Monday, December 11

Florida’s school voucher program needs more transparency, dozens of education advocates and nonprofits say

Nearly three dozen Florida education advocates and nonprofits are demanding the state be more transparent about Florida’s newly expanded universal school voucher program.

According to the Florida Policy Institute, more than 410,000 school vouchers have been awarded since the Legislature expanded the program this year to allow any family, regardless of income, to participate.

The state’s K-12 voucher program helps supplement the costs of sending children to private school or help parents pay for homeschooling their children. The controversial bill went into effect on July 1 and removed the previous income cap, which limited participation to families whose income level was 375% of the federal poverty level.

In a letter sent to Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz on Wednesday, the Florida Policy Institute, along with 30 other nonprofits, education advocates and faith-based organizations, called on the commissioner to release more information about the taxpayer-funded program.

The groups said the state is withholding critical information, including details about the characteristics and income level of families awarded vouchers, how many of these families are using the money to send their children to private school and what the state plans to do if costs exceed the programs estimated $4 billion budget.

Recently, we learned some of the state’s allowable expenses under the program include items such as kayaks, paddleboards, big-screen televisions and theme park tickets.

“We’re allowing voucher students to be used for kayaks and paddleboards and theme park tickets,” Damaris Allen with Families for Strong Public Schools said. “We would be outraged if public schools used their tax money for these purposes. We should hold them accountable in the same way. These are our hard-earned tax dollars.”

“I can’t underscore the need for transparency,” Dr. Norn Dollard with the Florida Policy Institute, who also wants to know how the state plans to sustain the program long-term, said.

Dollard said Florida families awarded a school voucher are getting on average about $8,000 per child under the program.

Scripps has contacted Florida’s Department of Education for comment on the issue and is waiting to hear back.

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