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Florida's school voucher program: Balancing education and expenses

The state’s expanded school voucher program sparks debates on responsible spending and customized education

Florida's school voucher program, which recently broadened its eligibility criteria, is now under the spotlight for the wide array of purchases it allows parents to make. From theme park tickets to high-end electronics, the spending choices have left the public divided, with some advocating for personalized education and others questioning the use of taxpayer funds.

Innovative spending from theme parks to technology

Florida parents are embracing newfound flexibility in spending their school voucher program money, venturing into unconventional territory with purchases like Disney tickets and kayaks. These items, once reserved for students with disabilities, are now open to any voucher recipient, provided there's money left after tuition and fees. While some applaud the ability to personalize education, others argue it raises concerns about fiscal responsibility and the purpose of these funds.

This expanded voucher program, which nearly doubled in size to more than 425,000 students after HB 1 became law on July 1, has seen a significant shift in how funds are allocated. In 2021-22, $1.2 million was spent on televisions using vouchers given to families of students with disabilities. Step Up For Students said that prior authorization was needed for the transactions.

They shelled out an additional $30,436 on trampolines for use indoors, $43,374 on treadmills for use at home (which also needed prior authorization), and $226,584 on video gaming systems. The highest expenditures were for laptops ($8 million), exam preparation ($26.7 million), and iPads ($3.4 million), with a total of $51 million recorded for distribution that year.

A person using a laptop and calculator

Balancing act: Special needs and voucher program spending

Despite having seen school voucher program in the past, parents of children with severe medical needs worry that crucial services and equipment might fall by the wayside. As the list of eligible expenses expands, questions arise about the fair allocation of resources. While students with special needs have access to a wider range of essential items, critics ponder whether it's the best use of taxpayer dollars.

Parents of children with complex medical requirements were concerned that vital services and equipment would go unfunded as a result of the new buying guide since money was being diverted to things that families should pay for themselves.

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