DeSantis Signs Florida Universal School Choice Bill Into law

By Matis Glenn

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis during a press conference to announce the signing of a private school voucher expansion on Monday, March 27, 2023, in Miami, Fla. (Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald via AP)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a landmark bill Monday granting all parents funds for private school and home school education, joining Republican states and greatly expanding on the school choice movement that had been growing statewide for over two decades.

The law, introduced as House Bill 1, will grant $8,000 – near the amount the state spends annually on a public school student – to the parents of every child in the state, to use for any non-public educational program of their choosing, regardless of income level or disability.

All private schools, both secular and religious, are eligible for the program, which comes in the form of a “savings account” for parents, and covers tuition, tutoring services, curriculum, as well as homeschooling programs.

DeSantis’s office released a statement, saying that the legislation will “further cement Florida’s position as the nation’s leader in school choice.”

Florida, which has had select subsidized school choice programs since the late 90’s, has slowly progressed towards the current system, with increases in income level eligibility, and broader definitions of disability to qualify.

Previously, not all parents who qualified received funding; under the new law, there would be no limits placed on how many parents can be approved.

“We are at a turning point in educational choice,” Rabbi Moshe Matz, director of Agudath Israel of Florida told Hamodia. “We are witnessing bold leaps forward with Universal Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, and many States are catching on. Agudah is honored to have played an important role throughout the years, B’Siyata d’Shmaya. In Florida, we are going to see, b’ezras Hashem, a significant impact for many families.”

“Governor DeSantis signing Florida’s School Choice bill into law is a gamechanger for chinuch in Florida and across the nation,” Danny Aqua, Executive Director of Teach Florida, a school choice advocacy group affiliated with the Orthodox Union told Hamodia. “Our office phones are off the hook with Floridian families wanting to know how to apply. Perhaps equally as exciting is the outreach from those in New York in New Jersey expressing hope for the first time in a long time that there could be a solution to the tuition crisis.”

Aqua says that the movement in Florida began over 20 years ago.

“We were blessed to have Gov. Jeb Bush over 20 years ago, who created a tax credit program for lower income families, and for those with children who have special needs,” Aqua told Hamodia. “But it was very limited; it had a cap on how many people would qualify, and how much they can get.”

Rabbi Matz says that state lawmakers were very enthusiastic about the bill.

“The new law is historic, extremely bold and broad in terms of its reach, and it’s something that has been driven mainly by the legislators and majority parties themselves,” Rabbi Matz said.

“I think they feel empowered to promote this because at the end of the day these programs have been so successful in helping children,” he continued.

With the passing of the law, Florida has become the 6th – and by far the largest – state in the country to pass universal school choice, a standard adopted by the other five less than a year ago.

“Thank G-d the State of Florida has a multi-billion dollar budget surplus,” Aqua said, speaking about the ability of Florida to fund the program.

School choice programs might prove to be an impetus for more people to move to the Sunshine State, adding to the droves of newcomers drawn by Florida’s conservative social movements and loose economic regulations, taxes, and Covid policies.

“When making the decision to move or not to move, it puts another notch in the ‘pro’ column,” Rabbi Matz said. “It will create a challenge for us to accommodate so many new schools, but Agudas Yisroel will be there to help facilitate and assist in whatever development will happen in the future.”

Currently 250,000 have scholarships statewide, but that number is expected to reach 400,000 next year.

There are, as of this year, 12,500 children enrolled in Jewish schools.

To Read The Full Story

Are you already a subscriber?
Click to log in!