DeSantis signs ‘big deal’ voucher bill, making all Florida students eligible for scholarships

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Monday’s universal school voucher bill. This bill promotes the expansion of “education liberty” since all Florida students are now eligible for state money to pay private school tuition and homeschooling.

DeSantis, at a ceremony to sign the bill at a private high school for boys in Miami, described it as the “largest expansion of education options not only in this state but also in the history these United States.”

DeSantis was flanked by students from private schools and said, “That’s a big deal.”

The signing of HB 1 was celebrated by GOP leaders and parents who use the scholarships. However, the legislation is also being criticized by those who claim its high price — estimated at $210 million to $4Billion in the first year — will cause serious damage to public schools which currently educate around 87% of Florida’s children.

Let my People Go

Passover is a celebration of freedom from our oppressors, yet Israel and its people are still seeking freedom & waiting for the Peace of Jerusalem. For this Passover, the Genesis 123 Foundation is working to ensure Israel has the resources to fend off any additional attacks from Iran and its terrorist proxies. Will you help Israel defeat the new Pharaoh today?

Let my People Go
1776 Coalition Sponsored

Critics argue that an expansion will result in more public money being spent on private schools, mostly religious, that are not subject to state oversight. Some schools employ teachers with no college degrees and refuse admission to children who aren’t fluent in English, have disabilities, or are gay.

Andrew Spar, president and CEO of the Florida Education Association, a statewide teachers union said that the state will “handover that public money to unaccountable private schools that may provide a poor education to students” while helping wealthy Floridians pay private school bills that they can already afford.

Spar stated in an email statement that “average Floridians will help pay for millionaires or billionaires to send there kids to elite private schools that hand-select their children.” “Once more, we see Gov. DeSantis puts his political ambitions before Floridians, even our students.

The Florida Policy Institute is a think tank that opposes voucher expansion. It estimated that it would cost $4Billion in its first year, and pose a “looming threat” to public school budgets. Both the Senate and House estimates were far lower, with the Senate suggesting that it would cost more than $217 millions next year.

Sadaf Knight, CEO of the group, stated that the governor approved a program to redirect billions of dollars in education funding from public schools to unaccountable private schools. “HB 1 poses a serious risk to funding our public schools by opening up private education funding, and even giving vouchers to the most wealthy families in the state.

Florida’s voucher programs currently provide scholarships for more than 252,000 children from low-income families and those with disabilities. More than 80,000 students are expected to take part in the next year’s program, according to legislative leaders.

The new law will eliminate income guidelines, but preference will be given for those with low- or middle-income backgrounds. The universal voucher law means that all of Florida’s 2.9 million children could be eligible for an “education savings account” if they leave public schools. Those who are homeschooled, or in private schools could also apply.

DeSantis stated that the bill expands school choice for every student in Florida. “This bill is a game changer.”

Arkansas, Iowa, and Utah are just three other GOP-controlled states that have passed similar legislation in the past year. Others are also considering it.

DeSantis signed the bill in Christopher Columbus High School, Miami. This Catholic school has an annual tuition of $15,000. Manny Diaz, the Education Commissioner from Miami-Dade County, was present at the bill signing. He said that his son graduated from the school last year.

According to Step Up For Students (a private agency that administers the majority of state scholarships), 25% of the 1,740 students at the private school now have state scholarships. According to the school’s website, families must apply for state aid before applying for financial aid through it. The school has received at most $1.9 million in state scholarship funds this school year.

The new law allows all students to apply for state funds, even those who are not able or unable to pay tuition.

Scholarships for low-income students average $7,700. Most scholarships for students with disabilities average $10,000. Students with severe disabilities may be eligible for scholarships worth more than $25,000

New legislation transforms the state’s largest scholarship programs, the Tax Credit Scholarship Program Program and the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program, into education savings accounts. The new legislation also caps the number of scholarships that are available to students with disabilities.

While the Legislature is still working on the budget, they have not yet set the scholarship amounts for next year.

Aimee Uriarte is a single mother from Costa Rica and an immigrant. She said that state scholarships were “a real lifesaver” for her sons, which allowed them to attend Christopher Columbus.

She said, “Education Choice Scholarships have been a huge blessing for my family,”

Hera Varmah works for the American Federation for Children. She is a school-choice advocate group. A Florida scholarship “changed my entire life,” she said. Her 11 siblings, all of whom grew up in low-income households, also received scholarships.

Varmah was awarded a scholarship to attend a Catholic high school near Tampa, and then went on to Florida A&M University. After attending private schools, many of her siblings went to college.

She said, “When people tell me school choice isn’t possible, I just show them my family.”

School choice advocates argue that all parents should receive state funding to pay for the education they choose for their children. They said that parents who homeschool or send their children to private schools without the aid of state money also have to be paid taxes, which support public schools their children don’t attend.

Paul Renner (Republican House Speaker), from Palm Coast, announced the universal voucher program on Jan. 19. Renner said that the expansion of scholarships was something everyone should be proud.

It will end the waiting list for nearly 10,000 students with disabilities who want a scholarship and let all families find schools that are compatible with their beliefs.

He said, “We don’t want your child going to school where your values and beliefs are ridiculed and held up in derision.” They can choose a school that values their faith and has respect for them.