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Florida Policy Institute asked for school voucher data. Here's what one nonprofit provided

A student who is smiling sits at a desk in a classroom
Elmo Lugo
/
Miami-Dade County Public Schools
A student at Joella C. Good Elementary in Hialeah smiles on the first day of summer school. After about two weeks at home, some students say they're excited to be back at school -- where they can spend more time with their friends and favorite teachers.

The Florida Policy Institute and 30 of its partners called on Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz to be more transparent about school vouchers this week. A universal school voucher program took effect in Florida on July 1.

Step Up for Students, the nonprofit in charge of the scholarships, said of the 122,895 students enrolled on these scholarships for the first time, 69% were already attending private schools. Forty-four percent come from households that make $120,000 a year or more for a family of four.

The Florida Policy Institute’s Dr. Norín Dollard said she still wants to see other demographics for these students, such as race and ethnicity.

READ MORE: A lot is happening in Florida education. These are some of the changes kids will see

“And if our experiences are the same as that in Arizona, the people taking advantage of the vouchers, the scholarships, will be people of greater means, folks in private schools who've never touched the public school system," Dollard said.

Dollard said it's also unclear just how much of an impact the program has had on the state’s public schools when it comes to funding. FPI says almost $2.8 billion could be lost, while Step Up said that number is too high and double counts some students.

“The $2.8 billion in the general revenue going to scholarships is almost three times the amount devoted to the teacher salary allocation," Dollard said. "And this is in a time of severe teacher shrtages by contrast.” 

Florida is one of a handful of states that have passed universal or near-universal school voucher programs, where every child is eligible for a scholarship to a private or charter school of their choice.

READ MORE: Florida’s worsening teacher shortage; PragerU for K-12 schools; vouchers for all

Other states with universal voucher programs include Arkansas, Arizona, Indiana, Iowa, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Utah.

FPI's request for more information on the expansion of the voucher program came days after it was revealed that vouchers in the state could be used to pay for TVs, theme park tickets and kayaks.

Here's some data Step Up provided on Florida's school voucher program:

  • 242,929 students are enrolled in the voucher program
  • 122,895 are new to the program
  • 84,505 of these new recipients (69%) were already in private school, 16,096 (13%) came from public schools, and 22,294 are entering kindergartners
  • 53,828 (44%) of new students are from families that make over $120,000 for a household of four or did not submit income. Thirty percent are from families that make $55,000 for a household of four
  • Of the 242,929 total students enrolled, 44% are from families that make $55,000 for a household of four, 29% are from families that make $55,000 to $120,000 for a household of four

Copyright 2023 WMFE.

Danielle Prieur
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