Florida’s vouchers are called “opportunity scholarships” and are part of an education improvement package that rewards successful schools and permits students to escape from chronically failing schools. The plan works as follows:
- Schools will be given an A through F letter grade, based on dropout rates, disciplinary problems, and student performance on the new Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, among other factors.
- Schools that get an A grade or show a performance improvement of at least two grades get an extra $100 per student and more flexibility in spending state education dollars.
- As soon as a school receives a failing grade, state officials have the authority to provide it with additional financial aid as needed to make changes to the failing school’s curriculum and personnel.
- If a school receives a failing grade for any two years in a four-year period, students who are assigned to that school or who have spent at least a year there are eligible to receive vouchers, regardless of their income or grades.
- The value of a voucher will be the lesser of two amounts: the per-pupil amount spent at the student’s public school, or the tuition and fees charged at the private school. Vouchers will have an average value of $4,000 but could be much higher for students with special needs.
- Vouchers may be redeemed at a) any public school with at least a C rating and available space, or b) sectarian or non-sectarian private schools that can demonstrate fiscal soundness.
- Vouchers will be issued to parents in the form of a check that must be endorsed over to the chosen school.
- Schools that elect to participate in the voucher program must accept all eligible applicants on a random basis, and may not charge any additional fee to enrolling voucher students.
- Religious schools that accept voucher students may teach religion classes but cannot compel any scholarship student to “profess a specific ideological belief, to pray, or to worship.”