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Florida lifted income level requirements for vouchers for fall 2023. Priority is given to lower income families, but 44 percent are from families below 185 percent of the federal poverty level, or $55,000 in income for a family of four.
As of Sept. 8, 242,929 students had enrolled in 2,098 private schools using vouchers through the state’s two main programs, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship and Family Empowerment Scholarship, according to a report by Step Up for Students, an organization that administers the vast majority of vouchers in the state.
That is an increase from the roughly 170,000 students who received vouchers through the programs during the 2022-2023 school year.
OR IS IT?? “As we continue to analyze the data provided by Step-Up For Students, what initially stands out is that roughly 7 in 10 new scholarship awards are going to students already enrolled in private school, at what FPI (Florida Policy Institute) estimates is a $676 million cost to the state,” the Florida Policy Institute, which strenuously opposed the voucher expansion, said in a statement Thursday. These families receive about $8,000 per year for private school tuition.
What does private school tuition cost in Florida?
The average private school tuition in Florida is $10,415 per year (2023-24).
The private elementary school average tuition cost is $10,362 per year and the private high school average is $11,528 per year. The private school with the lowest tuition cost is Hope Christian School, with a tuition of $1,500. The voucher program represents significant savings for families who have been sending their children to private schools.
🢚 VOUCHER PROGRAMS ARE EXPENSIVE; FRAUD & WASTE BOOST COSTS FURTHER
Educating students using private school vouchers is more expensive than educating them in public schools. A 2018 study found the cost of educating a student through an Arizona private school voucher program was 75% higher than the cost of educating a public school student.
1 Another study estimated that shifting to a system of private school vouchers could raise education costs by 25% or more when accounting for students who would have attended private schools without a voucher, plus the additional administrative costs for the program, such as record keeping and monitoring.
2 A 2021 policy brief estimated that universal vouchers could increase the total public cost of education by 11-33%, amounting to $66-$203 billion per year.
3 Voucher programs become even more costly when factoring in misuse and waste. An analysis of North Carolina’s voucher program found numerous private schools received more vouchers than they had students, totaling over $2.3 million in fraudulent payments, and several others received voucher payments after they appeared to close.
4 In Utah, the state auditor found that the third-party organization that distributes vouchers spent beyond the legal limits on marketing and administrative costs.
5 In Wisconsin, voucher payments have been provided to private schools despite problems such as failure to meet financial and administrative reporting requirements and losing accreditation.
6 A state audit of Arizona’s voucher program found parents received funds after enrolling students in public schools and purchasing non-permitted items.
7 And in Florida, voucher payments were sent to private schools that falsified fire and safety inspections and had unsafe facilities.
8 Moreover, audits and oversight to address such abuse consume additional public resources.
🢚 SPENDING ON VOUCHER PROGRAMS INCREASES OVER TIME
A report examining private school voucher programs in seven states found that from fiscal years 2008 through 2019, each state dramatically increased expenditures of public funds on voucher programs, with growth in Georgia reaching 883 percent. While Florida led the pack in voucher spending levels, nearly all the states were diverting hundreds of millions of dollars to voucher programs annually by the end of the period studied.
9 Another report on voucher spending in Florida found that public school funds diverted annually to private education increased by approximately $1 billion between 2019-20 and 2022-23.
10 The state’s Empowerment Scholarship voucher programs cost $1.4 billion in the 2022-23 school year alone.
11 Additionally, nearly $1.1 billion in tax credits were offered to fund the state’s tax credit voucher program in fiscal year 2023.
12 These costs do not include the dramatic expansion to universal voucher eligibility beginning in 2023-24.
An analysis found that the North Carolina voucher program launched in 2014 has also grown significantly over the last decade. The program was initially capped at $10.8 million per year, but funding more than doubled by 2016-17. Additional funding increases approved in 2016 are expected to bring the total to $144.8 million per year by 2027-28. The program was further expanded in 2020, and the expansion could increase costs by more than $270 million over the next ten years.
13 THE COST OF VOUCHER PROGRAMS FREQUENTLY OUTPACES INITIAL ESTIMATES
Arizona’s universal voucher program was initially projected to increase costs to the state by about $65 million in fiscal year 2024.
