As the fight over school vouchers continues in the Texas legislature, one only has to look at Florida to see what is in store for the state if the voucher system ultimately passes.
Like Texas, Florida has long been advocating vouchers under the banner of “school choice,” claiming that allowing residents to spend taxpayer money on private school tuition would enable parents to place their kids in schools where they are better fits. Many of the proponents argue this will be a boon for children with learning disabilities or who have other special needs. Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill vastly expanding vouchers this past March.
As vouchers progress in the Sunshine State, fears that public schools would be negatively impacted are shown to have been true. Over the past three years, the percentage of students who left public schools for private ones more than tripled, and is expected to reach 30 percent by the end of next year thanks to DeSantis’s expansion. The state government has consistently been rerouting money from the public school system to pay for these private schools.
The promise that this would be a boon for disabled and special needs children hasn’t materialized. Many students still can’t find spaces at specialized campuses, meaning that their vouchers are more or less useless. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority (81 percent) of vouchers instead are going to religious schools. This reinforces the accusation that the entire school choice scheme and its accompanying culture war against LGBT content in schools is little more than a way to funnel public funds into Christian institutions that have far fewer regulations regarding discrimination.
In Florida, private schools are also not required to disclose teacher certifications or school performance surveys. Curriculums are also far less available for parents to scrutinize. During several hearings about the school vouchers in Texas, proponents in the legislature consistently dodged questions on what regulatory measures would be placed on private schools, it’s reasonable to assume that similar lack of transparency will be present in Texas.
In addition, Florida is trying to prevent any look at how parents are finding these private schools. The Orland Sentinel reports that Freedom of Information Act requests to look at complaints from parents to the Florida Department of Education were met with a $10,000 price tag. This puts regular reporting on parental complaints out of reach of most outlets, shielding Florida from scrutiny regarding private school performance.
This is likely to be replicated in Texas. The state has repeatedly delayed a public report on maternal mortality. Many accuse the state of doing so intentionally to prevent a good look at the numbers since abortion was all but banned in Texas. A similar price tag on FOIA requests for Texas private schools would be yet another example of weaponized bureaucracy that would inhibit but not outright ban closer looks into the effects of state policy.
The accusation from voucher opponents has been that they do nothing but shuffle public school money to religious organizations while failing to provide better outcomes. In Florida, that appears to be true, and there’s no reason to think Texas would be significantly different.