Florida Lawmakers Sends Universal School Choice Program To DeSantis’ Desk

FILE PHOTO: Republican Governor DeSantis holds 2022 U.S. midterm elections night party in Tampa, Florida

Florida Lawmakers Sends Universal School Choice Program To DeSantis’ Desk

Reagan Reese on March 24, 2023

The Florida Senate passed a piece of legislation on Thursday that would make all K-12 students eligible for state-funded vouchers.

In a 26-12 vote, the state Senate approved House Bill 1, sponsored by the Education Quality Subcommittee, which would make every family able to receive up to $8,000 through the Education Savings Accounts (ESA) program to cover education expenses outside of the public school system. The state House passed the bill on March 17 and the legislation now heads to Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk.

“We are funding students in this state,” Republican state Sen. Corey Simon, the senate sponsor of the bill, told NBC Miami. “Parents have spoken.”

Students who are “residents of the state” or “eligible to enroll in kindergarten through grade 12” can receive a tax-payer funded voucher, under the legislation. The vouchers would be distributed on a “priority” basis, as families of four making less than $51,000 annually would receive the scholarships first.

Eligibility for Florida’s current school choice program is limited to low-income families and students with disabilities. There is a waitlist for the current program, according to the Florida Voice.

“Millionaires, billionaires — we have no limits in this bill at all,” Democratic state Sen. Lori Berman told Fox 13 News. “Anybody would be entitled to get the up to $8,000 that we’re talking about.”

If signed into law, Florida would join several states that have universal school choice programs; Arizona was the first state to make all K-12 students eligible for state funded vouchers. Republican Arkansas Gov. Sarah Sanders signed a piece of legislation into law on March 8 that will create a universal school choice program by the 2025-2026 school year.

“Thanks to Governor DeSantis’s leadership and prioritizing families, Florida has become the nation’s model for education freedom and parental rights,” Jessica Anderson, executive director of Heritage Action, an organization that focuses on educational policy, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “HB 1 expands eligibility for Education Savings Accounts to all K-12 students, giving families across the state access to the resources and flexibility they need to help their children reach academic success. While Florida was always a top state for education freedom, the Florida Legislature passing this bill has supercharged their efforts and set up thousands of students and families for success.”

Simon and Berman did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

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