The Florida House has proposed a universal private education voucher program (HB1) that would broaden eligibility in the current program to include all K-12 students in the state. This would bring the state’s voucher system to a scale far beyond its recent dramatic expansion. The potential for harm to local public school districts, which serve the majority of Florida students, is extreme.

“HB1 vastly expands the
responsibility of Florida’s public schools without providing any funding to do
so,” said Norín Dollard, PhD, senior policy analyst and KIDS COUNT director at
Florida Policy Institute. “It’s important to grasp the sheer size of this
proposed expansion — if HB1 was signed into law, the funding needed to support
it would exceed the Hillsborough County school district’s budget, and
there would be more voucher scholarships than there are students in
Hillsborough public schools, which comprise one of the largest school districts
in the nation.”

High-income families, current private school students, and homeschooled students would be newly eligible for vouchers under the proposed law. Even under conservative estimates, Florida Empowerment Scholarship (FES) vouchers would cost the state about $4 billion dollars in the initial year of HB1 implementation. This does not include costs for the proposed expansion of the Florida tax credit scholarship vouchers ($568 million in 2021-22).

Education Law Center and Florida Policy Institute estimate the following costs to Florida taxpayers from HB1:

  • $1.1 billion for 124,063 students currently receiving FES vouchers;
  • $890 million for 104,477 new FES vouchers for current public school students once the family income cap is lifted;
  • $1.9 billion for 219,017 new FES vouchers for current private school students newly eligible for vouchers;
  • $85 million for 10,000 new FES vouchers for homeschooled students newly eligible for vouchers.

Access details on the data behind the estimates here.

The FES vouchers are funded by rerouting state education funding from a student’s resident school district to cover the voucher. Current private school students and homeschooled students are not included in district enrollment totals. This means that approximately $2 billion in new state funding would be required to fund vouchers for these students. If the state does not increase revenue to cover the costs of students already in private education, the reallocation of state aid to vouchers will leave school districts with significantly less revenue to fund the remaining public school students.

Already underfunded public school districts will be financially gutted. Funding for public school districts would drop over $900 per pupil, from $4,175 to $3,261 per pupil in state aid in the first year.

This financial drain would impact districts differently depending on their current public and private school population. In Lee County, for example, the 2021-22 level of 2,190 voucher students is estimated to jump to 10,341 voucher students, given the new pool of eligible students:

  • 6,431 private school students not currently receiving vouchers already;
  • 3,698 homeschooled students;
  • 25,707 public school students in the higher income bracket.

Access district level estimates of these costs here.

Without additional state aid, the voucher program would pull $641 per pupil from the Lee school district, rerouting $88 million (26% of state aid) to private schools.

Given the recent growth in the private school sector in Florida, these figures may underestimate the potential cost of universal vouchers. Over the last decade, the number of private schools in Florida has grown by 30%, in contrast to national trends which saw a 9% decline.

The current legislation has the potential to further incentivize the creation of new private schools, all of which operate with little oversight and no accountability. The bill would also expose even more students to the harms vouchers bring, including reduced academic outcomes, segregation, and discrimination by private schools. The substantial homeschooling sector could also see a significant increase, with parents now entitled to thousands of dollars in voucher funds with minimal restrictions on how that money is spent. If HB1 becomes law, the cost to the state, and to local school districts, will increase significantly each year.

“It is crucial for Florida lawmakers to understand what HB1 could do to the public schools and students in their districts,” said Mary McKillip, ELC Senior Researcher. “The data we are providing are estimates, and costs could potentially go much higher. Florida is on the precipice of a devastating attack on the public schools.”

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Sharon Krengel
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