Gov. DeSantis signs bill expanding school voucher program
Ron DeSantis gets his bill-signing pen ready.

Democratic critics and others have derided the expansion as 'checks for millionaires.'

Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed legislation making private school vouchers available to all, regardless of income.

The legislation (HB 1) was approved on the Senate floor Thursday and clearly was on the fast track to become law. Democrats’ efforts to introduce growth caps, set up income limits or demand more reporting from private schools getting public money were rebuffed, and the legislation passed largely as originally proposed.

DeSantis, at the bill-signing held at Christopher Columbus High School in Miami, a Catholic school, credited the introduction of school choice 25 years ago with the overall improvement in student performance throughout the state. That was echoed in the remarks of House Speaker Paul Renner, who made it clear that this was his top legislative priority.

“Twenty-five years ago we were at the bottom of the barrel,” Renner said. “With school choice and that competition … we have excellent public schools, in part because of school choice.”

Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. also saluted the way the legislation will loosen some public school regulations so they can compete with private schools that have barely any regulations beyond health and safety.

“This creates an ecosystem where all of our schools across the board — whether charter or private or district schools — can compete,” Diaz said.

Florida joins just five other states that allow universal choice. Some of those states approved the changes while Florida’s legislation was being debated. Florida is by far the largest among the other universal school choice states, which are Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa, Utah and West Virginia.

DeSantis, who had expressed some reservations about funding the richest families’ private tuition bills, dismissed the notion that spreading public money to more schools would hurt public schools.

“One, the amount of scholarship money ($8,000 per student) is less than what would go per-pupil for public (schools) anyway,” DeSantis said. “Second, since I’ve been Governor, we’ve raised the amount of funding to our public schools every year. I mean, the idea that they’ve been starved that theoretically could happen … that’s a choice that legislators and a Governor would make, but the push is to have more funding for the school districts.”

Florida Chamber President and CEO Mark Wilson also praised the measure Monday.

“Universal School Choice means every Florida student can achieve their unique educational goals, regardless of their family’s income or their zip code,” Wilson said.

“With only 53 percent (of) Florida third graders reading at or above grade level, it is clear Florida families and students need support and flexibility, and this bill empowers them to have tailored educational experiences rather than the current one-size-fits-all approach. The Florida Chamber has actively supported this legislation, as it supports our Florida 2030 Blueprint goal of ensuring every third grader in Florida can read at or above grade level by 2030.”

The cost of the program is still a big unknown, as it’s unclear how many families will apply for the $8,000 vouchers.

Arizona, the first state to implement universal school choice, saw demand for the program quickly overtake projections by hundreds of millions of dollars. In Florida, the Senate has budgeted $350 million in reserves to handle unexpected demand from families. The House, meanwhile, has set aside $110 million for the same line item.

Vouchers had been limited to families making 400% or less than the federal poverty level — about $111,000 a year for a family of four. The state has been able to meet the demand from that group, although there is a waitlist for children with special needs to get funded.

This bill would fund all those waiting students with disabilities and also add:

— Children currently enrolled in public school whose parents earn more than 400% of the federal poverty level.

— Children currently attending private school whose families make too much for the current scholarship, called the Family Empowerment Scholarship.

— Homeschooled students who agree to a certain level of state oversight.

Critics have derided the school choice expansion as “checks for millionaires.” Democratic Rep. Joe Casello of Boynton Beach pointed out in committee that even Tiger Woods’ kids would be eligible to get the new benefit.

Immediately following his State of the State, DeSantis had expressed some doubt that the richest families needed the benefit.

But there was no trace of that Monday.

“This is a move to make people’s dreams a reality,” he said.

Sadaf Knight, CEO of Florida Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, warned about the looming risk to public schools that opening the floodgates of public funding to private schools presents.

“A well-resourced and supported public education system is the cornerstone of a free, thriving democracy,” Knight said, noting that voters in 1998 passed an amendment that made education a “paramount duty” of the state. “It is our ‘paramount duty’ to continue to shine a light on the potential costs of this program and the risks it poses to our public education system.”

Officials with Americans for Prosperity-Florida (AFP-FL) had made the passage of universal school choice its biggest legislative priority for this year. The group thanked DeSantis, Renner, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and the Republican Senate and House sponsors, Sen. Corey Simon and Rep. Kaylee Tuck for their work.

“Today marks the beginning of meaningful education choice for parents across the state, which will result in even brighter futures for Florida’s children,” said Skylar Zander, AFP-FL state director. “By signing this transformative legislation, Gov. DeSantis has dramatically boosted the opportunity for every child in the state to receive an education carefully tailored to their individual needs.”

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].


