What is Rick Scott's idea?
The top education advisers for the incoming governor are assembling a plan that would give the parent of every public school student a credit of roughly $5,500 — 85 percent of the state's expenditure per schoolchild — to use for their child's education. The parent could use the money to pay for public, private or virtual school in Florida, according to a draft of the idea drawn up by the Foundation for Florida Future. To be eligible, the student must have been in public school the previous year, or be the school-aged sibling of a student already in the program.
If parents pay for their child's education from some other source, they could also use this money for school equipment, like laptops and books, or tuck the money into a state-sponsored college savings program.
The state would contract with a "qualified financial institution" to administer the fund and verify appropriate spending from the account. The state would perform annual, random audits on financial institutions.
What are the legal implications of doing this?
Supporters and opponents alike say the biggest hurdle for Scott's plan is the state Constitution.
The Florida Supreme Court struck down the nation's first statewide voucher program in 2006, saying it violated a constitutional requirement for the state to create a free and uniform system of public schools.
The so-called Opportunity Scholarship Program used state money to let parents move children from struggling public schools into private schools. But the court ruled the program diverted "public dollars into separate private systems parallel to and in competition with the free public schools that are the sole means set out in the Constitution for the state to provide for the education of Florida's children."
What are the cost implications?
That is still to be determined. But some critics worry the plan could either end up costing the state more money, or hurting public school funding, because it would funnel state education dollars to private school parents whose children do not cost the state anything for schooling now. There were 321,298 students enrolled in Florida private schools in 2008-09, according to the Florida Department of Education.
On the flip side, supporters say vouchers save money because the value of a voucher is lower than the cost of educating a student in public school. In a 2008 report, the Legislature's well-respected research arm said the state saved $38.9-million in the 2007-08 school year through its tax credit voucher program, which enrolled 21,493 students at the time. (Enrollment is now up to 33,000.)
Has this been tried anywhere else?
No, according to two national education researchers who are familiar with school choice and voucher programs. Both Lindsey Burke, an education policy analyst with the Heritage Foundation, and Kevin Welner, a University of Colorado-Boulder education professor who directs the Education and the Public Interest Center, did not know of similar programs. There are 20 voucher programs in 12 states and Washington, D.C,, serving nearly 200,000 kids. But none approach the scale possible with the proposal surfacing in Florida.
What happens next?
Scott's education team is still working out details — they held another conference call Friday on the issue. The team is still weeks away from drafting a bill, which would need approval from both the state House and Senate.