Senator Linda Stewart (D-Orlando) and Representative Joy Goff-Marcil (D-Maitland) filed companion bills SB 532 and HB 429 to increase accountability in voucher schools and hold those schools to the same standards as the state’s traditional public schools.
“I don’t want to limit any options that school choice programs seek to offer, but there should be some standard of accountability to protect our students no matter what school you choose,” said Stewart. “For years, we have seen stories coming out about voucher schools and their lack of qualified staff, substandard facilities, and limited evidence of academic progress among students.”
The bills require that private schools participating in the state school choice scholarship program comply with the following requirements:
- Establish a curriculum that meets the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards;
- Require scholarship students participate in the statewide student assessment program;
- Receive a school grade;
- Employ teachers that hold a bachelor’s degree or higher;
- Provide at least 20 minutes of recess per day for elementary school;
- Provide the graduation rate and assessment results for scholarship students;
- Provide the school’s annual budget to DOE; and
- Comply with school-related building codes.
“While education needs vary among families, we can all agree that certain minimum protections need to be in place for our children,” said Goff-Marcil. “Especially as schools still adjust to a new reality and new ways to learn, implementing measures to uphold common goals in teaching, recess, and evaluation can ensure quality and smooth experiences for schools, students, and families. These vouchers are funded with our taxpayer dollars. We need to stop handing out money to fund inadequate education opportunities.”
In 2017, the Orlando Sentinel first published an investigative series “Schools Without Rules” detailing voucher schools that violated program rules, including hiring staff with criminal backgrounds and falsifying records. Despite these egregious examples, the Legislature has failed to meaningfully address oversight and accountability of voucher schools while dramatically increasing funding, including a record amount of nearly $1.5 billion in 2021.