FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
ORLANDO, Fla. – The flow of state school aid to vouchers for private schooling has reached an estimated $1.3 billion in the wake of the Florida Legislature’s enactment of the Family Empowerment Scholarship (FES) program in 2019, according to a new research report by Education Law Center (ELC) and Florida Policy Institute (FPI).
The report, Florida’s Hidden Voucher Expansion: Over $1 Billion From Public Schools to Fund Private Education, finds that the dramatic rise in funding redirected from Florida’s public school districts to vouchers in 2022-23 represents 10% of total state aid for public education. This diversion of public funds to vouchers directly from school districts is in addition to a potential $1.1 billion in public dollars diverted from the state treasury through vouchers financed by corporate tax credits.
The report finds that:
- Between 2019-20 and 2022-23, funding redirected to private education from the Florida Education Financing Program (FEFP), the state’s school funding formula, increased by $1 billion.
- The increase in diverted funds outpaced increases in public school funding.
- As of 2022-23, an estimated 10% of the $13.2 billion in state aid for public schools will be diverted to private education through the FES voucher program, up from 3% in 2019-20.
- The entire cost of private school vouchers, comprising both state and local funding, is diverted from school districts’ state aid; therefore, districts that are more reliant on local funding will see proportionately larger state aid cuts.
Gadsden County is the school district most highly impacted by voucher costs, losing 9% of their total FEFP budget to vouchers. Miami-Dade will lose $225 million to private education via FES vouchers, representing 8% of the district’s total FEFP budget.
Voucher expansion has happened quickly and relatively quietly, opening the door for public funds to flow to private education with very little accountability for how funds are spent and few protections for students’ civil rights or against discrimination. The sudden loss of a significant portion of their budgets will impact already underfunded school districts’ ability to respond to the needs of their students.
“By re-routing substantial dollars from public schools to support private education, the educational environment of students throughout the state is being severely eroded,” said Mary McKillip, PhD, ELC Senior Researcher and report author. “The state of Florida is turning its back on public school students at a time when more resources, not less, are needed.”
“It’s concerning that an enormous amount of tax dollars are being railroaded to private schools with virtually no transparency or accountability,” said Norín Dollard, PhD, senior policy analyst and KIDS COUNT director at FPI. “Investing in quality public schools should be one of state lawmakers’ top priorities as we fast approach the 2023 legislative session.”
“Currently, Florida ranks 42nd in the country in K-12 per pupil funding,” said Rocky Hanna, Superintendent of Leon County Public Schools. “Given this alarming statistic, it is an absolute travesty that the Florida legislature and governor have made it a priority to expand the private school voucher program in the State of Florida and commit over 1.3 billion public tax dollars to support private schools with private interests throughout the state with zero accountability.”
“In a state that prides itself on parental choice, Florida’s voucher system forces families to make important education decisions with blindfolders on,” said Melissa Erickson, executive director of Alliance for Public Schools. “This system of privately owned, largely unregulated schools receives millions of our tax dollars with no oversight, accountability, or guarantees for our children.”
Education Law Center, founded in 1973, pursues education justice and equity to ensure that all students receive a high quality public education effectively preparing them to participate as citizens in a democratic society and as valued contributors to a robust economy.
Florida Policy Institute is an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing state policies and budgets that improve the economic mobility and quality of life for all Floridians.
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