A controversial measure is currently working through the Florida state legislature, proposing a significant expansion of school vouchers statewide. A school voucher is a long-debated program which would give parents a credit for private school tuition, potentially at the expense of equivalent funding being put into public schools. It’s a popular measure among those skeptical of public school curriculum, as a growing number of Florida parents now are.
The bill, known as CS/H 1 (School Choice) in the legislature, was co-introduced by Republican state representatives Susan Plasencia of Orlando and Kaylee Tuck of Sebring. In recent days the bill passed the House Choice & Innovation Subcommittee in the State House, an important step toward it getting a full floor vote. With Republicans holding a lopsided majority in the state legislature, proponents are optimistic it will pass and be signed into law in the coming months.
Among the foremost champions of school choice in the State House is Speaker Paul Renner, the legislator tasked with representing Flagler County. Renner is one of the foremost Republicans in Florida politics behind Governor Ron DeSantis, and his seal of approval is a powerful weapon in the bill’s favor.
At home, however, the bill is receiving as mixed a reaction as it is on the statewide stage. All five Flagler School Board members were offered the chance to weigh in on the bill either by phone or email; members Cheryl Massaro and Christy Chong accepted the offer. Massaro’s first objection was the relative difference in accountability between public and private schools.
“I’m pretty firm on the fact that I’m not happy about his concept,” she said in a phone interview. “I’m not opposed to choice, I love choice […] What I don’t like about this whole situation is, there is just not an equal playing field. The people that are running a lot of the private schools are not required the same things that we are required as a public school system.”
Read More: Full Text and Updates on School Choice Bill
If Massaro’s concerns are warranted, does it have the potential to negatively affect Flagler Schools? Cheryl thinks it may. “It’s not going to help us,” she added. “This past year in the school budget we lost six million dollars; that is taken away from public education and our children. That concerns me immensely […] How do we compete? How do we keep it operational? How do we hire staff? Because we’re required to hire certified staff. That’s a problem.” Massaro said she hoped Speaker Renner would consider these issues during the legislative process of the school choice bill.
Board member Christy Chong sees things a different way. In her eyes, parents’ access to multiple education options outweighs the drawbacks. “Every family should be able to choose where their child goes to school,” Chong said, “regardless of income, and especially as taxpayers.”
Furthermore, where Massaro sees an uneven playing field, Chong sees increased equality. “Equal rights and opportunities includes being able to send your child to the school of your choice,” she continued. “This bill allows school choice to be a reality for every child in our state.”
Chong campaigned largely on seeing eye-to-eye with Governor DeSantis on education issues, and Renner currently serves as DeSantis’s top deputy in the House. But where Renner and the Governor’s priorities are in lockstep, Massaro entertained speculation that Renner may be pushing for school choice against the opinion of local educators. “I’m sure he probably knows that the public school systems aren’t going to be very happy with this push,” she said. “There are some great private schools, don’t misunderstand me. There are some great charter schools, and then there’s a lot that don’t succeed. When those kids don’t do well, where do they go? They come back to public schools.”
If there’s space for common ground between the Massaro school of thought and the Chong school of thought, it’s that they both agree there’s opportunity in better-run private schools. “Private schools that are doing well, go for it. As long as you meet the same standards, I don’t have a problem with it. Competition is healthy when it’s an equal-level playing field.” Chong concurs: “If we do not want to to continue to see children leaving public education, then we need to look at the reasons why parents are going private or homeschooling. This bill will further push us to pursue excellence and create competition to make our schools the very best.”