Q&A of the Day – What’s in Florida’s Universal School Choice Plan
Each day I feature a listener question sent by one of these methods.
iHeartRadio: Use the Talkback feature – the microphone button on our station’s page in the iHeart app.
Today’s Entry: @brianmuddradio If it’s universal school choice will anyone be eligible for vouchers?
Bottom Line: The short answer is yes. In time that would be the case. Today’s note picks up the conversation from yesterday’s Q&A in which we discussed the success of Florida’s largest in the country school choice program and the incredible success we’ve had educationally since rolling it out 18 years ago. As mentioned, in 2005, when Florida’s school choice program was first rolled out, our high school graduation rate was a paltry 59% and our students ranked 25th on the National Assessment. Fast forward to today. Florida’s graduation rate is now over 90% and our students are now 4th in assessment outcomes. There’s more to that story than school choice, however the timing in Florida’s educational turnaround is precisely timed to the rollout of school choice. And as it’s been expanded results have only continued to improve. So, about the details of the newly proposed universal school choice plan announced last week by Florida House Speaker Paul Renner. Here’s what the legislation as currently proposed would do:
- A student is eligible if the student is a resident of this state and is eligible to enroll in kindergarten through grade 12 in a public school
- Priority given to a student whose household income level does not exceed 185 percent ($51,338) of the federal poverty level or who is in foster care or out-of-home care
- Scholarship amounts of $7,250 to $7,850 per eligible student per year
- $750 credit towards transportation
- Immediately ends the waiting list for special needs children seeking school vouchers
- 10,000 Home School scholarships funded next school year rising by 20,000 annually through June 2027
- The law would take effect July 1st
A quick note. I read through the 50-page bill multiple times, to attempt to make sure I didn’t miss significant details. That said it’s possible I didn’t catch everything. There already have been many changes to the proposed legislation which is clear if you look at the bill. And that’s the next point. These details are as of today. It’s possible there could be changes prior to the potential passage of this legislation in March’s state legislative session. That said, here’s how this would work for families who’d like to use the program.
As a parent, you’d have an Education Savings Account established which would be funded with a minimum of $7,250 per eligible child per year. The money could be used for tuition at any accredited school within the state. An additional $750 credit per student per year towards transportation costs can be obtained as well if public school transportation isn’t used. Where it begins to get a bit tricker is with the choice\preference of schools. While all parents in Florida would be eligible to make use of the program regardless of income considerations, families with household incomes of approximately $51,000 or less will be given the first priority on their school preferences. With the potential for a proliferation of demand – it's possible we could see log jams for many preferred schools, and it may be necessary for families with incomes above $51,000 to have multiple schools in mind just in case. There will be an advisor made available to help assist you in this process, and for annual reviews/renewals of your participation which should help to answer your questions and to navigate those types of potential questions and issues. Speaking of log jams... Then there’s the homeschool piece.
There are currently 152,000+ homeschooled students in Florida. With the proposal allowing for vouchers for homeschooling for the first time, I’d imagine all of the parents of these students would be interested in obtaining those funds. That said, only 10,000 vouchers will be made available within the first year, with an additional 20,000 being made available annually until being capped in the 2026-2027 school year. For parents of homeschooled students, paying close attention to the timing and opening of the portal for the vouchers, should this legislation pass, figures to be especially important – given what’s likely to be greater demand than availability in the early years of the rollout of that part of the program.
So, there you go. Again, some of this may change through the legislative process, however there’s a really good chance much of what we just discussed, if not all of it, will be law in the state of Florida July 1st, which if that happens would put this in place for the 2023-2024 school year. More to come... I’ll keep you posted.