Expanded education voucher pays for theme park tickets, big-screen TVs, paddleboards and more
Image via The Associated Press.

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Reimbursable items allowed through the state's school vouchers were expanded following new legislation last Session.

Gov. Ron DeSantis might have an epic war with Disney World, but admission to any Florida theme park is among the expenses parents can get reimbursed through the state’s school voucher program.

The Tampa Bay Times published a report on the expanded list of expenses that followed the passage of legislation that has ballooned the number of families applying for the voucher that pays about $8,000 per student for those who choose not to attend public schools.

The money can go to private school tuition and — for homeschoolers and those attending schools that cost less than what the state offers per student — a wide range of enrichment items.

The list — including televisions up to 55 inches, trampolines, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards — ignited widespread outrage among Democratic lawmakers who had warned the legislation (HB 1) would starve public schools even more. The state is already near the bottom among states when it comes to per-pupil funding.

“So angry that our warnings fell on deaf ears,” Democratic Rep. Robin Bartleman of Weston wrote on X, formerly Twitter, as she retweeted the Times story. “As I watch my daughter & other teachers struggle to afford housing & pay out of their pockets for supplies & as our schools struggle w/ resources — YOUR SCHOOL TAX $ are paying for vacations in Disney (ironic).”

Officials with Step Up For Students, which administers the vouchers, told the Times the scholarship pays for the students’ admission only and sets a limit of one per school year with a limit of $299. The Step Up guide shows that, as a category, a student is limited to $500 a year for reimbursed field trips.

Democratic Sen. Lori Berman, who represents Palm Beach County, noted Republicans, in debate, often reiterated the need to stick to the basics, as they passed laws that allow more parental power in book challenges and more strictly regulate pronoun use and discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity.

“It’s funny because we hear from the Republicans so often … we shouldn’t be teaching anything having to do with social development, diversity, equity, inclusion and we should just be teaching the basics,” Berman said. “And now we’re going to be giving them paddleboard lessons.”

“I just don’t understand the rationale and the hypocrisy is amazing,” she added.

Democratic Sen. Tina Polsky of Boca Raton called the situation “voucher abuse” and said next Session will be “prime time to clean up this.”

“It’s outrageous that taxpayer money is being used so liberally and defined as ‘school expenses,'” she wrote in a text. “Public schools do not get money for theme parks. The voucher program is already way above the estimates.”

“It’s going to cost the state a fortune and it’s being abused already,” she added.

The Times quoted a school reform advocate saying this flexibility allows parents to engage their children in learning.

“They expect 21st-century approaches to learning and recreational opportunities for their physical and mental well-being,” Jeanne Allen, founder of the national Center for Education Reform, told the Times.

To that defense, Berman said, “Engaging students doesn’t mean taking them on a rollercoaster at Busch Gardens.”

Holly Bullard, chief strategy and development officer with the Florida Policy Institute, which lobbied against the expansion of school choice, had predicted Florida couldn’t afford it, but never imagined this.

“I knew it would be expensive to taxpayers but never in my wildest dreams thought that taxpayers’ money would be used for Disney tickets and all these other items,” she said. “Especially considering that Florida is 48th in average teacher pay, it’s scandalous.”

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].


  • Suze

    September 1, 2023 at 12:02 pm

    What a joke. How to buy parents into fascism. Just give their kids a trip to Disney?? Oh wait a minute. They forgot to check with Moms Against Liberty.

    • FloridaPatriot

      September 1, 2023 at 1:17 pm

      Don’t get it twisted. Moms of Liberty take their kids to Disney, They just want the taxpayer to foot the bill.

  • Rick Whitaker

    September 1, 2023 at 12:18 pm

    the public-school systems that our country has is one of our greatest strengths. why vouchers? weakening our public schools is not a good idea. the parochial schools are already cutting into the system, but if they don’t get voucher money it’s not much of a problem. soon the voucher states will be the dumb states. does florida really want that?

    • TJC

      September 1, 2023 at 1:00 pm

      The coffers of the State of Florida are flush with federal funds that have poured in since the beginning of the pandemic. Now this massive giveaway to private schools and homeschoolers will deplete that “bonus” money in a few years, and then the state will be on the hook for more than it bargained for. But that’s all it was, a bargain made with a governor who will be done with that position in less than two years if his presidential run finds success, or if that goes awry he’ll be done in three.
      Perhaps, if his bid for the presidency fails, the law will be changed by his cronies in Tallahassee to allow a third and fourth term for him as governor. I doubt he’ll want that, seeing as the state will be in big financial trouble by then. In the meantime, he travels the country bragging about the surplus economy Florida has, and bragging about how he’s punishing school teachers, librarians, and the public schools in general. What a fine mess he’s putting us in, this man who would be king.

      • Rick Whitaker

        September 1, 2023 at 10:07 pm

        your educated on this issue, bravo

  • Holly B

    September 1, 2023 at 1:07 pm

    The Democrats are so beyond broken on this issue. Public schools don’t get money to go to theme parks? No student in public schools goes on field trips anymore? Anyone who grew up going to school in Florida would dispute that. These people are entirely out to lunch and fundamentally unserious. Most of them don’t even understand how conservative their arguments actually are. They’ve become what they say they hate – fighters against progress.

    • FloridaPatriot

      September 1, 2023 at 1:19 pm

      Yes, They do and guess what? PARENTS pay for that field trip now. I know. I just paid for my kids fieldtrip.

    • Angie

      September 1, 2023 at 11:04 pm

      Field trips are very much a thing of the past and rarely occur. They take away from instructional time and allegedly affect test scores. Private schools have no accountability so state funded Disney trips are fine. Government funded private schools with zero avvountability. What could go wrong?

  • Rick Whitaker

    September 1, 2023 at 10:03 pm

    another wrong and uninformed gop. you need a voucher to go back to school and deprogram yourself.

  • Rick Whitaker

    September 2, 2023 at 8:35 am

    a good sane comment. to the rest of us in the country florida looks like a police state with a christian racist dictator.

Comments are closed.


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