Q&A of the Day – How Many Floridians Will Use Universal School Choice?

Q&A of the Day – How Many Floridians Will Use Universal School Choice? 

Each day I feature a listener question sent by one of these methods.   

Email: brianmudd@iheartmedia.com  

Social: @brianmuddradio    

iHeartRadio: Use the Talkback feature – the microphone button on our station’s page in the iHeart app.    

Today’s Entry: Brian, thank you for your support of school choice and your comprehensive coverage of the developments. I’m a public school educator who is supportive of parental choice. I have two choice questions for your Q&A. Could the state’s budget impact how the program is implemented? I’ve heard rumblings it could. Also, and related, is there a current estimate of how many parents will opt for a different school than assigned given the opportunity? 

Bottom Line: Great questions. One of which I can answer directly. The other I’ll do my best to estimate – which incidentally is what the state legislature is attempting to do as well. The state house and senate have both passed budgets which are different. The senate budget for the upcoming fiscal year is about $600 million higher than the house budget – with the largest difference between the two being education funding. And of course, the largest variance in education funding for the upcoming fiscal year has to do with Florida’s new universal school choice law. In answer to your first question. Yes, the final budget passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor DeSantis will directly impact school choice.  

You’ve likely heard of the phrase “unfunded mandates”. When creating a policy which carries a cost for implementation of the law, there’s a two-step process which must occur. The passage of the new policy and the funding of it. When laws are passed which carry a cost of implementation, however the expenses attached to the implementation of the law aren’t budgeted, it’s an unfunded mandate. In the case of Florida’s school choice law, it’s paramount. With over $8,000 allocated to an account for each eligible student who opts into the program – that money must be allocated in the budget process for that purpose, or it doesn’t really exist. And obviously that’s where the big guessing game begins for budgeting purposes. Throughout Florida’s legislative session the state senate has believed the program would cost more than Florida’s house has – which is to say the senate feels more students will opt in than the house. As for what the most likely cost will be... 

In early February I studied the studies conducted on this topic in an effort to discern what the real cost would be. The range in cost estimates was approximately $600 million to $4 billion in additional spending. That’s a huge gap with a huge difference in opinion about how many parents and students will seek to take advantage of them. At the time I reasoned that the best estimate was $2.5 billion. The cost estimates are obviously based on perceived student estimates so here’s an idea of what that might look like next school year. I most recently calculated the average net amount which will be used per student for the new school choice program to be $8,216. If we run with that number here’s the view of the possible for how many parents and students will opt for school choice in Florida for the 2023-2024 school year. 

  • Low estimate: 73,028 additional students 
  • High estimate: 486,855 additional students 
  • My estimate: 304,284 additional students 

So, what does that look like on a percentage basis with Florida’s current K-12 population? Florida currently has 2,838,866 students enrolled in K-12 education.  

  • Low estimate: 2.6% 
  • High estimate: 17.1% 
  • My estimate: 10.7% 

Those numbers are on top of the already greater than 80,000 students who are using Florida’s existing school voucher program. And given these estimates it helps to paint a picture of what’s most likely to happen in K-12 education. Disruption to the traditional public-school environment for underperforming schools? No doubt, there’s potential for that to happen. The wholesale fleeing of most students to new schools? No, not at all. In January, for National School Choice Week, a new study on the perspectives of parents and students regarding school choice was released. Provided with choice, 16.6% of parents and students choose to go to new schools that are different than their assigned public schools. Why then did I end up with just under 11% of students switching schools in the next year? About 3% of Florida’s students are already enrolled in a school choice program under Florida’s existing voucher program. Additionally, when having to arrange for transportation to a new school, I believe a small percentage will opt to stay put. And finally, given that Florida’s choice system is set to work on a system in which those at the lowest end of the socioeconomic scale have the first choice of schools, we’re likely to see certain preferred schools at capacity by the time some students who may consider switching schools have an opportunity to choose. That will likely lead to many of those students staying put. But yeah, to finish where we started, it all must be funded. The final amount agreed to in the budget will be the tell as to how universal the choice is next year. I’ll keep you posted.  

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