Democrats, Republicans jockey on school voucher bill as it passes first committee stop

by | Jan 26, 2023


  • State lawmakers deliberated House Bill 1, a sweeping expansion to the state’s school voucher program, on Thursday, proposing amendments and provisions to the bill’s text.
  • Should the bill pass, it would grant any public school student qualification for state-funded tuition at a private school of choice, regardless of income.
  • Rep. Angie Nixon filed three amendments, but all were denied.
  • The bill passed the House Choice & Innovation Subcommittee by a 13 to 4 vote. Its next stop is the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee.

House Bill 1, a sweeping expansion to the state’s school voucher program, appeared before the House Choice & Innovation Subcommittee, where lawmakers deliberated the legislation and proposed provisions and amendments to the bill’s text.

Filed by Rep. Kaylee Tuck, the bill broadens the eligibility criteria to receive vouchers as part of the Family Empowerment Scholarship, which is currently only available to students from low-income households.

Should it pass, the bill would grant any public school student qualification for state-funded tuition at a private school of choice, regardless of income.

According to the filing, parents could also use the scholarship funds to pay for a range of homeschooling expenditures, including the cost of private tutoring services or online courses.

During today’s meeting, Democrat Rep. Angie Nixon proposed three amendments, all of which were denied.

The first proposed amendment sought to limit eligibility for the vouchers to students who belonged to households reporting an income of less than $1 million per year.

As the bill is currently written, all students, regardless of income, are eligible for the program.

“Does that mean that millionaires could possibly take part in this scholarship?” asked Nixon.

“Potentially yes, we’re not looking at income status at all,” responded Tuck.

Nixon’s second amendment specified anti-discrimination measures a private school must follow in order to receive state funds through the program.

Under the proposal, should a private school violate the terms, it would be ruled ineligible to receive state funding for a period of three years.

“A private school may not discriminate against a student based on the student’s race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability, family status, birthplace, ancestry, culture, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, or the expression or texture of the student’s hair,” reads the denied amendment.

Nixon’s final amendment would require participating private schools to accommodate students with Individual Education Plans (IEP).

According to the state Department of Education, An IEP is a written plan for the special education of a student with a disability.

“My people-friendly amendments would have made some marginal improvements to HB 1,” said Nixon in a statement following the committee meeting. “If the Legislature insists on funding unaccountable institutions, it’s common sense we require that these schools will serve students with IEPs, that they do not allow discrimination in any form, and that we will not give the ultra-wealthy unnecessary handouts at the expense of families in need. As the assault on our education system continues, I’ll keep pushing to fully fund public schools for all of our kids.”

Meanwhile, Tuck defended the bill’s current composure, citing the state’s past history in school choice expansion.

“Florida has been participating in [school] choice for 25 years and we’ve consistently been moving the needle on our choice options, and we’ve seen amazing results because of it,” said Tuck.

Tuck also commented that the bill currently has an “indeterminant fiscal impact,” which Democrats were quick to jump on.

“How on Earth does a MAJOR expansion of school vouchers in Florida have an “indeterminate fiscal impact”?” said Rep. Anna Eskamani on Twitter.

Tuck also affirmed that the school choice voucher program’s expansion would have no underlying effect on state funding for public schools.

“This will not affect public schools. If the district is not teaching a child, the district does not get paid for that child,” said Tuck. “So if a child chooses to go to a private school, the district is not responsible, but it is also not getting paid. But works as it is right now. Students move school districts or move states all the time, and it works that same way.”

The bill passed the House Choice & Innovation Subcommittee by a 13 to 4 vote, with several Democrat officials voting against it.

House Speaker Paul Renner stated during the bill’s initial unveiling last week that he anticipates bipartisan support for the bill, as well as the support of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Supporters argue that it provides families with more educational options and can help improve student outcomes, while opponents claim that vouchers take money away from public schools and offers minimal oversight of the private schools that participate in the program.

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