Students sitting in a classroom. [Photo by Kenny Eliason]
The growth of Florida’s school voucher programs started coming into focus this week.
Data published Wednesday showed that nearly 123,000 new students have received vouchers after state lawmakers approved the expansion during this year’s legislative session.
As of Sept. 8, 242,929 students had enrolled in 2,098 private schools using vouchers through the state’s two main programs, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship and Family Empowerment Scholarship, according to a report by Step Up for Students, an organization that administers the vast majority of vouchers in the state.
That is an increase from the roughly 170,000 students who received vouchers through the programs during the 2022-2023 school year.
Of the nearly 243,000 students this year, 122,895 “are new to the programs,” though many had already been enrolled in private schools, according to Step Up for Students.
“Of the 122,895 new students, 84,505 (69%) were already in private school, 16,096 (13%) came from public schools, and 22,294 are entering kindergartners,” the report released Wednesday said. “Does 16,096 represent an ‘exodus’ from the public schools as critics forecast HB 1 (the bill that included the expansion) would cause?”
The Florida Policy Institute, a non-profit that has opposed the major voucher expansion, raised concerns about other parts of the data released this week.
"As we continue to analyze the data provided by Step-Up For Students, what initially stands out is that roughly 7 in 10 new scholarship awards are going to students already enrolled in private school, at what FPI (Florida Policy Institute) estimates is a $676 million cost to the state,” the Florida Policy Institute, which strenuously opposed the voucher expansion, said in a statement Thursday.
The information released this week also addressed other questions about the expansion, which in part eliminated income eligibility requirements for receiving vouchers.
The report said that 27 percent of the voucher students enrolled this year in private schools are from households with incomes above $120,000 — which is 400 percent of the federal poverty level for families of four — or from families who “did not submit income information.” About 29 percent are from families whose incomes are between 185 percent and 400 percent of poverty level, which would include household incomes of up to $120,000 for families of four. Another 44 percent are from families below 185 percent of the federal poverty level, or $55,000 in income for a family of four.
The expanded voucher programs also now allow families of homeschooled students to receive the scholarships.
The law created what is known as the Personalized Education Program, which the state Department of Education’s website said was “created to serve Florida’s home education population who would like access to an education saving account to fund their student’s learning.”
According to Step Up for Students, 15,097 homeschooled students have enrolled in the new program.