At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, no one was more adamant about forcing kids back into classrooms than Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. DeSantis threatened to cut funding to schools that refused to open or tried to conduct remote classes. He threatened the jobs of school administrators in order to force them to drop masking rules.
He even compared schools opening classrooms in the middle of a deadly outbreak to winning the war against terrorism, saying that just as “SEALs surmounted obstacles to bring Osama bin Laden to justice,” schools in one Florida county would find a way to open. Cue the martial music.
Then back in March, DeSantis signed a bill that expanded a school voucher program previously designed for underprivileged kids to extend benefits to every parent in the state. Now Florida home-school parents are doing exactly what might be expected under a system that has almost no guardrails: They’re using their DeSantis Dollars to buy big screens, expensive toys, and passes to Disney World.
DeSantis’ efforts to force schools to open during the pandemic were based on his repeatedly stated idea that “in-person learning means better learning,” and he was willing to go there even if it meant risking the health of students, teachers, and staff. The results were less than spectacular, even though DeSantis keeps right on lying about how great things are in Florida.
The potential problems with the new voucher bill were obvious well before DeSantis scribbled his name at the bottom. As Jacksonville News 4 wrote at the time, the bill provided $8,000 in vouchers for every Florida student. Those vouchers could be used to attend private school, which made educational experts understandably concerned that the money would create a massive flow from public schools to private schools with lower educational standards.
Of course, DeSantis has also spent the last year absolutely wrecking educational standards in Florida’s public schools, including promoting a false history of America that defends slavery and attacks democracy. So it’s hard to see how private schools could be much worse. Though some of them certainly try.
Except many of those parents pocketing the fresh infusions of cash from DeSantis aren’t sending kids to private schools. Instead, they’re taking advantage of an aspect of the law that lets them “home-school” their kids and use that money for just about anything they want.
Popular.Info has obtained Facebook posts from a private group of parents participating in Florida’s “Personalized Education Program,” which funnels the same $8,000 per student that could go for vouchers to parents engaged in home-schooling. The money goes into what is supposed to be an “educational savings account,” which parents can use to support their student’s educational needs. All they have to do is gain approval for their spending plan from a state board reviewing those plans.
So naturally, parents set out to buy:
A $500 PS5 bundled with a bloody, highly violent game for a 5-year-old.
An $800 set of Legos openly described as a Christmas present.
Annual or semi-annual passes to Disney World.
All of this fun was funded by taxpayer dollars in a state with some of the lowest-paid teachers in the nation. Florida teachers average just $51,000 a year, and they’re often expected to provide their own classroom materials so that kids in their chronically underfunded classrooms can have paper, pencils, and crayons. Kids who are kept at home so their parents can pocket $8,000 per student don’t face those issues.
Other approved expenses for all homeschooled students this academic year include swing sets, foosball tables, air hockey tables, skateboards, kayaks, standup paddleboards, dolls, and stuffed animals.
Of course, those stay-at-home students could also be falling short when it comes to paper, pencils, and crayons, because based on the level of review given to their expenses, it’s hard to believe that there’s much actual education going on. This is a system that generates a genuine disincentive for sending kids to a school of any kind.
However, Florida’s home-schooled students do have access to the curriculum provided by “Prager University,” which would be a program where Frederick Douglass sings the praises of slavery, all of it created by a man who really thinks it’s a shame we can’t say the N-word without being called racist.
If racism and ignorance comes with a side order of PS5, a big screen TV, a skateboard, and a ticket to Disney World, does that make it better? For the parents in DeSantis’ home-schooling program, it certainly doesn’t hurt.
Donald Trump once said that he loves the poorly educated. He should find whole new generations to love in his adopted state thanks to DeSantis and the Republicans of the Florida Legislature.
The far-right justices on Wisconsin’s Supreme Court just can’t handle the fact that liberals now have the majority for the first time in 15 years, so they’re in the throes of an ongoing meltdown—and their tears are delicious. On this week’s episode of “The Downballot,” co-hosts David Nir and David Beard drink up all the schadenfreude they can handle as they puncture conservative claims that their progressive colleagues are “partisan hacks” (try looking in the mirror) or are breaking the law (try reading the state constitution). Elections do indeed have consequences!