Approved expenses for homeschooled students: Foosball tables, skateboards, kayaks, dolls, stuffed animals
by Pierce Butler
When Ron DeSantis became Governor of Florida in 2019, the state had about 2,000 unfilled teaching positions in its public schools. As of August this year, according to the Florida Education Association, Florida now needs around 8,000 more teachers (plus 6,000 more support staffers).
The governor’s (and legislature’s) “War on Woke” has not just driven out many progressively-minded educators, but has scared away many moderate and apolitical teachers. Sweeping but vague laws limiting what students can hear and read have left schools and school boards guessing about which words and books, on topics from slavery to LGBTQ+ issues today, might get them fined, fired, and/or arrested.
Few doubt this confusion was provoked deliberately, to give the advantage to the advocates of bigotry and theocracy whom DeSantis counts on to propel his drive for next year’s Republican presidential nomination. By allowing anyone — not just parents — to challenge library and curriculum material, Florida’s new policies have been dubbed “educational intimidation bills” by PEN America (a 101-year-old anti-censorship organization of writers and creators).
As Kali Holloway writes in the October 2-9 2023 issue of The Nation (tinyurl.com/Iguana1711), these moves don’t warm the hearts of Florida high-school and undergraduate students: 91% and 79% of them respectively disagree, with many planning to enroll or transfer out of state.
The politically-driven attack on public schools, long a crusade by the hard-right wing in the US, goes beyond censorship and threats, with the state government carving billions from public education budgets with what may be the nation’s most aggressive school-voucher plan.
According to journalist-blogger Judd Legum (tinyurl.com/Iguana1712), the new “Personalized Education Program [PEP]” will take about $8,000 from public schools for each of 20,000 students ($160 million total) in home-schooling or some private school programs in the 2023-2024 school year — and twice that many more (and twice that much) per year afterwards. That’s just the increase for one year: Florida’s voucher program already consumes over $3.3 billion. The state has arranged for two private non-profit groups, Step Up for Students and AAA Scholarship Foundation, to allocate these vouchers, with financial incentives for each student signed up.
PEP vouchers will pay for a wide range of “educational” goodies besides books, computers, pencils and videos. The Tampa Bay Times reports (tinyurl.com/Iguana1713) parents can use taxpayers’ generosity for theme park tickets: “previously a prohibited expense, but Step Up for Students ‘reconsidered after hearing from parents about the potential benefits.’” Better yet, per Legum, the “Step Up for Students purchasing guide authorizes the purchase of TVs up to 55 inches” and “permits all voucher recipients to spend up to $400 annually on Legos.” Approved expenses for homeschooled students include swing sets, foosball tables, skateboards, kayaks, dolls and stuffed animals.”
(These new programs have dropped all restrictions of previous voucher plans to low-income families: now millionaires and billionaires qualify for public assistance for their children.)
Meanwhile, Florida public school teacher pay ranks 48th in the nation, and we’re number 43 in spending per student. Even if our “education governor” somehow fulfills his dream of moving to the White House in January of 2025, we can already expect many more years of the rest of the country calling us “Flori-duh.”