What if Universal Voucher plan passes in Florida Legislature?

The Florida Legislature is in session usually for only 60 days each spring. Currently they are considering over 50 pieces of legislation, among them a “Universal Voucher” bill. Florida already has other more limited voucher plans in effect, but this one would pay around $8,000 per student to families earning less than about $90,000 per year if the parents choose a non-public school for their children.

Will Bronson
Will Bronson

The political left claims that it is an attempt to destroy public education by raiding funds set aside for public schools and giving them to parents who want something different for their children. The political right claims it would give parents long overdue relief from the burden of having to pay both taxes for “free public schools” and additional tuition if they sought other educational alternatives for their children.

In an attempt to get a longer view of the big picture, I offer this admittedly extreme scenario for your consideration. Let’s say that half the public school children in Lee County decided with their parents that they wanted to try something different and eventually over some years took the “Universal Voucher.” Currently Lee County spends about $2 billion educating about 100,000 children which comes to about $20,000 per student. If half of them left for some reason, taking with them something like $10,000 each, the school district would have about $1.5 billion to spend on 50,000 students or about $30,000 per student. Admittedly, those left behind would probably present more of an educational challenge, a point often raised by public school advocates: “We have to educate everyone. Private schools can pick and choose.” Nonetheless, with $30,000 per child and no need to build additional infrastructure or schools, the district could probably meet that challenge and get kudos for doing so.

Meanwhile, parents would be happy to have a broader range of choices for educating their children. It seems in a “free” country, that would not be a bad thing.

Some would say, “There is not enough capacity to educate that many children who leave the public schools.” I would say that if you drop a half billion dollars into Lee County designated for education, you would soon find a private school on every street corner. The invisible hand of Adam Smith would find a way for supply to meet demand.

For example, consider the Acton Academies. Around 2010 a bright entrepreneurial couple from Austin, Texas began a one-room schoolhouse to educate their three children plus some friends’ children. Fast forward to today and there are over 300 Acton Academies in 41 states and 26 different countries. Schools average 30 children spread K through 12 with about three “learning guides” (not necessarily teachers) who guide the children using the Socratic method through their self and collaborative education.

Why not trust parents to take control again of their children’s education and trust our free enterprise system to help them? If charter or other schools act badly, parents, having more choices, will desert the bad actors. If parents want the additional resources that the public schools can provide, they are free to avail themselves of the traditional fare as long as they don’t mix in too much politics in this secular playground.

In case you may wonder about my motivations in writing this; I have spent almost five years trying to find a way to support the public schools. I formed a nonprofit called Enlighten Education Co-op with the purpose of providing part-time teacher assistants for struggling public school teachers. By forming a private/public partnership, I believe we can provide much needed help to the public schools. But if, in the meantime, a voucher plan comes out of Tallahassee this year, it should not foretell the end of the public schools as some might say. It may, ironically, provide some relief for school districts.

Will Bronson holds a BA in Economics from Whitworth College, Spokane, Washington and an MA from Suffolk University Boston in Education, Secondary Social Studies, and was the first principal of Portsmouth (NH) Christian Academy.  He also earned a Master of Theology from Gordon-Conwell, Hamilton, MA and a Doctor of Ministry degree from the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA. He chaired the Education Voucher Study Committee in 1981 for the Boston Finance Committee.  Bronson was a Navy and Delta Airline pilot between 1961-1991. Bronson ran for U.S. Congress several times. He currently lives in Lehigh Acres.

This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: What if Universal Voucher plan passes in Florida Legislature?