Bill expanding school voucher program to more students to get Senate hearing
Manny Diaz was blocked in his preemption for short-term vacation rentals.

manny diaz
The bill increases eligibility for the Florida Tax Credit scholarship.

Legislation expanding the Family Empowerment Scholarship has been modified to increase eligibility for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship.

The committee substitute (CS/SB 1220), sponsored by Education Committee Chair Manny Diaz, would expand empowerment scholarship eligibility to a student who received a Florida Tax Credit scholarship in the prior year and was in a public school prior to getting that. It’s set to be heard by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education Tuesday.

The program is the state’s largest voucher program. It serves more than 100,000 students. Both the Florida Tax Credit and the Family Empowerment scholarships were created to help low-income students.

Diaz says it will eliminate the Tax Credit’s 35,000 student-wait list.

“Remember the impetus for the FES is the governor wanted to eliminate the (Florida Tax Credit ) wait list,” he said. “We did that last year. Currently on the wait list, there’s 35,000 students that completed all the way through the application and have been qualified as eligible.”

The previous version of the bill would have increased the income cap for students’ families to take advantage of the Florida Tax Scholarship program. But the strike out language removes raising the income eligibility level to up to 300% of the federal poverty level. In the strike all, income levels could not exceed 260%, but it would give priority to students whose families earns up to 185% of the federal poverty level.

The bill would also exempt the Family Empowerment Scholarship from the maximum value for funding a student under the Florida Education Finance Program. An empowerment scholarship student would not be allowed to participate in more than two courses from a virtual school, correspondence school, or distance learning program.

The bill would additionally modify provisions relating to educator preparation programs, subject area mastery for and renewal of educator certificates, the Education Practices Commission and teacher professional development. For example, someone seeking a teaching certificate could demonstrate subject area knowledge by their bachelor’s degree and wouldn’t have to take a subject area examination or pay the exam fee. 

The staff analysis of Diaz’s bill notes that the Department of Education would lose revenue as a result of taking in less money from exam fees.

It would also allow the Education commissioner to select and remove the EPC executive director. Diaz’s measure would also establish the Professional Education Excellence Resources (PEER) pilot program for teacher professional development in Clay, Pinellas and Walton counties.

The House school choice bill (HB 7067) sponsored by Education Committee Chair Jennifer Mae Sullivan is also scheduled to be heard in House Appropriations Tuesday.

It would lengthen the period between audits for the school choice voucher program Step Up for Students from one year to three. And it boosts the cap for the Family Empowerment Scholarship from 18,000 students to 28,000 students.

It would also remove a requirement about students enrolling in public schools before becoming eligible for the scholarships — a change that Sullivan said would benefit first and second grade students. It would also let families with higher incomes apply for the Family Empowerment program if 5% of vouchers have not been awarded.

Some Democrats have raised concerns about a disparity in accountability measures between traditional public schools and private schools that get state scholarship money.

The Hope Scholarship program, which is designed to serve children who have been bullied in public schools, would also see some changes. House leaders want to mandate an annual review of bullying-prevention programs in public schools from which 10 or more students have decided to transfer with Hope scholarships.

The Senate bill will be heard in its first of two referred committees. The House bill faces a hearing in its sole committee. It passed the House Education Committee as a proposed committee bill last month.

Sarah Mueller

Sarah Mueller has extensive experience covering public policy. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010. She began her career covering local government in Texas, Georgia and Colorado. She returned to school in 2016 to earn a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting. Since then, she’s worked in public radio covering state politics in Illinois, Florida and Delaware. If you'd like to contact her, send an email to [email protected].


  • Sandy Oestreich

    February 25, 2020 at 11:34 am


  • Bill Person

    February 25, 2020 at 8:18 pm

    Why are only “Some democrats” concerned?

Comments are closed.


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