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Diane Ravitch's Blog: Florida: Vouchers Pay for TVs, Disney Passes, and Water Sports

The Orlando Sentinel reported that the $8,000 voucher handed out to every student in a non-public school may be used for non-educational purchases. Florida endorsed universal vouchers so family income doesn’t matter. Rich families get vouchers too just so long as their children do not attend a public school.

As Florida lawmakers expanded eligibility for school vouchers this year, they also gave parents more ways to spend the money.

Theme park passes, 55-inch TVs, and stand-up paddleboards are among the approved items that recipients can buy to use at home. The purchases can be made by parents who home-school their children or send them to private schools, if any voucher money remains after paying tuition and fees.

The items appear in a list of authorized expenses in a 13-page purchasing guide published this summer by Step Up For Students, the scholarship funding organization that manages the bulk of Florida’s vouchers. Many of the items are similar to what was permitted for vouchers to students with disabilities in the past, but now they’re available to anyone who receives an award of about $8,000.

The list quickly raised eyebrows as it circulated.

“If we saw school districts spending money like that, we would be outraged,” said Damaris Allen, executive director of Families for Strong Public Schools, who recently started speaking out publicly on the issue. “We want to be conservative with our tax dollars. We want to be sure it is being used for worthwhile things.”

By comparison, Allen and others noted, teachers who want some of the same items for their classrooms would have to pay out-of-pocket or turn to other fundraising sources such as GoFundMe because schools won’t pay for them…

Supporters of the expansion don’t consider the program as wasting taxpayer money. They see it as allowing families to customize education according to their children’s interests.

“We need to stop thinking like it’s 1960 — that the only answer is four walls with traditional districts leading the charge,” Jeanne Allen, founder of the national Center for Education Reform, said in an email.


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Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch is Research Professor of Education at New York University and a historian of education. She is the Co-Founder and President of the Network for Publi...