Post # 272, Bob McKnight's Florida Commentary
The new Republican voucher program in Florida will fund private schools for the wealthy and destroy the integrated fabric of local community public schools.
Florida House Speaker Paul Renner said at the signing of the new $2 Billion private school voucher legislation in Miami, "You're going to see great, great things in education in Florida as a result of this bill." The bill was proudly signed by Governor DeSantis at Christopher Columbus High School in my old Senate district, with a price tag of $15,400 per student for tuition, fees, and textbooks. The vouchers are no longer means tested, so anyone in Florida with school-age children can qualify for the program, without a known cost. The Florida Policy Institute estimates the total cost will be over $4 Billion a year. This is just the financial cost. The cultural cost is the real killer here.
The legislature has no way of knowing how many participants there will be in the largest such program in the country, but the basic per-pupil estimate is $8,500 in advance. The original voucher program was passed in 1999 by Florida Governor Jeb Bush but was declared unconstitutional by the courts. It has been continually amended by the Republican legislature and finally approved by the Supreme Court.
Now that Governor DeSantis and the Republican legislative leaders are taking their victory lap, hard questions are starting to be asked:
What is going to be done about the thousands of existing schools in Florida, many of which need expensive repairs and renovation?
How will Florida avoid stigmatizing public schools as inferior to private school education?
How will a sense of community grow and thrive without the complete community support of the public schools?
Other states with vouchers have implemented "phantom funding" for failing public schools, without pupil growth.
Some school district costs are fixed which will double the costs of educating some children.
The new Republican voucher plan says it is based on the following the student. It is the opposite--with the vouchers available to everyone, it is now following the private schools, draining the public schools.
The real cost of educating children will skyrocket for public schools and the social stigma attached to minorities will only exacerbate school discord, disruptions, violence, and diversions. As a vital part of Florida communities, the local community public school will be largely lost.