TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Students on a waiting list for a state-funded private school scholarship would receive them under a bill moving through the Legislature.
While parents of students on the scholarship argue it’s been a blessing for their children, others have serious concerns about state education dollars going to private schools.
More than 100,000 students receive the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, which is funded with private dollars.
It’s helped parents like Michelle Porter pay to send their children to private schools.
“My neighborhood isn’t the greatest. So finding the right learning environment for my children was very important to me,” said Porter, who is from Miami.
To alleviate a waitlist for the Tax Credit Scholarship, the Legislature created the ‘Family Empowerment Scholarship’, which is directly funded with taxpayer dollars.
But the waitlist has continued to grow and now sits at 35,000.
Legislation aimed at clearing the new backlog would expand Family Empowerment Scholarship, but the idea of sending more taxpayer dollars to private schools, including ones with religious affiliations, isn’t popular with everyone.
Reverend Dr. Russell Meyer worries it could lead to students being indoctrinated into religions.
“No public funds should be used to teach your religion to our children,” said Meyer.
At an average of $7,250 per student, the expansion could cost the state more than $300 million, but Senate sponsor Manny Diaz argues it’s a mere drop in the bucket compared to the overall $22 billion education budget.
“Not to mention all the capital dollars, which is another $2.9 billion statewide that are expended through districts on public education. I think this is a very small program,” said Diaz.
If the bill becomes law, it’s estimated more than 46,000 students could receive the scholarship next year.
The bill would allow the scholarship pool to grow by one percent of the total number of public school students each year.