The radical “Parent Empowerment Voucher,” (SB 7070/HB 7075) is quickly moving toward becoming law. SB 7070 is currently waiting to be heard in Senate Appropriations with the next stop the Senate Floor. This bill seeks to expand what was once a voucher for low-income recipients to an entitlement program for the middle-class ($100K income/family of four) to attend private religious schools. This legislation also funds the Parent Empowerment Voucher through the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP), co-mingling scant property tax dollars meant for the state’s district public schools.
We are in a battle over ideology. These bills are the culmination of years of layering policy to aggressively grow vouchers to the point that we are now standing at the brink of the “school reform” endgame: Universal Vouchers/Education Savings Accounts.
Remember, there are 3 million public school students in Florida. There are roughly 100K voucher students consuming $1 billion annually in diverted tax revenues. Here’s what makes the Parent Empowerment Voucher so concerning:
- Vouchers go to unregulated private schools that maintain their right to discriminate against certain students,
- Private schools can charge more than the voucher for tuition,
- Private schools are free to teach extreme curricula,
- Private schools are not required to ensure student safety
- Private schools are not recquried to hire certified teachers. Most do not even meet minimum requirements of a high school diploma
- The “Family Empowerment Voucher” takes a concept once meant for low-income recipients and morphs it into a middle-class entitlement ($100K/family of 4 per year)
- Private schools have the right to raise tuition fees to “price out” lower income students.
- Private schools are not required to prove their appropriate use of public funds.
- Violates Bush v. Holmes decision. Harms students by taking funds intended for Florida public schools and hands them over to private religious schools who are not required to be uniform, efficient, safe, secure or high quality.
- Violates separation of church and state by making the money meant to fund public schools available to private religious schools.
- Private schools are exempt from performing background checks on employees with direct student contact. (Jessica Lundford Act)
- Silent on what happens to public education funds if a student transfers mid-year to another private school, out of state or back to public school.
- Gives private schools a pass on the high stakes FSA and is vague on measuring student achievement.
- Taxpayers cannot recoup public dollars from private schools when funds are misused or students return to public school.
- Not required to comply with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Act, but may still be eligible to accept Safe Schools categorical funding.
- Roughly $30 million is paid annually to Step Up For Students as a “management fee.” Shouldn’t the DOE be running this “scholarship” program? Shouldn’t the $30 million be invested every year in Florida public schools?