14 The Legislature appropriated $624 million for the program in the 2024 budget, an increase of $150 million over 2023. However, updated figures released by the Governor’s Office put the estimated cost almost $320 million higher, or over $943 million in total. More than 50% of that is due to applicants who were already enrolled in private school or homeschooled. The updated figures show that 53% of all new K-12 education spending in fiscal year 2024 goes toward only 8% of Arizona students (those using vouchers).
15 This information contradicts claims by some state officials that the voucher program would save the state money.
The cost of New Hampshire’s education savings account voucher program was severely underestimated at the time of its enactment in 2021. It was projected to cost the state about $130,000, but by 2023, spending on the program was nearly $15 million.
16 Eligibility for the program was expanded in 2023, though the fiscal impact of the expansion was deemed “indeterminable” by the New Hampshire Department of Education as the number of new students who will use vouchers is unknown.
17 An independent analysis projects that the expanded voucher program could cost $48 million per year.
18 A fiscal analysis by the Florida Legislature projected that expanding the state’s Empowerment Scholarship vouchers to allow universal eligibility would lead the program to cost an additional $209 million in year one. But an independent analysis estimated that the true additional cost would be several times that number, and the total cost of the program could reach $4 billion.
19 Public Funds Public Schools (PFPS) is a national campaign to ensure public funds are used exclusively to maintain, support and strengthen our nation’s public schools. Education Law Center directs the work of the PFPS campaign.
1 Dave Wells, Grand Canyon Inst., $10,700 Per Student: The Estimated Cost of Arizona’s Private School Subsidy Programs (2018), https://grandcanyoninstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/GCI_Policy_Private_School_Program_Costs_2018_Sept_5_2018.pdf.
2 Henry M. Levin & Cyrus E. Driver, Cost of an Educational Voucher System, 5(3) Educ. Econ. 265 (1997),
3 Robert Shand & Henry M. Levin, Estimating a Price Tag for School Vouchers, National Education Policy Center (2021), https://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/voucher-costs.
4 Kris Nordstrom, New analysis shows many private schools in N.C. have more vouchers than students, North Carolina Justice Center (2023), https://www.ncjustice.org/analysis-nc-private-school-voucher-program/; Ali Ingersoll, SBI investigating fraud allegations against director of Selma private school, WRAL News (July 7, 2023), https://www.wral.com/story/sbi-investigating-fraud-allegations-against-director-of-selma-private school/20944741/.
5 Office of the State Auditor, Utah State Board of Education, Limited Review For the Year Ending June 30, 2023, Report No. 23-02 (2023), https://reporting.auditor.utah.gov/servlet/servlet.FileDownload?file=0151K000008NKuDQAW.
6 Erin Richards, State moves to remove private school from Milwaukee voucher program, Journal Sentinel (Dec. 24, 2013), https://archive.jsonline.com/news/education/state-moves-to-remove-private-school-from-milwaukee-voucher-program-b99170674z1- 237092841.html; Erin Richards, 3 voucher schools got state money after losing accreditation, Journal Sentinel (Mar. 13, 2013), https://archive.jsonline.com/news/education/three-voucher-schools-received-state-money-after-losing-accreditation-ts952un-197872781.html. 7 Office of the Auditor General, ArizonaDepartment of Education: DepartmentOversees Empowerment Scholarship Accounts ProgramSpending, but Should Strengthen itsOversight and Continue to ImproveOtherAspects of ProgramAdministration (2016), https://www.azauditor.gov/sites/default/files/16- 107_Report.pdf.
8 Leslie Postal, Beth Kassab & Annie Martin, Florida Private Schools Get Nearly $1 Billion in State Scholarships with Little Oversight, Sentinel Finds, Orland Sentinel (Oct. 17, 2017), https://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/education/os-florida-school-voucher-investigation-1018-htmlstory.html. 9 Samuel E. Abrams & Steven J. Koutsavlis, The Fiscal Consequences of Private School Vouchers, Public Funds Public Schools (2023), https://pfps.org/assets/uploads/SPLC_ELC_PFPS_2023Report_Final.pdf.
