Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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Legislation Expanding School Choice to All Florida Students Signed by Gov. DeSantis

Marking it the Republican top priority, Governor Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 1, which expands available school choice options for all students in Florida by eliminating financial eligibility restrictions and the current enrollment cap.

Florida already has 1.3 million students who learn full time in a school of their family’s choosing – larger than the entire K-12 student enrollments of 35 other states. Now law, HB 1 will further cement Florida’s position as the nation’s leader in school choice, according to Republicans. Florida Democrats blasted the legislation as a “universal private school voucher bill” and said it will have a negative impact on Florida’s public schools.

“Florida is number one when it comes to education freedom and education choice, and today’s bill signing represents the largest expansion of education choice in the history of these United States. 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 Governor DeSantis. “These programs have been instrumental in elevating student achievement over the past twenty years. I am grateful to the Florida Legislature, Speaker Renner, and President Passidomo for prioritizing this legislation and presenting it to me at the beginning of this year’s legislative session.”

HB 1 eliminates the current financial eligibility restrictions and allows any student who is eligible to enroll in K-12 to participate in available school choice options. The bill also continues 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. HB 1 also increases the annual scholarship adjustment for the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities from one percent to three percent to address high demand and wait lists.

The bill also eliminates the current enrollment cap and the exemptions to the maximum number of students who can participate in FES-EO. For students who are not full-time enrolled in public or private school or who are not Home Education Program students, there will be a cap of 20,000 new scholarships for the 2023-2024 school year and a cap of 40,000 new scholarships for every year after that.

“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,” Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book said. “Everyday 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.”

Additionally, this legislation requires the Office of K-12 School Choice to develop an online portal that enables parents to choose the best educational options for their student. The bill also eliminates the restrictive requirement that students must complete at least one credit through a virtual course to graduate.

“Though nearly 90% of parents will choose to send their children to traditional public schools that desperately needed additional funding, the Legislature pushed through and the Governor signed a bill to provide vouchers to all students regardless of income,” said Orlando Senator Geraldine Thompson. “There is no concrete information on the impact this will have on traditional public school funding. This is reckless and is part of a continuing effort to privatize education in the state of Florida. Providing highly significant funding to these experimental private schools will not work for the benefit of students who have been shown to return to traditional public schools within two years with major learning losses.”

Florida Republicans disagree – and celebrated the historic legislative victory.

“The goal of making school choice a reality for every child across our great state has been a long time coming, and with the steadfast resolve and leadership of Governor DeSantis, Speaker Renner, Senator Simon, Rep. Tuck, and many others, today is the day school choice is here for every Florida family,” said Senate President Kathleen Passidomo. “Additionally, this bill reduces some of the outdated, unnecessary, and quite frankly, burdensome regulations public schools have to abide by. By reducing red tape that burdens our traditional public schools, these institutions, which have served our communities for generations, will have a meaningful chance to compete right alongside other school choice options.”

“Florida puts parents and students first by giving them the freedom to customize their education to fit every child’s unique needs,” said House Speaker Paul Renner. “Thanks to the steadfast support of Governor DeSantis and President Passidomo, the relentless work by Representative Tuck and Senator Simon, and the passionate commitment to educational excellence by countless school choice advocates, Florida has delivered the greatest expansion of educational freedom in the nation and will unleash a wave of opportunity for millions of families.”

To make the teaching profession more accessible, the bill removes red tape and bureaucracy from the profession by allowing the general education requirement to be waived for teachers who have had three years in the classroom if they have been rated ‘effective’ or ‘highly effective’ for three consecutive years. The bill also expands the length of a temporary teaching certificate from three years to five years.

“This legislation is a transformational opportunity to make it clear that the money follows the child, and parents have a right to guide their child’s education as they see fit,” said Senator Corey Simon, a Tallahassee Republican. “We recognize that parents are a child’s first and best teachers. A street address or level of income should never replace the vital and irreplaceable role of a parent to decide what academic experience best fits the needs of their child. This bill is about access and opportunity for all students and every family in our state. I am thankful and blessed that my mother worked so hard and made many sacrifices to make certain I had the opportunity to attend a good school. Not all students are so lucky, but that changes today, and it changes because here in the free state of Florida, with the visionary leadership of Governor DeSantis, we are going to stop funding systems and start funding students.”

“We are empowering every family and every child to achieve their educational goals. HB 1 is a testament to the good work the Florida Legislature can accomplish when all sides come together,” said Representative Kaylee Tuck. “We took in constant feedback from parents, students, educators, and our colleagues in the House and Senate to turn a good bill into a great bill. I was honored to carry this legislation to expand school choice and opportunity for Florida families and students.”

To further reduce bureaucracy in the profession, the bill requires the State Board of Education to recommend additional repeals and revisions to the education code.

“This is a monumental day in Florida history,” said Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz, Jr. “Thanks to Governor DeSantis and the legislature, we continue to be the undisputed leader in school choice. Florida will always make good on our promise to ensure every single child has access to a world- class education.”

HB 1 contains a comprehensive package of innovations that promote parental involvement and customized K-12 education in Florida. The legislation empowers parents to guide their children’s education by providing for an Education Savings Account for every student in the K-12 system. Incorporating recommendations from the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, the bill also takes the first step towards reducing onerous and excessive regulations on public schools.

“We are choosing to use our children as pawns in this experiment with no idea at the true cost – monetarily or academically,” said Jacksonville Senator Tracie Davis, a Democrat. “Parents have the right to worry about their children, want the best for them, and the right to choose. The Legislature, however, does not have the right to pass disingenuous, messy legislation that could have untold effects on their ability to put food on the table.”

“Every member of the Legislature who voted for universal private school vouchers voted for millions of dollars in cuts to their school districts’ budgets,” said Senator Lori Berman, a Boynton Beach Democrat. “Florida has limited resources, it is a zero-sum game. We already rank 49th in per pupil spending in our K-12 schools. Pouring $4 billion into a voucher program with no income eligibility caps isn’t the answer to improve education opportunities for our students.”

Ultimately, HB 1 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. Under the bill, parents will receive an education savings account to take dollars the State of Florida has appropriated for their child in the public education system and choose among a variety of options to customize their child’s education.

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