I spent my entire K-12 educational experience in the Citrus County School System. I’m immensely proud of that fact.
My time as a public school student, while obviously not perfect, was good. I received a solid education that prepared me for college and beyond. I had teachers who invested in me and helped me to grow as a student and as a person. The opportunities to try new things and explore new passions were made readily available to me.
To put it simply, my public education journey was everything I needed it to be.
I know that this is not what every public school kid experiences. It doesn’t always meet the standard, and often, it falls terribly short of what it should be.
I truly believe this is the impetus behind bills like Florida HB1 – a proposal for an universal private education voucher program that would expand the eligibility of the current program to include every student in the state regardless of a student’s financial situation. I don’t think the intention is to harm the public school system. I can say with a pretty decent amount of confidence that the desire is to give every student a chance at the educational experience that will best meet their needs.
Providing opportunities for students to participate in programs and offerings that are not available and, likely, cannot be made available large-scale in public schools is a noble idea.
But noble ideas always come with unintended consequences.
And in the case of HB1, that consequence could be a foundational change in the way public schools are funded and could ultimately be catastrophic to the public school system that has been a bedrock of the free world since the Industrial Revolution.
Currently, the school voucher program is designed to help students who could not choose a private education due to financial hardship. HB1 would strip the voucher program of any financial guardrails and, instead, offer high-income families, current private school students, and homeschooled students private school vouchers paid for by public funds.
According to the Education Law Center and Florida Policy Institute, Florida taxpayers currently spend $1.1 billion for 124,063 students who currently receive vouchers. Another $890 million would be added to that cost with the passing of HB1. In addition, $1.9 billion would be available to the 219,017 students who are currently enrolled in private school and paying for their education out of pocket with no taxpayer help. Another $85 million would be available for the 10,000 currently homeschooled students.
It’s a lot of money.
These vouchers would be funded by rerouting state education funding from a student’s current school district in order to fund the voucher cost. Because a school district’s enrollment total does not include homeschooled or private school students, that’s about $2 billion worth of new state funding needed in order to fund these new students. If there is no new funding for public education, then school districts will run wildly short on revenue to fund public school students.
It drops funding per student by about $900.
This, of course, would affect different districts differently depending on how many private and homeschooled students are in each district. But the consequence remains the same – public schools will suffer.
I think private schools are the right choice for some kids and some families. Taking a family’s financial situation into account while deciding if public money will go to support a private education is a reasonable way to deal with a voucher program. Eliminating these guidelines puts public education at risk.
And that’s not something we, as a society, can afford.
The opportunity for all students to have access to a solid education is core to the kind of pluralistic society that America has always been. If our public education is not making the cut, the solution is not to drive money away and place it in private education, but rather to pour more money in and make public education what it should be for all students.
Vouchers have a place but they should be a last resort for students who need something public schools can’t provide and who cannot afford to pay for those services without public assistance.
Opening up the voucher system with no restraints is a death sentence to public education. And ultimately, a devastating crack to our foundation.
Cortney Stewart is a Lecanto High graduate with political science, international affairs, and intercultural studies degrees who has lived and worked around the world.
"If our public education is not making the cut, the solution is not to drive money away and place it in private education, but rather to pour more money in and make public education what it should be for all students."
Ms. Stewart, that is exactly what we have done for the past 60 years with absolutely no improvements to educational outcomes whatsoever. The current system cannot be fixed. Children are now sent out into the workplace without a proper education. Vouchers give parents a chance to provide a decent education to their children and they put great pressure on public schools to improve upon the education they are providing.
Thank you for this column in defense of public education. I think you're wrong about the motivation for expanding vouchers. Maybe some parents believe it will increase student opportunity, but for the politicians and lobbyists pushing to eliminate income requirements and expand eligibility, the destruction of public education is a feature rather than a bug. Unfortunately, it looks like Floridians will have to experience losing public education before they understand its value. Same with the public university system so many generations worked so hard to build.
Thugs beating up a 9 year old girl on a school bus. Teachers being assaulted and being beaten by students with zero consequences. The school systems are being destroyed and if not tended to really soon they will completely come apart.
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.