10 Mary McKillip & Norín Dollard, Florida’s Hidden Voucher Expansion: Over $1 Billion from Public Schools to Fund Private Schools, Education Law Center & Florida Policy Institute (2022), https://edlawcenter.org/assets/Florida/Florida-Hidden-Voucher-Expansion.pdf. 11 Florida Dep’t of Education, Florida Education Finance Program 2022-23, Fourth Calculation (Apr. 14, 2023),
12 Florida Dep’t of Rev., Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program Tax Credit Cap Will Increase (2022),
13 Kris Nordstrom, Legislative changes to voucher program will likely drain $272 million from NC over next decade, North Carolina Justice Center (2020), https://www.ncjustice.org/publications/legislative-changes-to-voucher-program-will-likely-drain-272-million-from-nc-over-next-decade/. 14 Fiscal note for Ariz. House Bill 2853, https://www.azleg.gov/legtext/55leg/2R/fiscal/HB2853.DOCX.pdf.
15 Office of the Governor, Governor Katie Hobbs Statement on New School Voucher Cost Projections (July 25, 2023), https://azgovernor.gov/office arizona-governor/news/2023/07/governor-katie-hobbs-statement-new-school-voucher-cost.
16 Peter Greene, The Empty and Expensive Promise of School Voucher Programs, The Progressive (April 3, 2023), https://progressive.org/public schools-advocate/empty-expensive-school-vouchers-greene-030423/.
17 New Hampshire House Bill 367, https://legiscan.com/NH/text/HB367/id/2825227/New_Hampshire-2023-HB367-Enrolled.html. 18 Reaching Higher NH, School voucher expansion could come with a $48 million price tag (May 25, 2023),
19 Education Law Center & Florida Policy Institute, The Cost of Universal Vouchers: Three Factors to Consider in Analyzing Fiscal Impacts of CS/HB1, https://edlawcenter.org/assets/Florida/FL%20HB1%20Cost%20Estimate%20Comparison.pdf.
Attendees in a crowded chamber room wave cards of support for a speaker during the public comment portion of a meeting of the Seminole County School Board in Sanford on Tuesday evening, September 19, 2023. Many of the speakers were commenting on the subject of book bans. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel)
By Robin Dehlinger |
September 24, 2023 at 5:30 a.m.
I was encouraged as I listened to the many individuals who attended the Seminole County Public Schools Board meeting last week to provide their supportive comments against book bans. Parents and residents of the county, along with people from other parts of the state, rallied to support our public schools, teachers, and leaders, as they spoke out. Their remarks were in stark contrast to the organized effort by Moms for Liberty to challenge books they do not like. My hope is that our community will continue to publicly speak in support of our public schools. They recognize a good thing when they see it, and Seminole’s schools consistently rise to the top in the state of Florida and the United States.
The Florida Constitution states the education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the state of Florida and Florida statutes require the opportunity for students to obtain a high-quality education. This is realized by the professionalism and expertise of Seminole’s teachers, and school and district leaders, and evidence of their commitment to helping all students achieve their potential.
Regardless of any narrative suggesting otherwise, parents have always played a critical role in their children’s education, including their right to supervise and monitor their children’s academic and social experiences in public school. The idea that “parental rights” is a new thing is ludicrous.
But no one individual should make decisions about what another person, including students, should read. Parents who do not want their children to have access to a particular book through their school or classroom library can opt out of that access. This has always been the case. However, every parent should have the same freedom to allow their children to access books based on what they deem appropriate for their children.
No one believes that every book, regardless of content, should be available to children. Material that is not appropriate for K-12 students should be carefully evaluated through a transparent process, such as was explained by the director of instructional materials in her presentation at the School Board meeting last week. The process for a parent or resident to challenge materials or books is outlined in policy, as required by Florida statute. School districts should closely follow their board approved policy and not defer to the demands of any one individual or group choosing to operate outside of the policy.
Diverse texts serve an important academic role. With guidance from their teachers, they allow students to engage in conversations that require critical thinking. If age-appropriate books that would expose students to challenging topics are prohibited, students miss opportunities to understand the perspectives of others and to think deeply about ideas that have relevance to their lives. Seminole County Public Schools is known nationally for the achievements of its students. Parents and residents should remain outspoken in support of the school board and superintendent as they continue the work that has made Seminole County Public Schools an A rated school district 22 times.
Robin Dehlinger is the retired assistant superintendent of Seminole County Public Schools.
