Understanding the New Family Empowerment Scholarship Program

By Crystal Ladwig, Ph. D.

Educators across the State are working feverishly trying to interpret the real-life implications of Florida’s new universal school voucher program called the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program. Early versions of the bill included significant changes to homeschooling in Florida.

Advocates voiced their opinions, and several adjustments were made before the final bill was approved and signed into law. So, what does the new bill mean for a typical homeschooling family? Florida’s homeschooling families will continue to have the freedom to homeschool their children like we always have. But we’ll also have a new choice. Each family can continue homeschooling under all the existing regulations outlined in the Florida Statutes (Chapter 1002) that we’ve operated under for quite some time. However, families may take advantage of the new law’s homeschool option instead.

Traditional Option

Florida law still defines homeschooling as “sequentially progressive instruction of a student directed by his or her parent or guardian in order to satisfy the requirements” of state statutes.

The traditional option continues to require six responsibilities of homeschooling families:

1. Submit a notice of intent when you begin homeschooling

2. Maintain an instructional portfolio of your child’s work and activities

3. Make your portfolio available if your district requests it

4. Submit an annual evaluation

5. Preserve your records for two years (or longer for high school students)

6. Submit of a notice of termination when your child concludes homeschooling

Scholarship Option

The new law provides funding for students to attend the educational option of their choice, including public, private or charter schools, and homeschooling. In addition, families homeschooling under this option will be eligible to have the State pay for many educational expenses, such as tuition or fees associated with homeschooling, curricula, tutors, fees for national, standardized tests and your annual evaluation.

The scholarship choice will take a few years to implement fully, starting with those most in need in year one, a second level of need in year one, and finally, available to all Florida families by year three. Families will independently purchase goods and services for homeschooling and then submit documentation to the State for reimbursement.

Additional Requirements

Parents who chose the scholarship option will have several additional responsibilities:

  1. Apply to an eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization (list to be provided by the State)
  2. Sign a sworn compliance statement annually
  3. Submit a student learning plan to the organization and revise that plan at least annually to have the scholarship renewed
  4. Require the student to take a nationally norm-reference test identified by the State or require the child to participate in the statewide assessments given to students in public schools
  5. Submit assessment results to the organization before the scholarship can be renewed
  6. Apply to renew the scholarship each year

Making the Choice

Ultimately, each homeschooling family must choose the option that best meets their personal needs. The traditional homeschooling option affords greater flexibility, parental control and independence. The scholarship option offers much-needed financial support but comes with greater external control over an individual family’s homeschooling choices.

Related Articles:

Choosing the Right Homeschool Curriculum

Parenting Through Divorce