of kids,” said Andrew Spar, FEA President. “It will mean fewer resources in their schools, and fewer teachers and staff to meet their day-to-day needs.”

The teacher’s union says that Florida is already 44th in the country for per-pupil spending. Statistics also put the average state’s teachers’ pay at 48th in the nation, according to the National Education Association’s latest state-by-state ranking released in April.

The cost has been controversial because it adds new categories for those eligible to receive the average $8,000-per-student voucher. It’s hard to predict how many families will choose to apply for the new benefit, but the new categories eligible to receive it, beyond the current recipients,  are:

— Students now in public schools whose families are making more than 400% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), which is more than $111,000 a year for a family of four.

— Students who have never attended public school whose parents are making more than 400% FPL.

— Homeschoolers who are willing to submit to some level of testing and curriculum monitoring.

— Special education students now on the state’s waiting list for special education vouchers, which can pay up to tens of thousands, depending on the child’s disability.

The House version anticipates that 50% of students who have never attended public schools will apply to get the public funding. Analysis of the House bill puts the new cost at $210 million. The Senate analysis puts the new cost of the same expansion at $646.5 million.

The Florida Policy Institute, analyzing the experience of the only other state to implement this benefit — Arizona — says there are billions in new costs.

Whether the Governor will sign the legislation is yet another question. The new benefit went far beyond what Arizona anticipated.

After his State of State Address earlier this month, Gov. Ron DeSantis said while he understands the thinking behind universalizing the school voucher to all, there’s only so much money.

“If you have a family that’s very high income, they have school choice, they don’t necessarily need to be eligible for the program,” DeSantis said.

The FEA’s news release calls the legislation tantamount to “writing checks to millionaires with kids in exclusive private schools, while the public schools educating the children of everyday Floridians struggle.”

Both the Senate and the House versions of the bill have items supporters say will put public schools on a more even playing field with their private counterparts as they compete for students. The provisions would make it easier for teachers to qualify and loosen requirements for student transportation. But the FEA dismissed those as window dressing.

“We aren’t fooled by false promises for future deregulation of public schools because we see all the additional burdens that are being placed on teachers, staff and students during this legislative session,” the release says.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].


  • Rob Petrie

    March 20, 2023 at 7:07 am

    Attention teachers, I’m going to tell you what you already know. The union is behind everything wromg with public schools. The hell holes you go to every day will get more “hellish” as the days, weeks, and months roll by. You will not survive more years in those hell holes. Get out, run away, flee while you still can.
    The private schools have already recruted the cream of the crop of the public school teacher’s leaving just you OK teachers still in the public hell holes. You know what I just said to be true, you watched the superstars leave, you went to their going away parties and thought about following your super star heros to the private school glorious teaching and learning enviornment.
    Well guess what the private school pillers of education still need more teachers. We have enough superstars and are opening up recruitment to you OK teachers. Apply today we will elevate you to superstar status within your first year!
    Get out Get out for God’s sake get the #ell out before its too late for you and your families.

    • Ocean Joe

      March 20, 2023 at 7:58 am

      Didn’t get the best English teachers.
      It’s “pillars” not pillers.
      The only thing our public schools need is ramped up discipline, removal of disrupters to reform schools, which would vastly improve learning and teaching conditions for all.
      Privatizing education and giving vouchers to folks who don’t need them is a wasteful avoidance of one of government’s major responsibilities.

  • It’s Complicated

    March 20, 2023 at 7:52 am

    The conditions placed upon home educators will likely dissuade many of the parents of those 100K+ children from applying. Home educators are already monitored to some degree by local School Superintendents.

  • Richard Bruce

    March 20, 2023 at 9:31 am

    Teacher’s union is fine getting paid by those millionaires they dislike. Time for all of us to control where and how education funding is spent. If Union members think they are the best teachers, then they can compete in the marketplace.

  • Elliott Offen

    March 20, 2023 at 10:48 am

    These private schools will be bullsht factories that teach religious nonsense, historically false information via lying by omission, nationalist propaganda, and maybe even guest speakers the likes of DeSantis himself. Maybe even Trump will show up if he’s not in jail. Social studies will not be taught.

Comments are closed.


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