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Kathleen Oropeza, parent activist in Florida, explains in The Progressive how Republicans intend to destroy public schools and turn the state into a publicly-funded voucher haven. Governor Ron DeSantis is accomplishing Betsy DeVos’s dream while tossing aside the future of the state’s children. In Florida, public schools are held accountable for students and teachers but in private and religious schools, no accountability or standards are required.
In what state Senator Perry Thurston calls a “death knell,” the 2021 Florida House and Senate are fast-tracking the passage of SB 48. This bill will convert the state’s five vouchers into two Education Savings Account/Debit Cards paid, for the first time, with public school tax dollars and a spending flexibility so wide that parents are not even required to pay for teachers or tuition.
Vouchers provide parents with public money to pay for private, often religious schools, with little accountability or guarantee of quality, in eighteen states. Florida leads the way, ahead of other states like Arizona, in how to “choice” parents out of public education and into private school voucher programs. Today, Florida operates two Exceptional Student Educationvouchers, the McKay and Gardiner, plus the Corporate Tax Credit, Hope and Family Empowerment, for a total of five vouchers. The goal has always been to significantly expand the base of students giving up their right to a free public education in exchange for granting parents the freedom to spend their child’s money as they see fit.
To accelerate the growth of vouchers, Florida seeks to convert all five programs into Education Savings Account/Debit Cards, funded directly by state general revenues. This money will not be spent on public schools. Instead, “parents can use the funds to pay for a variety of educational services, including private school tuition, tutoring, online education, home education, curriculum, therapy, postsecondary educational institutions in Florida and other defined educational services.
The bill, modeled after legislation created by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, represents the unfinished business of former U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the late libertarian economist Milton Friedman, and a host of rightwing philanthropists from the Waltons to the Kochs.