Q&A of the Day – Will Florida’s Universal School Choice Plan Raise Private School Tuition Rates?
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: Submitted via talkback asking whether universal school choice coming to Florida will raise tuition rates for private schools.
Bottom Line: Florida’s Education, or Universal School Choice bill, is reality after a signature from Governor DeSantis yesterday. As of July 1st, in Florida vouchers worth approximately $8,000, or the amount the state spends on grade school education will be available to parents and students for use at the school of their choosing starting with the 2023-2024 school year. While I’ve covered many angles of the school choice issue to date, you’ve introduced an instructive question. Will the net effect of universal school choice lead to rising private school tuition rates in Florida? And would the potential impact of that development, if it were to happen, negate the opportunity for choice?
In last week’s Q&A addressing how families are prioritized for choice with this legislation I included some info pertaining to cost that’s a good starting point for this conversation. The most recent analysis of the most likely sum available to parents per student for the upcoming school year is a net $8,216. That’s the total net sum per pupil the state of Florida is spending on students. That would happen through a combination of a stipend and transportation reimbursement. Currently, the average private school tuition cost in Florida is $9,873. Without diving in any deeper that would create a $1,500 or so gap and would seemingly support your potential concern about unaffordable private school options. However, upon closer review there are currently 304 private schools in Florida, or 56% of all private schools in the state, which have tuition rates below the $8,200 figure. In attempting to discern what the impact of school vouchers may mean for tuition rates it's helpful to see how much capacity there is within the existing private schools as it’s unlikely rates would be increased unless they’re at capacity with demand outstripping supply.
At the start of the current school year, Florida’s private school enrollment stood at 79% of capacity leaving room for an additional 84,442 students. In Palm Beach County, capacity was higher than the state average with 85% of private school seats accounted for. Now, is it likely that demand could very rapidly outpace the current vacancy rates with only 14% of Florida’s K-12 students currently attending private schools? No doubt. It’s not only possible but likely with those which have costs at or below the voucher amount. That said, with existing vacancies at our private schools, it’d stand to reason they’d best be served by first reaching capacity before considering significant tuition adjustments. And while there’s going to be uncertainty for a while around Florida’s Universal School Choice program based on how many parents/students opt to change schools and how many of those changes would create new demand for private schools specifically – we have a strong indication of the view of the possible based on Florida’s existing school choice program.
As of last school year Florida already had the largest school choice program in the country. In fact, Florida spent 288% more money on school choice than the 2nd leading state in school choice. In comparing the average cost of private school tuition in Florida to other states, Florida’s average private school tuition is 22nd in cost for K-12 education. The national average private school tuition rate is currently $12,167. Meaning, despite having the far and away largest school choice program in the country, the average cost for private school tuition is lower 19% lower than the national average and is lower in cost than that of 28 states.
To date there’s no evidence that expanding school choice leads to higher private school tuition costs. That’s not to say it’s not possible, however as I referenced last week, it’s reasonable to expect more schools to adjust tuition rates to account for the state law in addition to new school options presenting themselves creating additional competition within the education establishment as well. While many suspect that there could be chaos come August with a rush of students seeking new schools, I think that’s likely an exaggeration. We’ve all been through school and if you ever moved when you were young you know what a jolt it is to leave your friends and start over in a new school. While there are many students who would and already do benefit from making the switch, there are many more who are likely to stick with what’s familiar at first. I suspect the bigger shifts will come from students first entering the school system and secondarily those making progressions from elementary to middle and middle to high schools.