A public-school graduate, Gov. Ron DeSantis decided Monday to visit a private Christian school to push his education agenda for Florida, touting what he calls a “broad mosaic” of options for families who prefer not to enroll their kids in traditional public schools.
DeSantis touted scholarships — or what critics call voucher programs — that allow students to attend private schools with public dollars. He spoke particularly about a tax-credit scholarship program that has a waiting list of about 14,000.
“I don’t think that’s acceptable,” the governor said, while speaking at Tampa Bay Christian Academy in Tampa.
The visit at the private school comes as the legislative session is winding down in the state capital, and educators and teacher unions are pushing for help for the state’s traditional public schools.
That includes increasing low pay for public school teachers and funding other expenses for the vast majority of students who attend traditional public schools in Florida.
DeSantis outlined an agenda that includes a push for high-quality career and vocational programs, bonuses for highly-effective teachers and a new teacher talent pipeline that can offer loan repayments for teachers who serve in certain schools, among other initiatives.
But the main topic of the day was about support for “school choice” — the idea that families aren’t restricted to sending their kids to a rigid school zone in a local neighborhood.
DeSantis recalls growing up in Pinellas County and being zoned for Dunedin High School. “I went, and it was fine,” DeSantis said.
But nowadays, DeSantis wants families to have more choices, including looking into a variety of schools in their own public-school district; public charter schools that are run by private entities, and parochial and other private schools that students can attend with publicly-funded scholarships.
“When we’re committed to that kind of broad mosaic in Florida, we’re going to have an array of options for people,” DeSantis said.
Parents, religious leaders and students came to hear DeSantis speak at the school, calling on lawmakers to approve funding for the waiting list for tax-credit scholarships. Supporters of the tax credit program say families have felt hopeless and desperate to be able to get their child into a school that will help their student thrive.
Legislative proposals go beyond a waiting list. A key proposal includes a new and controversial scholarship called the “Family Empowerment Scholarship” voucher program that would cost an estimated $110.8-million if 15,000 students take advantage of it.
The amount would grow as the program takes on more students over the years, and the money for the voucher program would come from the traditional pot of dollars used to fund public schools – not the tax credit approach that has been used by Florida’s largest voucher program.
Teacher unions have been opposed to the proposed new voucher program. If approved, the program could lead to a lawsuit that could reach the Florida Supreme Court.