School choice expansion bill passes in the House

by | Mar 9, 2020

 

The Florida House on Monday passed a bill that would expand school choice voucher programs in the state, making them more accessible to middle-class families.

The measure (HB 7067), assembled by the House Education Committee and sponsored by Representative Jennifer Sullivan, passed unanimously in its third reading on the House floor with an 81-39 vote.

Sullivan’s legislation would grow the state’s newly created Family Empowerment (FES) scholarship program, which provides vouchers for nearly 18,000 students to attend private schools every year. The change is expected to accelerate the yearly growth in vouchers, adding over 10,000 students to the program.

Students are eligible for the scholarship if household income level did not exceed 260 percent of the federal poverty level. That qualification could change after the House adopted an amendment on Friday to raise the household income.

Under the new amendment, students would be FES-eligible if household income doesn’t exceed 300 percent of the federal poverty level. If more than 5 percent of scholarships still are available once the school year begins, families that make up to 325 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible for the scholarship.

Monday’s bill would also increase the maximum number of students allowed to participate in FES annually to one percent — previously set at a quarter-percent. The changes would see the maximum number of students eligible grow from 28,902 to 46,626 next year.

Sullivan’s bill also expands eligibility for the Florida Tax Credit (FTC) program, which provides dollar-for-dollar tax credits to businesses in exchange for donations to scholarships.

Prior to the vote, the floor debated the bill for over ninety minutes, with members of both parties passionately addressing colleagues about the facts surrounding the legislation. The final tally saw several Democratic lawmakers crossing party lines.

A companion bill in the Senate (SB 1220), sponsored by Senator Manny Diaz, advanced in its second reading last Friday and is set for a vote on Tuesday. Diaz, who also serves as Senate Education Committee Chairman, has been a vocal proponent of expanding choice in education and giving parents the power to choose what is best for their kids’ education.

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