Florida may soon see another private school voucher program

Family Empowerment scholarship program

SARASOTA (WWSB) -A new school voucher program is working its way up to the Senate for approval.

It's called the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program and would allow middle class families the opportunity to place their child in a private school using public school dollars.

If passed, the student who is applying for the scholarship must currently be enrolled in a Florida public school. That student would then receive 95% of the average cost per student funding that public schools receive for each student towards their private school tuition.

The state says if approved, the scholarships would only be given out to 15,000 students statewide, but has the possibility for growth. This would help shrink the list for the popular Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program.

Those who support this voucher system say it would give middle class families the opportunity to put their child in private school, which they may not have been able to pay for without this voucher. Supporters also say it would help with the growing public school population.

But those who are against the possible new voucher program, like Sarasota County School Board Chair Jane Goodwin, say that it's a step toward privatizing education.

Goodwin said the government should be focusing on funding public schools better rather than taking away money from them. She said Sarasota County School District has seen a decrease in funding of about $30 million a year for the past three years.

“Education is a complex business. We have made it so complex that people outside can’t understand it. And what’s happening now is that these new legislatures that go to Tallahassee, they don’t understand it, so they vote for whatever somebody tells them to do, because they don’t really understand. And then I sit down and talk to them and they say oh really, does that happen,” Goodwin said.

She went on to say if public school money is going towards private school education, then the private schools should be held to the same standards.

"Are we helping them to sustain themselves? Perhaps. There's no oversight as to the staff's background. Whether they have a degree, whether they have a teaching degree. What they teach. Are they teaching science, are they teaching Darwinism, Creationism," Goodwin said.

This scholarship program will be discussed in the Florida Legislature this spring.

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