Bill expanding private school vouchers now headed to Governor

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Gov. Ron DeSantis has already voiced his support for the measure.

A program expanding vouchers to cover private school tuition is now ready to become law as the House approved the measure Tuesday on a 76-39 vote.

The House took up a Senate bill (SB 7070), already approved in that chamber. The bill can now be reviewed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has voiced his support.

The measure would create the Family Empowerment Scholarship, which will go toward funding private school tuition for students who take advantage.

Up to 18,000 students would be able to participate. Low-income families would be given priority in the program.

Pro-school choice groups offered praise for the legislation.

“Today is a historic day for low income and working class Florida families who want the power to choose the best learning environment for their children,” said John Kirtley, Chairman of Step Up for Students and Vice Chair of the American Federation for Children.

“I want to thank Chair [Jennifer] Sullivan, Chair [Byron] Donalds, Chair [Chris] Latvala and Speaker [José] Oliva for their leadership in passing this bill. I also want to thank the six brave Democrats who stood up for their constituents to give them the power they so desperately desire.”

“This is a great day for Florida’s students and families. By any measuring stick, school choice is working,” added Erika Donalds, Chairman of the Board of the School Choice Movement.

“Families should not have to go to extreme lengths to gain access to the schools that best serve them. Today’s vote is one Florida lawmakers can look back on with pride, making a mark on school choice history and changing the course of thousands of lives for the better.

Democrats have staunchly opposed the proposal, and offered a series amendments on the bill Monday, all of which were shot down.

Those members voiced concerns that money going toward the scholarship program could be better used to fund the public education system. They also argued the measure was unconstitutional, as it offers state money to be used at religiously-affiliated schools.

“If there are problems with our schools, let’s fix them. But we can’t abandon public schools,” said Rep. Joe Geller. “There’s a very clear precedent that says this law is unconstitutional.”

Geller was referring to the Bush v. Holmes case, where a measure to fund students’ tuition at religious schools was struck down.

But Republicans supporting the measure point to items such as the Bright Futures Scholarship, which can be used at any institution, even those which are religiously-affiliated.

The bill’s backers argued the increase of vouchers is necessary to give families on a wait list who otherwise qualify for vouchers a chance to access private schools. Ultimately, they argue, it’s about more competition in the education space.

“Our free markets have allowed us to advance our technology,” Rep. Ralph Massullo said.

“The reason we have such educated people, the reason we have so many amazing devices, is because of that free market where people aren’t restricted. Competition breeds excellence. It’s almost a fact of nature.”

Rep. Shevrin Jones, a West Park Democrat and former teacher who opposed the bill, argued that without proper oversight, the competition between public and private schools isn’t a truly free market.

“A free market is only free when both sides are able to play.” Jones said

“We’re not against parents having a right to choose. We’re just asking for an even playing field.”

On Monday, Republicans voted down amendments to cap administrative fees collected by charter schools, ensure charter schools can serve as shelters during a storm, and temporarily block charter school operators who are convicted of fraud from opening another facility.

One area of the bill both sides agreed on was a revamping of the state’s Best and Brightest teacher bonus program. Previously those bonuses were paid out in part based on teachers’ old ACT and SAT scores. The new legislation removes those scores as a requirement for the bonuses.

Still, Democrats have also pushed for funding to increase teacher salaries, rather than simply adjusting the bonus structure.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush was in the House chamber to witness the vote, as were Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, Senate President Bill Galvano and the bill’s sponsor, Senate Education Committee Chair Manny Diaz.

“It was 20 years ago when one visionary leader started Florida and Florida’s children on a path of choice,” said House Speaker Oliva, referencing the the actions of former Gov. Bush.

“It was 20 years ago and here we stand today.”

Bush himself issued remarks praising legislative leaders for shepherding the bill through the Session.

“Their actions to create the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program affirm that educational freedom has the power to change lives and build on Florida’s strong record of expanding opportunity to every child in every community across our great state,” Bush said.

Skylar Zander, who works as the state director for Americans for Prosperity-Florida, also released a statement in support of the measure.

“Florida lawmakers have made K-12 education a priority by putting the tools and resources kids need to fulfill their potential in their hands,” Zander said.

“We applaud Florida lawmakers, and Sen. Manny Diaz and Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, for championing policies that make strong investments in the future of our state. We hope Gov. DeSantis signs this bill and that lawmakers continue to find ways to give teachers the means to innovate in the classroom and give students the tools they need to succeed.”

Ryan Nicol

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to [email protected]


4 comments

  • Jan

    April 30, 2019 at 5:26 pm

    “On Monday, Republicans voted down amendments to cap administrative fees collected by charter schools, ensure charter schools can serve as shelters during a storm, and temporarily block charter school operators who are convicted of fraud from opening another facility.” What a joke; charters have free reign to send fees to their corporate offices, do not have to serve as emergency shelters and dishonest proprietors can simply open another charter school even after being convicted of fraud.
    When will Florida voters understand that private schools have zero accountability to the state for the money they receive?
    To parents, who think they are going to get their child into a fantastic private school which will magically make their student a high achiever, private schools have admission standards which have to be met if they are good ones. If a student does not perform or behave properly, the student goes right back to the public school from which they came.
    Private schools pay teachers sub standard pay ( 1/3 less) and teachers do not have to be certified. Charters and privates can hire and fire whom they want.
    Bottom line–Public schools don’t fail–students fail, parents fail, communities fail. Taking money from the public schools is a slippery slope to privatization of education in Florida.

  • Mark Ryder

    May 1, 2019 at 9:44 am

    It is not a free market when one group is free to do as they please and the other is controlled by state law. There is nothing “free market” about this when they do not all play by the same rules. Public schools have to accept all students from all walks of life, while private schools can set criteria for the students they admit. Then they can pretend that they perform better. When you select better than average students, you get better than average results.
    This is nothing more than taking our taxpayer money from public schools and giving it to private enterprises.

  • Rebecca Fisher

    May 4, 2019 at 11:48 pm

    School vouchers work wherever they’re tried. Charter schools WILL TAKE ALL STUDENTS. Period.
    People opposed to school vouchers and in support of public schools are all democrats. The democrat party as a tight grip on teacher unions and campaign donations.
    Democrats also want to make sure our kids are indoctrinated by the Radical leftist teachers in public schools. They cannot do this if students are taught by others outside their stronghold.

    • Mark Ryder

      May 5, 2019 at 8:54 am

      “School vouchers work wherever they’re tried. Charter schools WILL TAKE ALL STUDENTS. Period.”
      Define “work”. Of course they “work”. They divert public money to private schools which is how they are intended to work. And they have nothing to do with charter schools and charter schools admitting anyone has nothing to do with private schools at all.
      Trying to conflate these two is an obvious attempt to divert attention from the ridiculousness of diverting public school money to private institutions that select the students they want. Public schools are a public function, private schools are a private function.

Comments are closed.


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