Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill on Monday to establish a statewide voucher program in which every child will be eligible to receive nearly $8,000 towards schooling, tutoring or other educational-related expenses.
“The State of Florida is No. 1 when it comes to education freedom and education choice, and today’s signing cements us into that No. 1 position,” said DeSantis. He called the new law “the largest expansion of education choice not only in the history of this state but in the history of these United States.”
Jewish day-school advocates and supporters of school choice are praising the landmark legislation.
“It was an honor to be with Governor Ron DeSantis and legislative leaders at the signing of this historic bill,” stated Rabbi Moshe Matz, executive director of Agudath Israel’s Florida office. Rabbi A.D. Motzen, Agudah’s national director of government affairs, added that “Florida is just an example of what can be accomplished across the country.”
Prior to the bill signing, Matz told JNS the new law “is monumental and will impact the school-choice movement around the country.”
“The historic achievement of universal scholarships in Florida is just the beginning,” stated Maury Litwack, Teach Coalition founder and managing director of public affairs at the Orthodox Union.
“Teach Coalition and our partners are working in several states to bring about new scholarship programs in states like New York and New Jersey, and to make universal scholarships a reality in states with existing scholarship programs including Pennsylvania,” added Litwak. “Florida is paving the way, and our activists are eager to take this momentum and truly make day school and yeshivah education affordable for all students.”
‘Nothing short of a game-changer’
Teach Florida, a program of the Orthodox Union that advocates for nonpublic school funding, stated that the number of Jewish day-school students in the Sunshine State rose from 10,623 to 12,482 from 2018 to 2020—about a 17.5% increase.
Jewish day schools reportedly turned students away earlier this year due to a lack of space in their classrooms.
Under the legislation introduced by Corey Simon, a Republican state senator, families will have access to education saving accounts regardless of income level. The funding can be used towards “tuition and fees at an eligible private school” or “transportation to a Florida public school, in which a student is enrolled and that is different from the school to which the student was assigned.”
The funding “is nothing short of a game-changer to give relief to struggling parents, to empower schools to raise teacher’s salaries and thereby impact our students, to ensure all Jewish children can get a Jewish education,” Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, of the Modern Orthodox Boca Raton Synagogue, told JNS.
The new legislation will likely encourage young Jewish families with school-age children to move to Florida, which has already experienced a “significant migration,” according to Goldberg. “When the impact is felt by families, children, teachers and the community at large, others will want to benefit from it,” he said.
Critics, including the Florida Education Association, which represents some 150,000 educators in the state, say the new law—and others like it—take resources away from already underfunded public schools.
While much of the legislation’s focus is on the voucher aspect, the bill also makes it easier for teachers in Florida to obtain licenses and expands funds for educating children with special needs.