When it comes to education freedom, Florida has historically ranked first. But with Arizona passing universal education savings accounts in 2022, it looked like the Grand Canyon State would surpass the Sunshine State for the coveted title. However, in fitting fashion for the pro-freedom state led by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida recently passed House Bill 1 to solidify its spot at the top.
The model education freedom legislation has far-reaching implications, ushering in universal education savings accounts while also deregulating public schools.
As described in a Florida Senate press release: “HB 1 contains a comprehensive package of innovations that promote parental involvement and customized K-12 education in Florida. The legislation empowers parents to guide their children’s education by providing for an Education Savings Account for every student in the K-12 system. Incorporating recommendations from the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, the bill also takes the first step towards reducing onerous and excessive regulations on public schools.”
House Bill 1, signed into law on March 27, expands the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program to include all K-12 students statewide. Families who opt to participate will receive up to $8,000 per student per school year for education-related expenses. Funds can be used toward private school tuition and fees, transportation to a public school other than the student’s assigned school, curriculum and instructional material including digital devices, tuition and fees for postsecondary education, private tutoring, online classes, nationally standardized test fees, special needs therapy, home-schooling expenses, and pre-apprenticeship programs.
Commenting on the development, Florida House Speaker Paul Renner accurately noted: “Governor Jeb Bush kicked off the school choice revolution over 20 years ago and Governor DeSantis will usher in the largest expansion of educational freedom in the country with the passage of HB1. The goal is to deliver education in a much different way than the one-size-fits-all model that we all knew growing up.”
Florida Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz Jr. was not exaggerating when he proclaimed the signing day “a monumental day in Florida history.”
Florida became the sixth state in the nation to pass universal ESAs. Other states include Arizona, Iowa, Utah, Arkansas and West Virginia (which is nearly universal, with 93% of students eligible). But Florida is the most populous state to enact universal ESAs, with 3.38 million K-12 students currently enrolled in a public or private school, plus roughly 150,000 home-schooled students.
On the day he signed the bill, Mr. DeSantis rightly claimed the educational freedom title for his state: “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.”
Mr. Bush, who deserves great credit for laying the groundwork over the last few decades, weighed in: “Florida has created the most expansive parental choice program in the country — one that boldly prioritizes millions of students over outdated systems, unlocks options for all families, ends the frustration of waitlist and empowers parents to make decisions based on their child’s unique learning needs, regardless of their income or ZIP code.”
While Florida wasn’t the first to free all families, its House Bill 1 just may be the strongest education reform bill, as well as a model for other red states to replicate — to the great primary benefit of children and parents, but more broadly to the state’s future workforce, economy, and citizenry. As for blue states, they are being left in the dust — given the stranglehold of the teachers unions — as the exciting and advantageous highway of the future of K-12 education is blazing ahead.