In another huge win for school choice this year, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a bill that creates a universal education savings account (ESA) program by greatly expanding Florida’s existing school choice programs. 

House Bill 1, which received bipartisan support, ensures that all families with students eligible to enroll in K-12 can participate in the state’s ESA program. This provides 2.83 million K-12 students in Florida with the opportunity to receive an education tailored to their individual needs. Previously, roughly 70% of Florida families were eligible for the state’s existing ESA and scholarship programs.  

Parents can use the funding to pay for pre-approved private school tuition, homeschooling materials, or other school-related costs. The program uses a tiered priority system so families with lower incomes will get first priority to participate. However, as Governor Ron DeSantis said, “There will be a preference for low- and middle-income families, but at the end of the day we fundamentally believe the money should follow the student, and it should be directed based on what the parent thinks is the most appropriate education program for their child.” 

Additionally, the bill directs the Office of K-12 School Choice to create an online portal for families to select educational options for their children.    

Governor DeSantis said in his press release: 

Florida is number one when it comes to education freedom and education choice, and today’s bill signing represents the largest expansion of education choice in the history of these United States. When you combine private scholarships, charter schools, and district choice programs, Florida already has 1.3 million students attending a school of their choosing. … These programs have been instrumental in elevating student achievement over the past twenty years.

Black Minds Matter, a national movement supporting educational choice for African Americans, praised the Florida Legislature. Denisha Allen, Founder of Black Minds Matter, released this statement in an email: 

As a former recipient of the Florida tax-credit scholarship, I am so pleased that the Florida Legislature once again has done what is right by families. This new expansion will provide every student in the state access to the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program. …

The nation and state’s first school voucher program, known as the Opportunity Scholarship Program, started over two decades ago under Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Florida also created the McKay Scholarship Program for students with disabilities in 1999 and the Corporate Tax Credit Scholarship Program for students from low-income households in 2001. 

Continuing these efforts, the Sunshine State’s Family Empowerment Scholarship was created in 2019 and has since expanded as more families have utilized it. Florida’s first ESA program, the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities (FES-UA), is currently serving 70,000 students, including those who previously participated in the McKay program. Under H.B. 1, ESA program eligibility broadens to include Florida K-12 students, although the number of homeschooling students participating through a “personalized education program” will be limited initially.

This recent expansion follows the creation of universal or near-universal education savings account programs in Iowa, Utah, Arkansas, Arizona, and West Virginia. Other states, including Texas, Georgia, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and South Carolina, are considering similar legislation.   

Florida’s universal school choice law rightly recognizes that a family’s zip code should not determine the type of education that their children receive. It is inevitable that universal education freedom programs will expand to additional states. As Nathan Cunneen, a former Florida tax credit scholarship recipient, recently queried, “The prevalence of parents fighting for their kids and the desirability of school choice as an issue raises a question: which state is coming for the crown next?”