‘Game changer’: DeSantis signs school voucher bill in southwest Miami-Dade

Governor hails measure, critics say it could chip away funds from public schools

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis stopped at a southwest Miami-Dade Catholic school Monday to sign a major school voucher expansion bill into law.

The new law expands school vouchers to all Florida families, regardless of their income, allowing families to send their children to private schools using taxpayer dollars.

DeSantis, speaking at the all-boys Christopher Columbus High School in Westchester, described the new law as a “game changer,” saying it’s all about choice.

“Our school districts perform better because they’ve embraced choice,” DeSantis said. “Our charter schools perform better because they have to compete for individual students.”

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Critics have questioned its price tag and say it could chip away funding from Florida’s public schools.

“The way that it’s been proposed could take a significant amount of money away from public education,” Broward School Board member Allen Zeman said in an interview on “This Week on South Florida” Sunday. “You know, it’s really going back to the fundamental belief that Samuel Gompers started with the American Federation of Labor in the late 1800s. We wanted everyone to have access to a good education and vouchers (have) a risk of taking away up to 20% of the money from public education without taking away one student.”

Anna Fusco, the head of the Broward Teachers Union, agreed.

“This is 100% an agenda to defund our public schools,” she said.

Under the bill, families with lower incomes will be granted priority status for vouchers, but it also removes income-eligibility requirements, meaning all families in Florida will receive the same amount, regardless of their household incomes.

The governor addressed the bill’s critics Monday.

“The amount of scholarship money is less than what would go per pupil for public (education) anyways,” DeSantis said. “Second, since I’ve been governor, we’ve raised the amount of funding to our public schools every year. I mean, the idea that they’ve been starved, that theoretically could happen. That’s a choice that legislators and a governor would make. And I’ve pushed to have more funding for the school districts.”

Any change in funding would be decided in the future.

The new law also allows homeschooled students to receive state vouchers.

Other elements of bill:

  • Requires Office of K-12 School Choice to create online portal
  • Eliminates requirement that students compete online course in order to graduate
  • Waives teachers’ general education requirement if they’ve had three years in the classroom and have been rated ‘effective’ or ‘highly effective’ for three consecutive years
  • Expands length of a temporary teaching certificate from three years to five years

About the Authors:

Trent Kelly is an award-winning multimedia journalist who joined the Local 10 News team in June 2018. Trent is no stranger to Florida. Born in Tampa, he attended the University of Florida in Gainesville, where he graduated with honors from the UF College of Journalism and Communications.

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba.