The Brian Mudd Show

The Brian Mudd Show

There are two sides to stories and one side to facts. That's Brian's mantra and what drives him to get beyond the headlines.Full Bio


Q&A – How Families Are Prioritized with Florida's School Choice Bill 

Q&A of the Day – How Families Are Prioritized with Florida's School Choice Bill 

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


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Today’s Entry: I'm a big fan of Milton Friedman so naturally I've been very excited about HB1 and am eagerly following. I appreciate you covering this so closely, especially when all the Sun Sentinel can do is bash it! 

I have a question on the bill, though, that I'd love for you to tackle: Will participation be limited by FTC funds and FES-EO student caps, or will we truly have universal school choice this very year if it becomes law? 

Based on my reading of the 3/13 House analysis, there are limits to how many people will be able to participate at first. If there weren't, then the income-based priority groups would be meaningless. 

Bottom Line: I love hearing that you’re a Milton Friedman fan and your question is an excellent one as Florida’s HB 1 has passed and we’re now only waiting on the companion bill’s vote in the state Senate before the legislation would go to Governor DeSantis’ desk. Along with the debate and conversation there has come a lot of confusion. Some of the confusion is based upon the way Florida’s school choice program currently works – the Florida Tax Credit Scholarships program which you referenced. Some of it is due to the bill itself being 114 pages long and having been amended during the legislative process (specifically some of what you mentioned about the phased in approach was originally on pages 32 and 33 of the legislation but was struck from the bill during the legislative process). Much of it has been misinformation intentionally perpetuated by opponents of the legislation. I’ll start by addressing the question about the FTC limits.  

The Florida Tax Credit Scholarships program as it’s currently constructed, limits access to school vouchers for those at 400% of the federal poverty level and/or may be used for students who’ve been in foster care. After peaking with over 111,219 students enrolled in 2020, enrolled has dropped down to 85,612 most recently. There are currently over 3 million students enrolled in K-12 education in Florida. Those are a lot of students and a lot of numbers but it’s less complicated than it seems.  

If the current bill becomes law, here is the exact language for who would be eligible for vouchers:  

  • A parent of a student may request and receive from the state a scholarship if the student is a resident of this state and is eligible to enroll in kindergarten through grade 12 in a public school in this state. 

That obviously provides no restrictions or timelines for eligibility. Any student who is eligible to attend a public school in Florida today would be eligible for a school voucher for the upcoming school year. The FTC program would be expanded to all eligible families. However, there is a limiting factor in terms of how students would be prioritized in choosing schools. Under the bill it reads: 

  • Priority must be given in the following order: to A student whose household income level does not exceed 185 percent of the federal poverty level or who is in foster care or out-of-home care. b. A student whose household income level exceeds 185 percent of the federal poverty level, but does not exceed 400 percent of the federal poverty level. 

So, in other words, families who are least able to afford private school options will be given first priority on use of school vouchers for use at a specific private school. As I mentioned in yesterday’s Q&A, there are currently 304 private schools in Florida in which the net school voucher amount, currently estimated to be $8,216, would fully cover the cost of tuition. It’s likely many of those schools will fill quickly with the students who’d have first access. If enacted as currently written this law would likely result in two additional outcomes. Families of above-average means still paying additional money for private school tuition under schools in which tuition exceeds what the state would cover, and additional private schools being created to address the potential additional demand. But that is still a big question mark of course. Just because all students would have access to school choice, doesn’t mean all will use it. It remains to be seen how many parents and students will opt to switch schools from their currently assigned public school options. Now where there still would be a phased in approach would be on vouchers for parents and students who choose to homeschool and for students using the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Unique Abilities.  

Initially, using the same prioritization schedule with eligible families of the most modest means qualifying first, 10,000 Home School scholarships would be funded next school year rising by 20,000 annually through June 2027. Additionally, as is stated in the House analysis you noted, the bill increases the number of students with disabilities served under the FES by increasing scholarship growth rates from 1 percent to 3 percent of Florida’s exceptional education students, annually. The Family Empowerment program currently works independent of the Florida school voucher program given the specific needs of the students and administrators. Currently the FES is available to special needs students age 3 through grade 12 or age 22, whichever comes first, who have a specific diagnosis. The average award under the FES scholarship program is $10,000 and the funds may be used for tuition and fees for a private school, homeschooling options, therapies, tutoring and related educational services.  

So that’s the whole ball of wax as it’s written today. We’re all on state senate watch with this issue now as we’re only one more vote away from Universal School Choice being on Governor DeSantis’ desk.  

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