Florida House Republicans plan major school voucher expansion

Bill would open vouchers to every student

ORLANDO, Fla. – Florida lawmakers in March will look to expand private school vouchers to all Florida school children — a universal expansion of the program.

Florida House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, announced a bill filed Thursday, HB 1, the school choice bill.

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“Today we empower parents and children to decide the education that best fits their needs,” said Renner.

The bill would continue to give priority to students whose household income level does not exceed 185% of the federal poverty line or about $51,000 per year for a family of four, but it would also allow all students in grades K-12 to get a private school voucher.

The speaker touted this morning another group that would benefit.

“We currently have a waitlist for children with unique abilities,” said Renner. “This bill will completely clear the waitlist for our children with unique abilities.”

The bill sets up education savings accounts that families can use for private school, but also for tutoring, instructional materials, fees for exams and “contracted services” provided by public schools.

The bill also includes adding a choice navigator to the program, which would give parents advice as to which fit might be best for their student.

Democratic House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell said the legislation would continue to take money away from Florida’s traditional public schools.

“There is not enough accountability for these schools, and we need to have benchmarks in place to ensure our students are receiving the quality education that is promised to them,” said Driskell.

Home-schooled students also would be eligible to receive vouchers under the bill. The measure would include a cap of 10,000 vouchers for home-schooled students in the first year, with the number growing to 20,000 a year after that.

Renner said the expansion also is aimed at eliminating waiting lists for voucher programs. The Family Empowerment Scholarship program, for instance, has a waiting list of 9,400 students seeking vouchers for special-needs educational options.

“I just don’t think it’s morally acceptable for us to do what we’ve been doing, which is … some are in, some are out,” Renner said of the waiting list. “We’re picking winners and losers there. And these are kids that need early intervention.”

Renner, who became speaker in November, told reporters Thursday the amount of funding needed for the measure hasn’t been determined.

But Rep. Felicia Robinson, D-Miami Gardens, warned that the bill would be a misuse of public funds.

“This is not acceptable. My concern is that the voucher program does not have the accountability that it needs to have,” Robinson said. “The voucher program contributes to the rampant fraud, waste and abuse of public money.”

Information from News Service of Florida was used in this report.

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About the Authors:

Lauren Cervantes was born and raised in the Midwest but calls Florida her second home. She joined News 6 in August 2019 as a reporter.

Ryan Dailey is a reporter with experience in print and radio, having covered state and local news in Tallahassee since 2014. A graduate of Florida State University, Dailey has been a resident of the capital city since 2012. He joined the News Service of Florida in 2021, reporting with a focus on education and education policy.