Recently passed voucher plan may drain nearly $1 billion from Florida’s public schools over the next five years

Florida’s neighborhood public schools could lose nearly $1 billion over the next five years as a result of the legislature’s actions in the last session to vastly expand vouchers for private and religious schools, researchers at the Florida Education Association reported today.

“The state legislators who backed vouchers and our governor need to learn some addition. It appears that the only mathematical concepts they understand are subtraction and division,” said Fed Ingram, a former Miami-Dade County Teacher of the Year who is president of the Florida Education Association. “Subtracting money from local public school budgets and creating division in communities by failing to support the schools attended by 90 percent of Florida’s students does not serve the best interests of this state’s families.”

The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. We have every expectation that the current cap on the Empowerment voucher will increase through future legislation. For example, one of several currently existing Florida voucher programs, the Florida Tax Credit voucher program (formerly known as the Corporate Tax Credit voucher program), provides private school vouchers by diverting corporate tax revenue from the state’s general revenue fund to a voucher-funding organization. The Legislature initially capped the program at $50 million in tax credits per state fiscal year, but the cap expanded to $873 million by 2018-19.

Florida’s voucher program has proven to be a failed experiment, yielding poor results for students and families. More than half of students who participate in Florida’s existing tax-credit voucher program stay for three years or less in private schools accepting the state funds, according to the Urban Institute. And test data from the Florida Department of Education indicates that the performance of students who attended private schools through vouchers lags behind their peers who stayed in public schools.

The voucher expansion bill, SB 7070, passed by the Florida Legislature this year, will expand eligibility for Florida’s voucher program and for the first time tap the state’s general revenue fund for vouchers aimed at the overall school population.

According to an FEA analysis, the expanded use of vouchers will drain $131 million from Florida’s neighborhood public schools in the 2019-2020 school year. Based on the track record of the current Florida voucher program, which has grown by 21 percent each year, FEA projects a total loss to public schools of more than $986 million over the next five years.

Table 1: Projected Revenue Loss to Florida’s Public Schools, 2019-2024

Year Projected Diversion from Florida Education Finance Program
2019-20 $131,000,000
2020-21 $157,986,000
2021-22 $190,531,116
2022-23 $229,780,526
2023-24 $277,115,314
Total $986,412,956

Source: Florida Education Association

“This misguided and misappropriated legislation means that school buildings will continue to decay, threatening the health of our students and staff,” said Ingram. “Classes will become even more overcrowded, making it harder for students to learn. As a result of this drain on school funds, Florida districts will be forced to cut back on music, art, Advanced Placement courses and other essential programs.”

Rob Kriete, a longtime teacher who now serves as president of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, concurred, “Right now, we have classrooms without teachers, education professionals leaving the field in record numbers, while more students than ever before are attending public schools in Hillsborough County. How is our district supposed to deal with these issues if the legislature keeps taking money out of our budget?”

According to FEA projections, Hillsborough County Public Schools may lose $53.4 million in public funds over the next five years as a result of the financial drain created by the new voucher program. Larger districts may suffer even bigger losses. Miami Dade County Public Schools, for example, may lose $235.9 million over five years.

Florida already diverts more public funds to private and religious schools than any other state in the nation. “You can’t keep telling Florida public schools they have to do more with less,” added Ingram. “Eventually, they do less with less. That’s not empowerment – it’s abandonment.”

How Much Do Public Schools in Your County Stand to Lose Due to SB 7070?

Under provisions of SB 7070, funds for unaccountable private schools will be drawn, for the first time, from Florida’s general fund. Based on statutory language and the performance of previous Florida voucher programs, here is a breakdown of how much money may be drained from public schools in each of Florida’s 67 counties.

Table 2: Projected Lost Revenue to Florida’s Public Schools, 2019-2024, By County

