- With the school year drawing to a close, parents are already looking ahead to the changes coming during the 2023-2024 academic year.
- Education Savings Accounts and universal school vouchers will be available to all students.
- The application period for vouchers and ESA’s is not yet open, but will be opened soon.
As the 2022-2023 school year draws to a close, many Florida parents are already gearing up for significant changes in the education landscape, thanks to Florida’s House Bill 1, signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis, that takes effect July 1st. The sweeping education reform expands school choice options and reimagines the concept of Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), bringing new educational possibilities to all Florida students.
With all those changes on the way, many parents are confused and anxious about ESA’s, from what they are, to when and where to get funding, and they have questions on what the money can be spent on.
First and foremost, if you’re a parent: don’t panic. The application process hasn’t opened yet. But it will soon. Parents can sign up with Step up for Students to be notified when enrollment opens.
A brief primer on HB 1
HB 1 eliminated financial eligibility restrictions and current enrollment caps at Florida schools, effectively opening up more options for parents to choose the right school for their children, whether that be traditional public schools, charter schools, magnet schools, private schools, online academies, or homeschooling. It doesn’t really matter. The law offers the opportunity for families to receive financial aid for private school tuition and fees or assistance with transportation expenses for students to attend a different public school than the one they are zoned for.
One of the ways the bill accomplishes this is by expanding eligibility for state education funding for all students, regardless of income, and by changing the way the state thinks about school funding. The bill adheres to the concept of “the money follows the student,” linking specific per-student funding (about $7,700 per student last year) to the actual student, rather than the old way of using complex formulas to set school funding based on estimated enrollment. While this makes budgeting more tricky for public schools, parents can rest assured knowing that their child’s education will be paid for no matter where they go to school or how they are educated. And transportation costs are also covered for students, up to about $750 per year (the 2023-2024 funding levels haven’t yet been determined).
The legislation accomplishes this by expanding the availability of Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), a concept that was previously limited to certain financial eligibility conditions. With the new law, any student enrolling (or already enrolled) in a private, religious school, or approved homeschooling nonprofit program can receive state funds through a voucher system, which can be deposited in an ESA if not immediately needed.
More about Florida Education Savings Accounts
Under the law, ESAs can accumulate up to $24,000 and are valid until the student turns 21, receives a high school diploma, or attends a public school. These funds can be used for a variety of educational expenses including tuition, online learning programs, private tutoring, community college costs, higher education expenses, and other approved learning services and materials.
Here’s how it works:
If a family chooses a public school, the school receives the funding. If a family chooses a private school, the scholarship will first be applied towards tuition and fees. Any leftover funds can then be retrieved through an education savings account (ESA) for other sanctioned educational expenses. For the academic year of 2022-23, the average value of the private school scholarships stood at $7,700 per student, while the transportation scholarship is worth a minimum of $750.
Florida students who aren’t full-time public or private school students (for example, home-schooled students) now have access to the Personalized Education Program (PEP). Parents or guardians of eligible students are given an education savings account (ESA) that can be utilized to tailor an education plan for their child. The funds can cover instructional materials, curriculum costs, private tutoring program tuition, approved virtual school program fees, and more.
In addition to tuition costs, ESAs can be used for other educational expenses, such as full- or part-time enrollment in college as a part of a dual-enrollment program, fees for standardized tests, pre-professional tests and other testing, individual classes at a public school, and tutoring.
Families apply and renew annually for ESA participation through approved Scholarship Funding Organizations (SFOs), such as Step Up for Students. SFOs are responsible for determining funding eligibility, awarding, and distributing funding to eligible student accounts. And with the massive expansion of eligibility, all students can qualify for state funding.
Step Up for Students is an official state-approved scholarship funding organization. The group says the application process will be straightforward, and they’ll also help determine the type of scholarship your student qualifies for.
Now is the time for parents to plan ahead and look into the changes before the start of the 2023-2024 school year. With more choices at their disposal, they can explore opportunities that best serve their children’s academic strengths and personal interests, helping them to flourish in their educational journey.