Florida Gov. DeSantis signs school voucher bill into law

HB 1 expands scholarships for private school vouchers to all families

MIAMI – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday signed into law a school bill that will expand scholarships for private school vouchers to all families.

The governor was joined by Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, Department of Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and Speaker Paul Renner for the bill signing at Christopher Columbus High School, a private college-preparatory high school, in Miami.

HB 1 was passed last week by the Florida Legislature, and it now expands the 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.

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.

“Now, there’ll be primarily, there’ll be a preference for low and middle income families. But at the end of the day, we fundamentally believe that the money should follow the student and it should be directed based on what the parent thinks is the most appropriate education program for their child,” the governor said.

DeSantis touted the bill and said it would also help teachers “by eliminating barriers and red tape in the profession.” He said the bill would expand the length of a temporary teaching certificate from three years to five years and waive the general knowledge requirements for teachers.

“There were some that said, ‘Oh, you know, parents, you know, don’t they don’t know what they’re doing. They shouldn’t be involved.’ You hear these crazy arguments, but I can tell you if you talk to most teachers, if a parent is engaged in the student’s education, the student is going to do much better,” DeSantis said. “The harder students to reach and to do well with are the ones where they have no support at home or the parent isn’t as involved and so it’s a win-win to have parents involved because I think it makes teachers lives better because the students are more engaged.”

Renner said the new law provides an “exit door” for families across the state.

“You know, the old way of thinking was like the Hotel California: Your kid could go into the school they were zip coded for, but they could never leave, no matter whether that school met their needs or not,” he said. “And so school choice means there’s also an exit door and if you’re doing a great job, more people enter the through the entrance door and if you’re not, you’ll go through the exit. That’s what school choice really does and empowers innovation and competition.”

Florida is now the fourth state in the nation to have universal school vouchers, after Arizona, Iowa and Utah.

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Brenda Argueta is a digital journalist who joined ClickOrlando.com in March 2021. She graduated from UCF and returned to Central Florida after working in Colorado.