County 2018-19 2019-20 2020-21 2021-22 2022-23 Total diversion
Alachua 1,465,688 1,767,619 2,131,749 2,570,889 3,100,493 $11,036,438
Baker 111,787 134,815 162,587 196,080 236,472 $841,740
Bay 196,994 237,575 286,516 345,538 416,719 $1,483,343
Bradford 224,905 271,235 327,109 394,494 475,760 $1,693,503
Brevard 3,110,458 3,751,212 4,523,962 5,455,898 6,579,813 $23,421,344
Broward 12,577,744 15,168,759 18,293,524 22,061,990 26,606,760 $94,708,777
Calhoun 6,509 7,850 9,467 11,417 13,769 $49,013
Charlotte 586,245 707,011 852,656 1,028,303 1,240,133 $4,414,348
Citrus 745,241 898,760 1,083,905 1,307,189 1,576,470 $5,611,565
Clay 674,984 814,031 981,722 1,183,956 1,427,851 $5,082,544
Collier 600,371 724,047 873,201 1,053,080 1,270,014 $4,520,712
Columbia 613,357 739,709 892,089 1,075,859 1,297,486 $4,618,500
Miami-Dade 31,328,820 37,782,557 45,565,763 54,952,310 66,272,486 $235,901,936
Desoto 122,772 148,062 178,563 215,347 259,709 $924,453
Dixie 83,080 100,194 120,834 145,726 175,745 $625,578
Duval 9,543,033 11,508,897 13,879,730 16,738,955 20,187,179 $71,857,794
Escambia 2,255,681 2,720,352 3,280,744 3,956,577 4,771,632 $16,984,986
Flagler 589,722 711,205 857,713 1,034,402 1,247,489 $4,440,530
Franklin 30,821 37,170 44,827 54,062 65,199 $232,080
Gadsden 554,009 668,134 805,770 971,759 1,171,941 $4,171,613
Gilchrist 68,219 82,272 99,220 119,659 144,309 $513,680
Glades 24,026 28,976 34,945 42,144 50,825 $180,916
Gulf 28,266 34,089 41,111 49,580 59,794 $212,841
Hamilton 98,295 118,543 142,963 172,414 207,931 $740,146
Hardee 48,773 58,820 70,937 85,550 103,173 $367,254
Hendry 291,585 351,651 424,091 511,454 616,813 $2,195,594
Hernando 989,269 1,193,059 1,438,829 1,735,227 2,092,684 $7,449,068
Highlands 745,037 898,515 1,083,609 1,306,832 1,576,040 $5,610,033
Hillsborough 7,091,138 8,551,912 10,313,606 12,438,209 15,000,480 $53,395,346
Holmes 27,576 33,257 40,107 48,370 58,334 $207,643
Indian River 401,232 483,885 583,566 703,780 848,759 $3,021,222
Jackson 106,337 128,243 154,661 186,521 224,944 $800,705
Jefferson 92,668 111,758 134,780 162,545 196,029 $697,781
Lafayette 38,769 46,755 56,387 68,002 82,011 $291,923
Lake 2,167,744 2,614,299 3,152,844 3,802,330 4,585,610 $16,322,827
Lee 1,599,373 1,928,843 2,326,185 2,805,379 3,383,288 $12,043,068
Leon 793,550 957,021 1,154,167 1,391,926 1,678,663 $5,975,327
Levy 299,902 361,682 436,188 526,043 634,408 $2,258,223
Liberty 5,670 6,838 8,247 9,946 11,995 $42,697
Madison 15,746 18,990 22,902 27,620 33,310 $118,569
Manatee 1,059,929 1,278,274 1,541,599 1,859,168 2,242,157 $7,981,127
Marion 2,555,601 3,082,055 3,716,958 4,482,651 5,406,078 $19,243,343
Martin 365,593 440,905 531,731 641,268 773,369 $2,752,865
Monroe 144,380 174,122 209,992 253,250 305,419 $1,087,163
Nassau 291,863 351,987 424,496 511,942 617,402 $2,197,691
Okaloosa 548,764 661,810 798,143 962,560 1,160,847 $4,132,124
Okeechobee 202,667 244,416 294,766 355,488 428,718 $1,526,055
Orange 12,808,768 15,447,374 18,629,533 22,467,217 27,095,464 $96,448,356
Osceola 4,924,160 5,938,536 7,161,875 8,637,221 10,416,489 $37,078,280
Palm Beach 4,196,692 5,061,211 6,103,820 7,361,207 8,877,616 $31,600,546
Pasco 1,826,131 2,202,313 2,655,990 3,203,124 3,862,968 $13,750,526
Pinellas 4,797,617 5,785,926 6,977,827 8,415,259 10,148,802 $36,125,431
Polk 4,857,346 5,857,960 7,064,700 8,520,028 10,275,153 $36,575,187
Putnam 513,571 619,367 746,956 900,830 1,086,400 $3,867,125
St. Johns 544,651 656,849 792,160 955,344 1,152,145 $4,101,149
St. Lucie 2,357,394 2,843,018 3,428,679 4,134,987 4,986,795 $17,750,873
Santa Rosa 448,042 540,339 651,648 785,888 947,781 $3,373,698
Sarasota 896,965 1,081,740 1,304,579 1,573,322 1,897,426 $6,754,033
Seminole 1,804,295 2,175,980 2,624,232 3,164,824 3,816,778 $13,586,110
Sumter 133,463 160,956 194,113 234,101 282,326 $1,004,959
Suwannee 560,967 676,526 815,890 983,963 1,186,660 $4,224,005
Taylor 217,648 262,483 316,554 381,765 460,408 $1,638,858
Union 49,007 59,102 71,277 85,960 103,668 $369,014
Volusia 4,199,711 5,064,851 6,108,211 7,366,502 8,884,001 $31,623,276
Wakulla 120,333 145,121 175,016 211,070 254,550 $906,090
Walton 74,635 90,010 108,552 130,914 157,882 $561,993
Washington 144,414 174,163 210,041 253,309 305,491 $1,087,418
Total Loss
To Public Schools
$131,000,000 $157,986,000 $190,531,116 $229,780,526 $277,115,314 $986,412,956

Source: Florida Education Association

The Orlando Sentinel investigative series Schools without Rules revealed the lack of oversight and accountability over private schools operating in Florida. Vouchers have failed students in other states as well as in Florida.

Below are links to an investigation released this week from the New Orleans Times-Picayune, NPR and Fox affiliates and The Center for Investigative Reporting:

  • Read the story at NOLA.com: Louisiana promised children a way out of bad public schools. Then steered thousands to D and F grade private campuses
  • Watch the report from Fox 8: The Cost of Choice: Louisiana’s voucher program costs millions more to send children to lower-performing schools
  • Hear the story from WWNOThe Cost Of Choice: How Louisiana’s Voucher Program Steered Families Into D and F Private Schools

And from Tennessee this week: Voucher bill faces new scrutiny amid report of FBI probe.