The Florida legislature passed a universal voucher plan, meaning that the state will subsidize the tuition of every student, no matter their family income, Rich or poor. The state will hand out subsidies to rich families whose children go to elite private schools. All money deducted from public schools. Short-sighted and stupid, a giveaway to families who can afford private schools.

Currently, there are more than 400,000 students enrolled in private schools. About 80,000 may already have a voucher. Now, even those attending an exclusive school will be subsidized by the state. Homeschoolers will also be subsidized by the state, at least 20,000 in the fumigation year.

Most of the schools that take vouchers are religious and most are not accredited.

Likely new cost: 320,000 students already enrolled in private schools without a voucher plus 20,000 homeschooled kids x $7,800=$2.65 billion. And that’s without a single student now in public school asking for a voucher. A realistic estimate for the annual cost of Florida’s universal voucher would be at least $3 billion a year.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priotities notes that the Florida voucher funding is designed to reduce the funding of public schools, which currently enroll about 80-85% of the state’s children:

While voucher programs are often funded as line-item appropriations in state budgets or through private donations (which over time reduces the revenues available for education and other state priorities), this Florida voucher is actually designed to take money away from the state K-12 funding formula designated for public school districts.

Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel says that Florida’s universal voucher program is likely to blow a billion-dollar hole in the state budget. As I pointed out above, $1 billion is a low estimate. That hole in the budget will be closer to $3-4 billion, when you include the students whose parents can already afford to pay tuition.

He writes:

Florida lawmakers are about to take the biggest educational gamble in American history — financed with your tax dollars.

They want to offer every child in Florida the chance to use publicly funded vouchers at private schools that have virtually no regulation and offer no guarantee that the students will get educated.

Florida’s existing network of voucher schools is so infamously unchecked that the Orlando Sentinel has found schools employing teachers that don’t have high-school diplomas themselves. Some refuse to serve children with disabilities or gay parents. Others were such financial wrecks that they shut down in the middle of the school year, stranding students.

Flaw #1:

Voucher schools in Florida are unregulated. They can hire teachers who are not certified. They can hire teachers who never finished college. Voucher schools do not take state tests. They need not disclose their graduation rate or their curriculum. They are not overseen by state officials. Some voucher schools ignore safety codes, because they are not required to comply with them. The Orlando Sentinel conducted an investigation called “Schools Without Rules,” demonstrating that voucher schools take tax money without any oversight, transparency or accountability.

Flaw #2:

Voucher schools operate in secrecy. They are not required to report anything to the state.Not test scores, graduation rates, SAT scores, or anything else. Florida is operating on the principle of “Trust But Don’t Verify.” Public schools are held to tight accountability requirements. Voucher schools, none at all. If accountability is good for public schools, why is it unnecessary for voucher schools?

Flaw #3:

Voucher schools can discriminate against any group. Unlike public schools, voucher schools can discriminate on any grounds. They don’t have to accept students with disabilities, gay students, students who don’t speak English, or students from a religion they don’t like.

Flaw #4:

Legislators think that choice is the only accountability needed. If a parent is unhappy, make a different choice. The only choice that parents do not have is to stop paying their tax dollars to fund this sector.

There is another grievous flaw:

The Florida voucher program reduces funding for the schools that the overwhelming majority of students attend. Why does this make sense?

Maxwell says there are good voucher schools, and they should have no objection to accountability, transparency, and oversight. Maxwell recommends the following fixes for the state voucher program.

All voucher-eligible schools should be required to:

  1. Publish graduation rates and nationally accepted test scores.
  2. Hire teachers who are certified or at least have a college degree.
  3. Disclose all the curriculum being taught.
  4. Ban discrimination. (If discrimination is a key tenet of a religious organization’s belief system, they should fund that discrimination with their own money. Any group that receives public dollars should serve all the public.)

Maxwell does not address the two glaring defects of the voucher program:

1. 75-80% of the students who take vouchers already attend private schools. Why is it in the interest of Florida to pay their tuition?

2. About 60% of the students who switch from a public school to a voucher school will drop out within two years. The vast majority of voucher studies conclude that students lose ground academically when they take a voucher. Shouldn’t parents be warned of the risk that they are taking by accepting a voucher?