Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday signed into law a measure that expands that state’s educational tax credit for parents to send their children to private schools. Educational savings accounts will now be available to any Florida family with children eligible to enroll in a K-12 school.
“We fundamentally believe the money should follow the student and be directed on what the parent thinks is the most appropriate education program for their child,” Gov. DeSantis said.
To underscore this last point – that the right to educate children is a powerful enabler of the First Amendment’s guarantee of the free exercise of religion – Gov. DeSantis held the signing ceremony at the Christopher Columbus High school, a Catholic school in Miami run by the Marist Brothers. As he signed the bill into law, the governor was surrounded by students from that school and from the St. Brendan Elementary school next door.
One Catholic organization responded that the new law makes Florida “arguably the best state for educational freedom in the country.”
Private schools frequently offer a superior learning experience compared with the public education system. National polls show a strong preference among parents for private education, including charter schools, private academies, and religious schools.
Moreover, religious schools give parents the option of educating their children in the faith tradition of their choosing, while meeting rigorous state standards for required courses. In many cases charter schools, private academies, and religious schools greatly outperform public schools. The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops noted that if a student disenrolls in a public school, it does not lose any of its local funding or supplementary state funding that is not tied to enrollment.
Florida follows on the heels of Arkansas, which became the fifth state in two years to pass universal school choice, often with bipartisan support. Democratic governors of Illinois and Pennsylvania have moved to expand access to private scholarship options.
Attention now turns to Texas, which has no single widespread voucher or education savings account program. This is likely to change, as the rising number of school choice states is inspiring Texas legislators to craft proposals to widen options available to parents.
Bishop Michael Olson of the Diocese of Fort Worth urged the Texas legislature and governor to pass school choice legislation for Lone Star families. Bishop Olson, in describing school choice as a top priority of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, quoted Pope Paul VI: “Parents, who have the primary and inalienable right and duty to educate their children, must enjoy true liberty in their choice of schools.”