The decision to dramatically overhaul the state’s school voucher system now rests with Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Lawmakers on Monday formally sent a bill (HB 7045) to the Governor that would pave the way for the largest school choice expansion effort in Florida history.
The bill would repeal the Gardiner Scholarship Program and McKay Scholarship Program and transition students into the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program.
The repealed programs originally served special needs students. The Family Empowerment Scholarship Program, a low-income grant, would broaden to include students with special needs and military children.
Proponents contend parents and students will benefit under the changes. Under the proposal, they point out, a family of four earning less than $100,000 a year would be eligible for enrollment.
The bill also increases voucher amounts from 95% to 100% for students in the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, Family Empowerment Scholarship and Hope Scholarship Program.
Rep. Randy Fine, a Palm Bay Republican, is the bill sponsor. Republican Sen. Manny Díaz sponsored the Senate companion.
Scholarship funds could also be used for internet expenses and digital devices.
Meanwhile, critics describe the expansion as another blow to traditional public schools. During debate in the Senate, Republicans pushed back against claims that public and private schools are at odds.
Florida Republicans have long championed school choice. Parents, they contend, can best determine a child’s unique educational needs.
Senate President Wilton Simpson praised the legislation’s passage after a 25-14 vote in his chamber that saw all Republicans plus Democratic Sen. Audrey Gibson support the bill.
“We want school choice to be an option for every family,” Simpson said. “This important legislation further streamlines our existing school choice scholarships, and expands eligibility for lower income families, families of students with unique abilities, adopted children, and children whose parents serve in our military.”
That followed a 79-36 vote in the House that saw Republicans and Democratic Reps. James Bush, Mike Grieco, Susan Valdés and Matt Willhite vote in the bill’s favor.
“Decisive and historic action taken by the Florida House today proves we are putting the significant resources and effort toward the educational success of our children,” House Speaker Chris Sprowls said after the House vote. He noted it would be the largest school choice expansion in the nation’s history.
If DeSantis doesn’t veto the bill by May 25, it will take effect July 1.
Florida Politics reporters Jason Delgado and Renzo Downey contributed to this report.