News | April 17th, 2023

The Florida House Universal School Voucher

By: D'Aja Byers
The Florida House Universal School Voucher

The Florida House is set to debate a universal school voucher plan using tax dollars to pay for private school tuition. This long-requested voucher from superintendents is set to level out the playing field for public schools competing for kids with private and charter schools.

Through this Universal choice, every school has the opportunity to compete for students, and parents can choose the best fit. The intent to remove the red tape that burdens conventional public schools in these institutions which have served our communities for decades will now have a real chance to compete with other school options.

Opponents of the bill argue that the plan will divert billions of dollars away from public education and that it will result in segregated school systems, with more affluent families abandoning traditional public schools. Public school proponents are also concerned that the proposal will further deplete resources as students leave such systems.

A Parents Perspective

A 26-year-old parent of an elementary school child attending Leon County schools, who wish to remain anonymous, details her take on the new universal school voucher that will soon change the dynamic of her child’s education.

“I believe the voucher is used to segregate schools or disqualify minorities to be taught privately due to funding or to divide the same type of education amongst races,” she said abruptly.

Common to the beliefs of many other Democrats, the Universal voucher brings attention to the diversion of money from public schools and subsidizes private education which essentially helps the rich get richer.

When asked her opinion on whether or not she believes it’s important for her child to attend a school that has access to and money to afford resources, the young mother answered confidently.

“I think it is very important for any school that provides resources on education to have the appropriate funding to keep my child abreast of current material based on their grade level to ensure that no child is left behind,” she said.

State analysis puts new costs between $210-220 million, but third-party nonprofits estimate it will be more in the billions.

The cost of doing so has fluctuated depending on who lawmakers believe will benefit from the expansion. Although all families with children enrolled in private schools would now be eligible under the expansion, not all of them may opt to use the state’s grant.

The same is true for families who homeschool their children; they may have no interest in taking advantage of the program, especially since it now requires those families who wish to use education savings account to register with one of the funding organizations as a result of some change. It’s also true that many families will likely choose to stay in their present public traditional and charter schools, making it difficult to specify an exact number for an estimate.

A Students Perspective

Hasani Mundy, a 22-year-old business administration major at Florida A&M University, agreed that there is a difference in education between public and private schools that will ultimately be heightened by this voucher.

“Public schools provide a wider range of things to do and private schools are more specific and more focused in terms of skill set,” Mundy said.

As someone who has attended public schools his whole life, and furthered his college career at an HBCU, the topic of equal financial access and gain to public schools that many black students attend is a conversation Mundy knows too well.

“I believe that to keep resources up to date, it is important to tackle the task currently at hand; we all know equal funding provides equal opportunity. The stigma behind public and private schools and who’s gonna be able to afford them is going to be subjective by race,” Mundy said.

“Even with all of that, I think parents like public schools because it’s inexpensive, they just need to be provided with more resources on a bigger platform,” he continued.

A Little Bit of Both

Alexandreja Walker, a Florida A&M University alumni student who has attended both public and private schools throughout her lifetime, has her perspective on the voucher from experience. She very quickly provided insight into what it’s like as a student.

“As someone who is very familiar with both styles of schooling, I can say that there is a difference in education because there’s more time and effort put into private schools, especially because there’s money put into private schools. To ensure that they don’t lose any funding they’re gonna make sure all requirements are met,” Walker said.

As documented in the voucher, the bill is an additional $8,000 for all families, whether you are a millionaire or billionaire being gifted with a state-sponsored voucher. The issue with this is that the bill could provide money not only to low-income families but also the wealthy families who can already afford to send their children to private schools.

When asked if she agreed that this is a clear connection between the risk of segregated school systems, Walker gave her honest answer.

“I agree. Black children can’t afford to go to private school or have an understanding of how private school works. With the lack of knowledge and resources, this will deter them from even wanting to have a similar experience,” Walker said.

“If their experiences in life are already limited, their expectations of more may not always be a good thing in terms of financial reasoning,” she continued.

A deterring factor for many Florida residents that have children is the diversion of billions of dollars taken away from public schools that their children may still attend after the passing of this universal voucher.

Just as important, as those who understand the risk of such factors becoming a reality, Walker gave her final impressions on the threat of financial stability, awareness, and equal education for public schools.

“I 100% agree because there’s more money put into private schools currently than public schools. If planning was to be put in place, I believe a lot of the funding would be given to private schools giving them the upper hand and decreasing the amount of money given to public schools which doesn’t make sense because private schools already receive funding from parents, donations, sponsors, and etc.,” Walker said.

Although a winning vote for this voucher is expected to be pretty high, the risk of vouchers draining funding from public schools and students leaving along with state funding will soon be the new reality for many Florida residents.