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|
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
To Public Schools
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 WWNO: The 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.