New Legislation Will Save Families of Children in Nonpublic Schools Thousands of Dollars; Bill Could Serve as Model for Schools Nationwide
The Florida House and Senate on Thursday (March 23) passed a new school choice bill (House Bill 1) that will save families with students in all K-12 schools – including those in nonpublic schools – thousands of dollars in tuition. The first-of-its-kind legislation will serve as a roadmap for similar legislation nationwide.
The new bill would allow all K-12 students state scholarships that would help pay for their preferred school, regardless of family income. Now that the Florida House and Senate have passed the bill, it heads to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for his signature. It would take effect on July 1, 2023. The landmark legislation would provide every nonpublic school student with a state scholarship equivalent to 100 percent of state funding accorded to a public school student, which Teach Florida Executive Director Danny Aqua estimates is roughly $7,800 per child. Aqua hopes it will help schools combat the national teacher shortage, improve overall education quality and increase access for families who struggle financially.
A project of the Orthodox Union, Teach Florida is a non-partisan grassroots movement that advocates for equitable government funding, security and quality education for the state’s nonpublic schools. It has been working tirelessly alongside school choice coalition partners Step Up For Students, Foundation for Florida’s Future, the Florida Catholic Conference and others to expand scholarships to all children.
The bill comes at a time when the cost of Jewish education is the No. 1 concern for 85 percent of Modern Orthodox families, according to research firm Nishma Research. More than 3,500 people have signed a petition organized by Teach Florida asking elected officials to Fund Every Child.
Florida is home to a growing Orthodox Jewish community. From 2018-2020, the number of students in Jewish day schools grew from 10,623 to 12,482, and 14 new schools opened – for a total of 64 such schools today. Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa, Utah and West Virginia recently passed similar programs for students, in the form of education savings account programs – but Florida has the largest Orthodox Jewish community.
“People have been talking about universal school choice and scholarships for every child for decades,” said Aqua. “Now, thanks to Teach Florida’s incredible activists, engaged member schools, and tremendous coalition partners, Florida is likely going to be the first state with a major Jewish day school population to adopt this policy.”
Aqua attributes Teach Florida’s accomplishments in part to the unified front presented by its 38 member schools representing 86 percent of Florida’s Jewish day school students.
For example, Teach Florida recently flew 100 school and community leaders to Tallahassee to promote the bill in meetings with 60 legislators at the state capitol, including Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives Paul Renner.
“Speaker Renner’s total commitment to universal choice represents a dramatic advance in school choice politics in Florida,” said Teach Florida Chairman Dr. Allan Jacob. “He has pioneered this attitude change that will enable every family to benefit. The impact on our community will be enormous. Families, schools and the entire community will all benefit from this expansion. Teach Florida has been advocating this approach for years and the Speaker has warmly accepted our suggestions and genuinely appreciates our community’s support. We look forward to continuing working with Speaker Renner.”
Speaker Renner, whom Aqua calls both a “champion” and “the inspiration” for the legislation, was the guest of honor at Teach Florida’s annual legislative breakfast in January, where 750 network advocates, community leaders and elected officials gathered to celebrate school choice.
Among those present at the breakfast were Speaker Renner; member of the Florida House of Representatives Chair Randy Fine; Florida State Senator Alexis Calatayud; Teach Florida Executive Director Danny Aqua; Teach Florida Funding Specialist Malka Rhodes; Teach Florida Engagement Director Melissa Glaser; and Teach Florida Chairman Dr. Allan Jacob.
Learn more about Florida state scholarships and apply here: teachcoalition.org/fl-scholarship.