Florida’s newest school voucher program has hit its funding ceiling, serving 18,000 children and becoming the largest first-year school choice program in the state’s history, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Friday.
Lawmakers created the taxpayer funded ‘Family Empowerment Scholarship’ in the spring, to supplement the state’s Tax Credit Scholarship program which helps low-income families afford private school with funds supplied by companies that get tax credits for their donations. The contributions had not kept up with demand, and the Legislature with DeSantis’ backing decided to put some extra money into the system.
The new program provided additional opportunities for families that wanted to send their children to schools other than those in their neighborhoods. Supporters focused on that aspect of the plan, calling the voucher an equalizer.
“There is simply no denying that choice works. The Family Empowerment Scholarship will help thousands of low-income children realize their potential and will continue to give parents the power to do what is best for their children,” education commissioner Richard Corcoran said in a prepared statement to the press.
It has been far more successful than the state’s ‘Hope’ scholarship, aimed at allowing students who claim to have been bullied in school to attend a private school. Participation in that program has been meager.
The ‘Empowerment Scholarship’ legislation also had many critics, who contended the shift in funding marked a blatant attempt to hurt the public school system. They viewed the move as a step toward trying to get the state Supreme Court to overturn a 2006 decision that essentially found vouchers to violate the state constitution.
With the vouchers now in full swing, that lawsuit could happen whenever a plaintiff with standing steps forward. So far, none has been revealed.
In his press release announcing the program had reached its cap, DeSantis said he was pleased to have created a program to help families, and he looked forward to its “continued success.”