Florida senators, including some reluctant Democrats, voted to expanded two of Florida’s de facto education voucher programs that aid low-income students and those with disabilities.
The Tampa Bay Times reports HB 15 passed 27-11 Friday morning, on a vote where four Democrats joined Republicans. The bill returns to the House this afternoon for final approval of the Senate language before it reaches Gov. Rick Scott‘s desk.
The bill’s passage represents another victory for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who made the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship a priority in 2017. The scholarship, designed to help low-income, mostly minority students obtain private school scholarships, gives dollar-for-dollar tax breaks to businesses that donate to the program.
HB 15 raises the award amounts, allowing students in the program to advance to higher-priced private high schools.
Those Democratic senators signing onto the bill were hesitant about “diverting” more money to tax credits — which could instead go to public schools — but also did not want to vote against the Gardiner Scholarship, a program helping children with disabilities. Since both programs were put in a single bill, linking the Gardiner Scholarship to tax-credit awards, lawmakers were forced to vote on both at once.
“The Gardiner Scholarship program is a fantastic program, so I want desperately to be able to support this bill because of those provisions,” Lake Worth Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens told the Times. “But I am philosophically opposed to corporate tax vouchers and diverting money away from our general funds, which could be used to improve our public-school system.”
Supporters of HB 15, like Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young, defend tax credit scholarships as helping children “who have no hope without it.”
Democrats breaking with the caucus to approve HB 15 include Daphne Campbell of Miami Shores, Bill Montford of Tallahassee, Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg and Linda Stewart of Orlando.