Florida's voucher bill could cost taxpayers $4 billion
A proposal in the state legislature would dramatically increase the number of students who are eligible for school vouchers. It could come with a huge price tag.
A bill now making its way through the Florida Legislature would massively expand the eligibility for school vouchers. But one group is saying it would cost taxpayers $4 billion.
The proposal — called House Bill 1 — would mean basically everyone would be eligible for Florida Empowerment Scholarship vouchers, which are now awarded only to low-income families. The program now costs less than $1.5 billion a year. But if the bill passes, that amount would increase to around $4 billion.
Mary McKillip is a researcher with the advocacy group Education Law Center. She says more than $2 billion in new state funding would be needed to cover the cost of the scholarships.
"If new revenue is not found to cover these costs, the public school districts will end up with significantly less revenue to fund the remaining public school students," she said. "Which we're estimating would be a drop in state aid per pupil of over $900."
“HB1 vastly expands the responsibility of Florida’s public schools without providing any funding to do so,” said Norín Dollard of the nonprofit advocacy group Florida Policy Institute. “It’s important to grasp the sheer size of this proposed expansion — if HB1 was signed into law, the funding needed to support it would exceed the Hillsborough County school district’s budget, and there would be more voucher scholarships than there are students in Hillsborough public schools, which comprise one of the largest school districts in the nation.”
Backers of the bill say it would allow all parents to have their children go to private schools. Opponents say it would spur the creation of more private schools, which don't have the same degree of oversight as public schools.
Education Law Center and Florida Policy Institute estimate the following costs to Florida taxpayers from HB1:
- $1.1 billion for 124,063 students currently receiving FES vouchers;
- $890 million for 104,477 new FES vouchers for current public school students once the family income cap is lifted;
- $1.9 billion for 219,017 new FES vouchers for current private school students newly eligible for vouchers;
- $85 million for 10,000 new FES vouchers for home-schooled students newly eligible for vouchers.