- Gov. Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 1 into law, which expands school vouchers in Florida.
- The new law removes the income-eligibility requirement for students to receive taxpayer-backed vouchers.
- The Family Empowerment Scholarship program will be available to all students in the state.
- Scholarships will be awarded based on a priority system that favors students from households with incomes up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 1, which makes all students in Florida eligible for taxpayer-backed school vouchers, into law on Monday. The legislation removes the income-eligibility requirement attached to previous voucher programs and served as a top priority for House Speaker Paul Renner.
The bill, filed by Rep. Kaylee Tuck, broadens the eligibility criteria to receive vouchers as part of the Family Empowerment Scholarship, which was previously only available to students from low-income households.
According to state education data, more than 250,000 students statewide are participating in the program during the academic year. The original program – known as the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program – was originally implemented to provide low-income families with scholarships to help pay for private school tuition.
The scholarships are funded by corporations that receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for their donations to the program and are administered by a number of non-profit organizations.
“When you combine private scholarships, charter schools, and district choice programs, Florida already has 1.3 million students attending a school of their choosing,” said DeSantis. “These programs have been instrumental in elevating student achievement over the past twenty years”
The measure is written to prioritize awards to students with household incomes that do not exceed 185 percent of the federal poverty level while incorporating a second priority to award scholarships to students who live in households with incomes between 185 percent of the federal poverty level and 400 percent of the federal poverty level.
“This legislation is nothing short of transformational. Every student in Florida will soon have the opportunity to experience an education that works for them thanks to Gov. Ron DeSantis,” said Danny Aqua, Executive Director of Teach Florida. “Florida’s future belongs to our children, and now those children will have the freedom to learn at a school that empowers them to unlock their full potential.”
The bill also increases the annual scholarship adjustment for the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities from one percent to three percent.
Tuck’s bill received fierce pushback from Democrat lawmakers, who claim that its adoption will facilitate the devaluation of public schools and divert allocated resources toward private institutions.
“The State of Florida shouldn’t be using taxpayer dollars to fund private school education for millionaires’ — and even billionaires’ — kids…but despite Democrats’ best efforts, that’s exactly what’s happening,” said Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book. “Every day people in this state deserve better than free handouts for the excessively wealthy designed to defund public schools while also keeping educators impoverished by robbing district funds. Florida’s government should be focused on transforming public schools to be the best they can be, instead of giving a leg up to unaccountable and unregulated private schools with no rules.”
Meanwhile, supporters argue that the bill would provide families with more educational options and can help improve student outcomes.
“By signing this transformative legislation, Governor DeSantis has dramatically boosted the opportunity for every child in the state to receive an education carefully tailored to their individual needs,” said Americans For Prosperity – Florida State Director Skylar Zander. “Under this new law, all Florida children will receive a quality education that reflects their unique abilities, paving the way to an even more prosperous future for all.”
Another group, the Florida Chapter of the National Coalition for Public School Options, echoed a similar sentiment, but says there’s more work to be done.
“Today represents a resounding victory for every parent who has wanted the freedom to choose from a wider range of education options for their children,” the group said in an emailed statement. “We look forward to continuing to work with Gov. DeSantis and legislative leaders to identify more avenues to broaden educational opportunities for all Florida students, including those seeking sectarian virtual programs currently excluded by the law.”