Legislation expanding school choice heads to the Senate floor

Student hand testing doing test exam with pencil drawing selected choices on answer sheet in school final exams at college or university. Taking multiple choice for assessment in examination classroom
The Senate version limits homeschool scholarships to those willing to submit to more oversight.

A bill creating universal school choice — giving vouchers to all students regardless of income — is heading to the full Senate.

The bill (SB 202), sponsored by Sen. Corey Simon of Tallahassee, aced its third committee stop in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee, passing along party lines.

Rep. Kaylee Tuck of Lake Placid is carrying the House version (HB 1) that’s now on its way to the House floor. House Speaker Paul Renner has tagged it as a chief priority for the Republican supermajority. But Gov. Ron DeSantis has expressed some reservations about expanding the program to the wealthiest families, as the bills envision.

Right now, families of four with an annual income of $111,000 qualify for the $8,000 per student voucher to approved private schools. Everyone who has applied for that scholarship has received it. Currently, there is a waiting list for special education students to get a scholarship, which is funded at a higher level.

The bill will prioritize families at the lower end, but open up the voucher for every student to all families, fund all the special education students currently on the waiting list and open up public funding for some students learning at home.

Simon introduced an amendment that will remove a portion of the homeschooling families from receiving the $8,000-a-year voucher that the House bill envisions. To be eligible for the program, homeschooling families will have to submit to more oversight, he said.

The cost has proven difficult to pin down. Thursday was the first time the Senate bill had a cost attached: $646.5 million in new costs. That contrasts with the House estimates, which show about $210 million in new costs for the expansion.

Much depends on individual families’ decisions. In Arizona, where universal choice was implemented beginning this school year, the new benefit blew a hole in state expenditures.

Rocky Hanna, Superintendent of Leon County, urged Senators to vote against the bill, citing ballooning costs and the underfunded state of public schools right now.

“I fear the worst is to come,” he said, noting that Florida is in the bottom 10 states for per-pupil expenditures and in the basement in public school teacher pay rankings. “Please, please do not do this. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Letricia Jones, a mother and a grandmother, said the step is necessary to eliminate the current bureaucracy faced when students want to go to private school.

“Our children are in a state of emergency from the bottom to the top,” she said.

Republican Senators lauded Simon’s work on the bill.

“You took on a big dog … with grace,” said Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley. “This day is a huge day.”

Democratic Sen. Tracie Davis, blasted the bill for the 3% administration fee going to private companies administering the scholarships, yet nothing for the public school districts that will still bear some administrative costs of students going to private school.

“I cannot run in the same race when you tie my hands and tie my feet,” she said of public schools.

Democrats complained that a 99-page amendment changing the bill was dropped on them on Wednesday.

“It’s not ready for prime time,” said Democratic Sen. Tina Polsky of Boca Raton.

Democrats also urged taking the funding for vouchers out of the pot that goes to public schools until they can see how parents decide and what the fiscal impact of the expansion has.

Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo, representing the Miami area, called the current funding plan “bad stewardship of our constituent dollars.”

“It could grow into billions,” of new costs, Pizzo argued. “Are we as the Legislature going to create a new line item if that were to happen?”

Simon closed on the bill and evoked his own experience growing up on the south side of Tallahassee.

“It’s about students and families having access and opportunity,” Simon said.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].


  • nail

    March 16, 2023 at 12:34 pm

    Bill HB 999 proposed by Governor Desantis. If this bill passes May 5, the following will be removed from Florida’s college campuses:

    NPHC organizations (Alpha Phi Alpha, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Kappa Alpha Psi, Omega Psi Phi, Delta Sigma Theta, Phi Beta Sigma, Zeta Phi Beta, Sigma Gamma Rho & lota Phi Theta)
    NMGC & Latinx organizations (Lambda Theta Alpha, Alpha Psi Lambda, Lambda Alpha Upsilon, Sigma lota Alpha, Sigma Lambda Gamma, Sigma Lambda Beta, Theta Nu Xi, etc.)

    Jewish Studies courses, majors & minors
    Feminist Theory courses, majors & minors
    Gender Studies courses, majors & minors
    Centers & Programs for Black Students
    Centers & Programs for Latinx Students
    Centers & Programs for Asian & AAPI Students
    Centers & Programs for LGBTQ+ students
    Tenured faculty will be eligible for review. Their tenure will be reconsidered by the board of trustees–who will be chosen and appointed by the governor.

    This is the MAGAt program to do away with the latest boogeyman “woke” that MAGAts will all be sponsoring for colleges in their states (when one does it they all follow). In FL DeSantis has done a hostile takeover of all state colleges and these will be the new LAW. At this time we have not heard anything from College Accreditation, but there are stringent guidelines and disposing of these items do match their guidelines. DeSantis since the hostile take over of The New College has already lost $29M in guaranteed pledges. Previous the max pledged was $9M. This was from firing the President who had the relationships with many of the donors(her salary was $180K) The new DeSantis appointee, is now earning $700K in a school with a declining enrollment of 524 this year. Reference, FAU has 30K students and the President earns $200K.
    BTW: The FL GQP supermajority lapdogs of DeSantis’ in the legislature is also are taking over The FHSAA for DeSantis. It is currently a private non-profit organization which oversees sports for grades 6 through 12 for its member schools, which include all of the state’s public schools and other institutions which choose to join. Currently, 15 of the 16 board positions are selected by schools in four regions of the state while the 16th spot is reserved for the state education commissioner or their designee.
    DeSantis is firing them all and will appoint political and donors to the new 8 positions, the same as he is doing to the colleges.

    • Earl Pitts American

      March 16, 2023 at 2:58 pm

      Good aftwrnoon America,
      Everyone please pray for our old friend Nail he’s suffering from a very bad case of Leftist Dysphoria and a horrific overdose of way, way, way too much CNN.
      Thank you America,
      Earl Pitts Americab

Comments are closed.


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