Reactions mixed after state moves forward with expanding school vouchers

A Hillsborough County school board member said the state's plan to expand its school voucher system will be financially devastating for cash-strapped public school districts. The bill to expand school vouchers is awaiting the governor's signature after passing earlier this week. 

"This bill is really going to devastate us financially [and] traditional public education," said board member Jessica Vaughn. "When we're taking money out of that revenue, and we're giving it to private more private schools, more charter schools, and what really for me is the crucial piece: homeschool families. That means that our revenue is going to significantly shrink."

Rob Kriet, president of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, blasted the legislation as a blatant move to privatize education.

"Public schools are under attack," Kriet said. "We have laws that are coming at us every single second and yet, we're giving money away to private schools that won't even be held to the same exact standard as our public schools."

Under the bill, students would be eligible to receive vouchers to attend private or charter schools if they are "a resident of this state" and "eligible to enroll in kindergarten through grade 12" in a public school.

That would include families who home school their children, like Julie Gebhards.

"I'm really excited and eager to take part in this," said Gebhards, who, like other supporters, believe these changes will even the educational playing field. "We've been paying tax dollars into the system and not using them for the last two years, so I think it's time for us to be able to use those resources for our own children."

The measure includes a tiered priority system for students to receive vouchers. 

Students whose household incomes are less than 185% of the federal poverty level, or roughly $51,000 for a family of four, would get first priority. Next would be students whose family incomes are between 185%-400% of the poverty level, which is about $111,000 for a family of four.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has pledged to sign the bill into law.