The Florida Senate Education Pre-K-12 Committee approved Senate Bill 202, the companion to House Speaker Paul Renner’s House Bill 1, which seeks to expand the state’s school voucher program, on Monday.
The legislation, filed by Sen. Corey Simon, would establish an Education Savings Account for all students in the K-12 system, enabling parents to dictate their child’s education as they see appropriate. Education savings accounts allow parents to withdraw their children from public or charter schools and receive a deposit of public funds into government-authorized savings accounts with restricted, but multiple uses.
Simon’s bill also seeks to reduce regulations on public schools, stating that he incorporated recommendations from the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.
The bill expands eligibility for Florida’s School Choice Scholarships to all students who are residents of Florida and eligible to enroll in kindergarten through grade 12 in a public school. It also makes several immediate revisions to Florida’s Education Code to reduce additional regulation on public schools.
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.
“We’re not funding parents, we’re funding students,” Simon told the committee.
Democrats serving on the committee were largely critical of the legislation, taking issue with the estimated cost of implementing the measure. Sen. Lori Berman also expressed concern regarding the effect Simon’s bill would have on public school funding — an issue consistently raised by lawmakers opposing the bill — and its potential to devalue Florida’s public education system.
“Estimated costs for this bill, when you really look at it, will be more than $4 billion. And you know what, we do have limited resources,” said Berman. “This is a zero-sum game. The public schools are going to hurt when you do that.”
The Florida Policy Institute echoed Berman’s sentiment, claiming that both Simon and Renner’s bills would fund the universal voucher program by diverting state school aid from school districts’ budgets to private schools with little transparency or oversight.
“FPI urges state lawmakers to reject SB 202,” said the Florida Policy Institute in a statement. “Instead, legislators should halt further expansion of voucher scholarships, increase transparency and accountability around taxpayer dollars being diverted to private schools, and restrict the amount of funds a district may be required to redirect annually to private education.”
Meanwhile, Americans for Prosperity – Florida State Director Skylar Zander supported the bill, asserting that it would expand educational opportunities within the state.
“Senate Bill 202 will open the door to success for all students, no matter their zip code or household income,” said Zander. “Through this legislation, the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program will provide Florida families with the ability to take charge of their children’s education and will give schools the flexibility to help Florida children thrive by meeting their particular needs.”
It’s currently unclear whether Gov. Ron DeSantis is in support of either school voucher expansion bill.