  • JD

    March 27, 2023 at 11:52 am

    “It’s not the heat. It’s the stupidity”

  • ScienceBLVR

    March 27, 2023 at 11:53 am

    So… no accountability measures from the “private” schools? No separation of Church and State for taxpayers’s funds? I can take my 8K and put my kid in the local Muslim school? What happens when that “private”school doesn’t have the resources that public schools do, to serve students with special needs? Or the student is expelled and has to return to “public” school- where’s that 8K? Having seen this happen over and over in my district- student goes to a school that closes due to fiscal or academic mismanagement and kids are dumped back into public schools with no funding. And the price tag to Floridians? Geeshh, the costs of the legal battles alone on this clearly unconstitutional forced mandate will be astronomical. What a horrific boondoggle! At least here’s hoping the “private” schools won’t be grooming the kids or teaching history…

  • Debbi

    March 27, 2023 at 12:10 pm

    This is beyond stupid! As a lifelong resident of Florida, it’s really hard to believe taxpayers are gonna be ok with their money being used to support religious schools who are accountable to no one. Where can I designate my money ONLY goes to public schools?!? The big corporations can send their taxes to private schools, I want the same right to send mine to public schools.

  • Dr. Franklin Waters

    March 27, 2023 at 1:30 pm

    Florida will soon be chasing Mississippi for worst education system in the country under this doofus.

  • Sue

    March 27, 2023 at 1:53 pm

    It’s about time! The public schools are a mess with teachers leaving in droves, bullying is rampant and the bar has been lowered beyond recognition. Let this be a wake up call for public schools to get their act together. And a bill for millionaires? Please! Concerned parents are sacrificing a lot to be sure their kids get a good base. They are hard working people not the financial elite.

    • Bwj

      March 27, 2023 at 2:37 pm

      Public schools are funded by our state and local government. We continue to ignore the reasons why teachers are leaving the profession, and administration and facility issues. Hiring unqualified personnel to fill gaps isn’t a solution. I’d like to hope that those who have been able to send their children to private schools don’t take advantage of this law, but we’ll see.

  • Heather

    March 27, 2023 at 4:53 pm

    The rich can afford to send their child to private school. The poor are the ones who needs this the most. I have 4 children in public school. And I do agree that the teachers are underpaid. They are getting burned out because of that. They are having to use their own money to buy the things for their classrooms. Its putting a lot of pressure on them and also on the parents because if the teacher cant afford to buy it they reach out to the parents for help. In just this year alone my youngest son who is in kindergarten, we have spent over $500 to help support his teacher and classroom. The rich dont need help.

  • Earl Pitts American

    March 27, 2023 at 4:59 pm

    Good afternoon America,
    This correction bill is totally the fault of the Teachers Union for forcing dangerous pedophiclic woke agenda on the public school system. Yes leftist heads are exploding but what did you expect as hard as your union forced your twisted dangerous peverse adgenda on our childern?
    It kind of whizzes you leftist demons off to loose access to our childern. But then thats the whole point of the legislation.
    Thank you America,
    Earl Pitts American

    • Ashley

      March 27, 2023 at 6:54 pm

      Yes, I’m sure little boys will be MUCH safer in their private catholic schools now.

      Do some research, and just see how many republican leaders have gotten in trouble for pedophilia-like situations compared to democrats. Good thing we they are focused on drag queens instead of gun control seeing as soooo many drag queens shoot up schools and kill children. Give me a break. Oh, and let’s ban more books! But forget renaissance sculptures and teaching them about slavery. That’s too much! Let’s just defund the education system more, and not raise teacher’s wages.

    • Bwj

      March 27, 2023 at 7:26 pm

      What fairy tale did you watch? This isn’t the fault of teachers or their union.

      • Earl Pitts American

        March 27, 2023 at 8:18 pm

        Good evening Ashley and Bwl,
        Told y’all demon leftists it would whizz y’all pedo’s off to not have access to our childern’s genetailla.
        And there y’all are just as whizzed off as you can be. Well maybe y’all want to try having $ex with adults. Hey now theres an idea!!!
        Thank you Ashley and Bwl,
        DO BETTER!!!! Move to California.
        Earl Pitts American

        • JD

          March 28, 2023 at 5:58 pm

          It’s not the heat. It’s the stupidity… of Earl Pitts.

          Nobody wants to move. You move and take the right wing terrorist with you.

  • PeterH

    March 28, 2023 at 11:40 am

    This is a typical Ron DeSantis gesture with no predictable benefit for lower and middle class income Florida families.

    For the 2023 school year, there are 2,581 private schools serving 433,951 students in Florida (there are 4,230 public schools, serving 2,781,092 students). 13% of all K-12 students in Florida are educated in private schools (compared to the national average of 10%).

    Parents who would like to send their children to private schools should first invest in building the private schools. THE EXISTING PRIVATE SCHOOLS HAVE NO VACANCIES!

    • JD

      March 28, 2023 at 6:00 pm

      How many charter schools (basically test runs of the voucher system) that have failed and had to be absorbed by public schools in FL?

      The stats would be telling.

  • joe from FL

    March 29, 2023 at 6:07 am

    This is an awesome move. It will motivate the public schools to offer a competitive product. Our children need more quality public schools. Competition always helps improve customer experience. Well done DeSantis!

Comments are closed.


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