Time is running out to save traditional public schools from the steady march to privatization by the Florida Legislature.
Last school year, Gov. Ron DeSantis began a totally new voucher program called the Family Empowerment Scholarship that allowed 18,000 Florida students to receive a scholarship to a private school, including religious schools. This is different from the hundreds of thousands of dollars in similar scholarships routed through corporations, in which corporations are given a tax break for the amount “donated” to private school scholarships.
The new Family Empowerment Scholarship is funded directly from the general fund, which also funds public schools. Tax money is thus diverted from public schools to private schools. Both types of scholarships are ultimately funded by taxpayer dollars.
For the 2020-2021 school year, Gov. DeSantis and the Legislature plan to increase the Family Empowerment Scholarship by 30,000 students, and also to eliminate the income cap that limited the scholarship to lower-income families. In other words, a scholarship is given to anyone who wants one.
This school year, Alachua County schools lost $897,000 due to 160 Alachua County students who took the scholarships. These vouchers make some public schools unenrolled; thus, they don’t have the funds to provided needed services. The district must cover these losses. Vouchers therefore hurt all public schools, not just some.
Remember, these private schools have no accountability demanded of public schools, including state testing. We are proud of our public schools and the hard work of our teachers, support personnel and administrators, and we are happy to compete with private schools. But the playing field is not a level one.
The Florida Legislature seems determined to rid the state of traditional public schools with its increased mandates and reduced funding every year. It’s stealthy and insidious. The remedy is to elect different people, people who truly believe in the invaluable role public education has played in shaping the America we know and love.
Taxpayers, please realize that your money is going to corporations to the detriment of public schools.
Eileen Roy is an Alachua County School Board member.