The Florida Sun Sentinel just published this article written by the co-presidents and Education Chair of the Florida League of Women Voters. When the Board speaks, you know there is reason for everyone to be concerned. There is a “Deliberate assault on public education and minorities” by our legislature.
What appears to be regular school operations — adopting instructional materials from state-approved book lists, updating standards and reviewing library and classroom materials — is anything but routine. Behind the scenes, political operatives (our legislators) are busily transforming Florida’s public education system from an institution committed to educating all students to their fullest potential, to one where racism saturates the very core of instructional practices, where only white children will be respected and encouraged.
There are deliberate and systematic efforts to use Florida’s public education system to undermine
Black and brown marginalized populations. Consider the evidence:
- Approving the African American History Strand in Florida’s 2023 Social Studies Standards that includes numerous false narratives. One particularly troublesome to historians is the curriculum guide’s statement that children will learn “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” Another teaches students that some racially motivated massacres were “perpetrated against and by African Americans.” Forbidding accurate history by banning school lessons that make people “uncomfortable” about the actions of their forefathers. History will be whitewashed. White children cannot learn about or discuss their ancestors’ wrongdoings.
Retracting AP African American History for students because the governor thinks it “lacks value and historical accuracy,” again keeping Florida’s students from truthful accounts.
Eliminating programs dedicated to achieving diversity, equity or inclusion. These further one’s ability to communicate and collaborate with individuals from different backgrounds, show empathy, or recognize personal biases. Elimination implies minorities don’t have to be understood or respected.
Mandating removal of books from classrooms and school libraries discussing the cultures of nonwhite persons. When literature recounting experiences faced by marginalized groups is unavailable, their challenges can be minimized or even trivialized.
Removing Social Emotional Learning (SEL) from Florida’s approved curricula, a program that develops self-awareness and resilience, thus improving marginalized persons’ chances to succeed.
Considered individually, each of these minority-targeted restrictions might be seen as simply ill-conceived. But in their totality, they are better understood as a deliberate assault on goals of public schools and minority children attending them, who represent 64% of Florida’s public-school population. We must ask: What happens when a state builds its public-school system on a foundation of racist misrepresentations?
When possibilities are blocked, despair and distrust can replace optimism. With DEI training banned, teachers know less about the experiences and culture of minority populations that would facilitate positive interactions. Cultural misunderstanding abounds, and Black students, representing only 22% of public-school enrollment in 2019-2020, comprised 37% of in-school suspensions and are disproportionately subject to out-of-school suspensions and expulsions.
Although legislation denied their children culturally relevant literature, parents may have believed that history lessons would compensate and introduce their children to powerful minority role models who fought for justice. But textbook publishers have revised their content to satisfy Florida’s efforts to whitewash history. The 2023 Social Studies Standards omit Florida’s role in slavery. They mention racism and prejudice but not Floridians’ Jim Crow laws. Concerned about public schools’ treatment of their children, many African American parents are transferring their children out of public schools, accountable for student achievement, and into private schools not answerable to Florida’s Department of Education. In 2023, 47% of Florida’s private school attendees were minority students; more than 33% of these were of African American descent.
Racist public-school legislation is also economically costly for many public-school children, their communities and the state. Marginalized public-school students whose families have taught them honest history, rejecting ideas that slavery wasn’t so bad or that their ancestors were partly to blame for the 1920 massacre in Ocoee, won’t be motivated to learn from texts that are irrelevant or untruthful, where characters don’t look like them or where experiences depicted bear little resemblance to their own lives, and this will have a cascading effect.
Many of these students will be unprepared for standardized tests based on these racist standards, triggering reductions in Florida’s public-school ratings and declines in home values. Fewer minority Floridians will seek advanced degrees, thus diminishing talent pools for critical jobs, dissuading businesses from Florida. They won’t be motivated to vote, believing it would just further empower their oppressors, or know the potential power of their vote to strip racism from public schools. They will not believe that losing their right to vote will make any difference in their lives. Through truthful history and literature, they will learn otherwise. This is what we must teach.
Cecile M. Scoon and Debbie Chandler serve as co-presidents of the League of Women Voters of Florida. Jill Lewis-Spector serves as the organization’s second vice president and statewide education chair.
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