Programs like school vouchers provide options beyond traditional neighborhood public schools to parents, Morreale said.
“The governor understands we are moving toward a new definition of public education in Florida,” he said.
Created in 2019, the Family Empowerment Scholarship was intended as a relief valve for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, which is available to low-income families. Nearly 110,000 students received scholarships from that program last year. DeSantis said before the Family Empowerment Scholarship was created, 15,000 to 20,000 students were on a waiting list for Florida Tax Credit Scholarship.
“We wanted those kids off the waitlist. We wanted to be able to empower parents — many of them are low-income parents, many of them are single, working mothers, to be able to have a meaningful choice and to be able to get their child in the best environment, so we did the Family Empowerment Scholarship, which effectively cleared the waitlist,” DeSantis said.
But unlike the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, which is funded by companies that receive dollar-fordollar tax write-offs on their tax bills in exchange for contributions to the scholarship fund, the Family Empowerment Scholarship is supported directly by the state.
“This scholarship is not dependent on tax-credited donations from companies. The funding from the scholarships comes from the state budget; therefore, the funding is not dependent on the profit of donors” Morreale said.
Though touted as a way to help youngsters from low-income families, some of the Family Empowerment scholarships could be open to students from families of four earning up to $81,000 a year. Lower-income families will continue to receive priority to receive the scholarships, as they did last year, however.
The expansion of the program was the second major piece of education legislation DeSantis has signed this week. On Wednesday, DeSantis signed a bill that promises to boost pay for many public school teachers and make the minimum salary among the highest in the nation, he said. The goal is to have teachers, on average, earn at least $47,500.
“We worked really hard to be able to deliver this year for students and families when it comes to education in the state of Florida and it was a tough fight on a lot of this stuff,” DeSantis said Thursday.
State scholarships or vouchers are popular with Florida parents. More than 167,000 Florida students used them to pay private school tuition last year at an annual cost of more than $1 billion. But students who use vouchers do not take the same standardized tests as their public school counterparts. And the results of the tests they do take are not public, nor are their private schools’ graduation rates.
Florida’s voucher programs initially were touted by state leaders as a way to help students escape failing public schools and to help academically struggling children attend private schools their parents could not afford. But last year, 34% of students new to the tax credit program had never been in public school, state documents show.
And more than 40% percent who were in public school came from A-or-B rated campuses while less than 12% had attended D or F schools, according to scholarship data collected by Florida State University researchers.
Scholarship students also aren’t as poor as they once were, as the programs have been opened up to some lower-middle-class families, too.
Schools that take public dollars are also free to discriminate against LGBTQ students. An Orlando Sentinel investigation earlier this year found 156 private Christian schools with antigay views educated more than 20,800 students with tuition paid for by state scholarships.