School choice has been a hot topic of discussion in the United States, especially in Florida, where the state legislature passed a universal school choice bill in 2023. Florida is leading the way in the school choice movement, but there are still some areas where it could improve.
Florida’s School Choice Programs
Florida has made significant strides in expanding school choice for families. In 2023, a universal school choice bill was passed by Florida lawmakers and quickly signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. This made private school vouchers available to all students, regardless of their family’s income.
The state offers four school choice programs for students in grades K-12. These include two Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), a tax credit scholarship program, and a Hope Scholarship Program to assist bullied students. Enrollment in these programs has increased rapidly. For instance, the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program witnessed a 30% increase in enrollment, with over 85,000 students enrolling for the 2023-24 school year.
Limitations of Florida’s School Choice Programs
Despite the popularity of these programs, they do have some limitations. One of these is the restriction on using ESA dollars for tuition at a full-time online private school. This limitation has sparked debates among education experts and parents. Despite not receiving financial assistance, an estimated 40,000 families have students enrolled in a full-time online school.
Even though Florida is known as a leader in school choice, some states like Iowa, South Carolina, and Arizona are ahead of Florida when it comes to supporting full-time online private school education.
Advocates for Online Private Education
Proponents of online private education argue that the state’s commitment to school choice should be extended to include this option. They emphasize that the high-quality curriculum and specialized programs available at these schools are sometimes unavailable in traditional public schools. In some parts of Florida, online private school may be the only option that caters to students with specific interests, learning styles, or academic needs.
The issue has caught the attention of national school choice advocates. The Heritage Foundation’s Jason Bedrick wrote about the issue, suggesting that policymakers could easily fix these issues by amending the bill’s language to allow families using ESAs to choose virtual learning.
As Florida continues to lead in school choice movements, it is essential to address the limitations and provide families with the best educational options for their children.