Florida has one of the largest voucher programs in the nation, and Republicans expect to make the program even larger. With a large majority in both houses and a choice-friendly governor, they will push their bill through with little or no resistance. Florida’s voucher schools are not required to hire certified teachers; their students do not take state tests. Although accountability was a major thrust of the Florida “reforms,” voucher schools are exempt from any accountability. Most are religious schools.

The Miami Herald reported:

Florida’s school voucher program could see a major expansion under new legislation filed Thursday by House Republicans. Standing at a lectern with a sign reading “Your Kids, Your Choice,” House Speaker Paul Renner introduced House Bill 1 to make vouchers available to all Florida children eligible to enter kindergarten through 12th grade. Children from families with incomes up to 185% of the federal poverty level, which is $55,500 plus $9,509 for each additional family member, would continue to get priority for the funding. Children in foster care also would receive priority.

The bill would allow voucher recipients to use the public funds for more than tuition at a private school and transportation, as is currently in law. Families would be allowed to spend the money on home-schooling, college courses, private tutoring and specialized testing such as Advanced Placement exams, among other expenses.

Students may not be in public school to qualify for a voucher, which is the equivalent of per-student funding in a public school — currently about $8,216 per year.

Families would receive the money through state-funded education savings accounts, a longtime goal for Florida Republicans. “It’s about freedom and opportunity,” Renner, R-Palm Coast, said during his news conference. “We empower parents and children to decide the education that meets their needs.”

State Rep. Kaylee Tuck, chairperson of the House Choice and Innovation subcommittee, is carrying the bill. The Lake Placid Republican said the measure should allow families to customize education for their children.

Renner predicted broad bipartisan support for the bill, which he said also should clear the waiting list for students with special education needs to receive a state scholarship. Currently about 9,400 children are on that list, according to Renner’s staff.

DEMOCRATS CALL IT ‘DEFUNDING PUBLIC EDUCATION’

House Democratic Leader Rep. Fentrice Driskell disagreed with Renner’s comments regarding support for the bill. She called it a “defunding of public education” and said she expected most members of her party to oppose it. “There is nothing in this bill that I like, because we continue to take these public dollars and use them for private purposes,” Driskell, D-Tampa, said.

Other Democrats attending a news conference to counter the Republicans’ announcement held similar views. They said they support vouchers for students who need special services, and agreed that parents deserve choices — including within the public schools, which 2.9 million children attend.

“Let’s not defund one institution to fund another one,” said Rep. Felicia Robinson, D-Miami Gardens, who also called for more accountability in the voucher system. Schools that accept vouchers should at least have certified teachers, Robinson said.

And parents who accept funding should have to prove the money is going toward approved education services, added Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson, D-Gainesville. ”There is no accountability for tracking funds,” said Hinson.

“This might be a get-rich scheme. I’ve seen it all over the country.” Rep. Allison Tant, D-Tallahassee, referenced her city’s Red Hills Academy, a charter school that closed within weeks of opening last year, citing low enrollment and processing issues, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. ”They got state funding to go create themselves,” Tant said. “Then they turn the kids back to public schools and guess what? They kept the funding.” In Palm Beach County, the founder of one charter school was found profiting off the venture by steering school contracts to companies he owned, according to the Palm Beach Post.

RENNER OFFERS REBUTTAL ON FUNDING

Renner said critics who claim the Republicans are seeking to dismantle public education ignore the fact that the Legislature has put more total dollars into district schools every year, something he said would likely continue. He also pointed to the state’s efforts to improve teacher pay, adding millions of dollars to boost the base salary.

“It’s going to be a good year for our traditional public schools as well,” Renner said.

Read more at: https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/education/article271373917.html#storylink=cpy