DeSantis’ school voucher program gives parents taxpayer dollars for PlayStations and paddleboards

DeSantis’ school voucher program gives parents taxpayer dollars for PlayStations and paddleboards

Under Governor Ron DeSantis, Florida taxpayers last year handed parents $43,374 to pay for in-home treadmills, $30,436 to pay for indoor trampolines, and $226,584 to pay for game consoles. Supporters of the state’s publicly-funded expanded school voucher program call it a “21st century approach” to learning, while opponents say the money could be better spent in public school classrooms.

“Theme park passes, 55-inch TVs, and stand-up paddleboards are among the approved items that recipients can buy to use at home,” the Tampa Bay Times reports, thanks to legislation Governor DeSantis signed into law in March. “The purchases can be made by parents who home-school their children or send them to private schools, if any voucher money remains after paying tuition and fees.”

“The items appear in a list of authorized expenses in a 13-page purchasing guidepublished this summer by Step Up For Students, the scholarship funding organization that manages the bulk of Florida’s vouchers. Many of the items are similar to what was permitted for vouchers to students with disabilities in the past, but now they’re available to anyone who receives an award of about $8,000.”

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Florida Politics adds that the list “ignited widespread outrage among Democratic lawmakers who had warned the legislation (HB 1) would starve public schools even more. The state is already near the bottom among states when it comes to per-pupil funding.”

Florida Democratic state Rep. Robin Bartleman, pointing to the Tampa Bay Times report, wrote on social media: “So angry that our warnings fell on deaf ears As I watch my daughter &other teachers struggle to afford housing &pay out of their pockets for supplies & as our schools struggle w/ resources – YOUR SCHOOL TAX $ are paying for vacations in Disney (ironic).”

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, also on social media, expressed outrage.

“WHAT???” she wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “What about public school students? What about paying g for class trips and band and ventilation. No money for that but the legislature does this???”

“For too long, vouchers have had no accountability,” added Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association. “Now with the massive expansion, we are seeing taxpayer funded vouchers going toward annual passes to theme parks & more, while families who choose public schools pay for this out of their pockets.”

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Miami Herald journalist Julie K. Brown wrote, “Florida students aren’t allowed to read Maya Angelou but they can watch TV and Paddleboard on the taxpayers’ dime.”

Supporters of the expanded voucher program, like Jeanne Allen, head of the national Center for Education Reform, which she founded in 1993, told The Tampa Bay Times: “To engage young people today, we need to do a lot more than just have them show up.”

“They expect 21st century approaches to learning and recreational opportunities for their physical and mental well-being,” she added.

Others disagree.

“Every child in Florida deserves an enriching, quality education,” Holly Bullard, chief strategy officer for Florida Policy Institute told the Tampa Bay Times. “But is it fair to students in our public schools, whose teachers often pay out of their own pockets for classroom supplies, that taxpayer dollars are being spent on Disney passes and big-screen TVs for voucher families?”

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