Florida Legislature OKs universal school vouchers, sends bill to Gov. DeSantis

Bill would expand scholarships for private school vouchers to almost all income levels

Florida Senate

ORLANDO, Fla. – A Republican supermajority in the Florida Legislature sealed the deal Thursday on a bill that would expand school vouchers to all Florida families.

The Florida Senate passed HB 1 with 26 yeas and 12 nays, sending the bill to Gov. Ron DeSantis and giving him his first major policy win of the legislative session.

The bill expands eligibility of the state’s Florida Tax Credit Scholarship and Family Empowerment Scholarship to any resident of Florida eligible to enroll in kindergarten through 12th grade in a public school. It gives priority to students from households whose incomes do not exceed 185% of the federal poverty line, but second priority goes to households whose incomes do not exceed 400% of the poverty line.

Parents can also get empowerment savings accounts to help pay for education options ranging from tutoring to virtual school and other home education plans.

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Supporters of the bill said this creates a more flexible education program for parents and gives them more options for their child’s schooling, regardless of ability to pay.

Critics, however, point to the cost of the bill, which they say will be devastating for public education funding.

A Florida House analysis estimated the fiscal impact of HB 1′s expansion will cost $209.6 million.

However, the non-partisan Florida Policy Institute says the bill will end up costing some $4 billion in the first year. The group said the Florida House analysis does not take into account the number of students who will move to take vouchers because income restrictions are removed. FPI also said that some private schools that currently do not participate in the program will join to help families who are now eligible for vouchers.

Other critics point out that private schools are not subject to the same educational standards, or oversight and transparency standards, as public schools. Private schools have the right to refuse a student, and they do not have to provide all the special education or related services a student might get if they were in public school under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

In fact, the Florida Department of Education lays the questions that parents need to ask when choosing private schools on its website, including the types of degrees teachers need to have, proof of meeting state standards, accreditation and financial policies.

When DeSantis signs the bill, which he has indicated he will, Florida will become the fourth state in the nation to have universal school vouchers, after Arizona, Iowa and Utah.

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About the Author:

Christie joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021.