A bill that would simplify Florida’s education choice programs by merging five scholarship programs into two, while adding flexible spending options, gets its first committee hearing this week.
SB 48, sponsored by Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., would make school-voucher programs more accessible, streamline current choice programs, and would allow parents and guardians to use education savings accounts to pay for education outside traditional public schools.
The legislation is slated for a hearing Wednesday, and worth watching will be how many Democrats join Republicans in backing it.
The bill also would merge the McKay Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities and the Gardiner Scholarship Program, creating a new program for students with unique abilities called the McKay-Gardiner Scholarship Program.
That program would allow families in all state scholarship programs to have flexible spending accounts, also known as education savings accounts, or ESAs.
Currently, only students enrolled in the Gardiner Scholarship program are allowed such flexibility.
The accounts cover tuition, electronic devices, curriculum, part-time tutoring programs, educational supplies, equipment, and therapies outside of the scope of insurance programs.
The bill would expand eligible services for McKay-Gardiner students to include music, art, and theater programs as well as summer education programs. The scholarship programs are also available to homeschool students and those enrolled in eligible private schools.
In addition, victims of bullying at district schools who transfer to private schools as part of the Hope Scholarship Program would also be served by the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program and receive the same spending flexibility.
Diaz has framed the legislation as a way of making the system easier to navigate and more flexible to what have been rapidly changing needs.
“During the past year, our scholarship families let us know that they wanted programs that were easier to understand and simpler to navigate,” Diaz said. “They also told us that they wanted more flexibility so they could give their children access to high quality education while continuing to keep them safe during the pandemic. This bill represents our effort to respond to those concerns and improve all our school choice programs by making them more family friendly. I am very proud to have my name attached to this bill.”
The News Service of Florida contributed to this post. Republished with permission.