Republican legislative leaders are lauding a sweeping school-choice measure filed Thursday, while Senate Democrats have vowed to “fight like hell” against the proposal.
The legislation, filed by Republican Sen. Manny Diaz of Hialeah, would expand eligibility for school-voucher programs, consolidate existing school-choice programs and allow parents to use taxpayer-backed education savings accounts for private schools and other costs.
“Using funds Florida taxpayers have already dedicated to education, this legislation consolidates our scholarship programs to make it clear what options are available to parents, and expands eligibility to provide more options to more low income families and families with a child with unique abilities,” Diaz wrote in a press release on Thursday.
Diaz’s proposal (SB 48) would expand the existing Family Empowerment Scholarship, which currently serves middle- and low-income students, in part by combining it with the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship. Under the Tax Credit Scholarship program, businesses receive tax credits for contributing money to nonprofit organizations that, in turn, provide scholarships to students to attend private schools.
Diaz’s measure would also fold the Hope Scholarship program, which allows bullied students to switch to different public schools or use taxpayer funds to pay for private schools, into the Family Empowerment Scholarship.
The Senate proposal also would establish the “Gardiner-McKay Scholarship,” by combining two existing voucher programs that serve students with special needs.
Diaz’s plan would result in the consolidation of five of the state’s existing major school-voucher programs into two programs.
The proposal would establish what are known as education savings accounts for eligible students, which could be used for a wide array of education-related costs and services, including private-school tuition, tutoring, digital devices, and internet access.
Proponents of Diaz’s bill maintain that it would make it easier for parents to navigate the state’s complex school-voucher system.
The state currently has “a pretty confusing system of scholarship programs with various eligibility and funding mechanisms,” Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, said in a press release on Thursday.
“This patchwork system is largely the result of years of legal challenges from school choice opponents who have attempted to thwart every effort to actually give parents a say in how their children are educated,” he said.
Diaz’s legislation also garnered praise from former Gov. Jeb Bush, who was an architect of school vouchers in Florida.
“Let’s keep expanding access to learning options – #Florida families want and deserve it,” Bush tweeted.
Step Up for Students, a nonprofit organization that helps administer two of the state’s existing voucher programs, also is backing Diaz’s proposal.
“We support the Senate’s efforts to streamline these programs and give families the flexibility they need to meet each child’s safety and academic needs,” Step Up for Students president Doug Tuthill said in a prepared statement.
Senate Democrats, who learned of Diaz’s plan prior to Thursday’s release of the legislation, discussed the proposed voucher bill during a caucus meeting earlier this week.
The Democrats expressed fear that Diaz’s proposal would shift Florida’s public schools toward a universal school-choice system.
Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, told his colleagues that one of his aides told him about the bill early this week.
“This is a huge, huge problem that they’re about to do this in a COVID year, with all the budget constraints,” Jones, who is vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said during Tuesday’s Democratic caucus meeting. “We’re going to have to fight like hell on this one.”
–Ryan Dailey, News Service of Florida
Merrill Shapiro says
Shouldn’t public dollars go to public schools?
Shouldn’t those who pay tuition to send their child to a school of their choice be exempt from paying taxes, levies, etc. to support a public school?
Tracey Wade says
Agreed. This is a greedy grab at putting public dollars into private pockets – with ultimate goal of starving public education – something that built this country. Prime example of the swamp that Florida is.
What Else Is New says
Education Tsar Richard Corcoran owns charter schools. Guess he needs more money. Of course the GOP legislators show disdain for the socialist concept of public schools , bless their evil hearts.
Deborah Coffey says
No more private schools and ban homeschooling in this country! All our tax dollars should be spent on public education ONLY. America can’t afford to raise another generation like those we saw at the Capitol and those Q-anons in our Congress. The country will not survive this stupidity and Florida will not survive the right-wing stupidity in Tallahassee.
Heaven forbid someone challenge the teacher’s union on behalf of students and parents in our state. Statistics released by the Florida Department of Education for 2017-2018 show Black children in Charter Schools out performed those in public schools 83 – 89% of the time in comparable markers, Hispanics 93%. Parents should have the option of sending their children to schools with structure where less time is devoted to dealing with discipline problems and more time on respectful learning. And, it is time to give tax payers more say in how their educational taxes are spent. Do we really want to help minorities and the under served or simply continue to use it as political speak when convenient.
Thank you, BMW. Education is not a one-size-fits-all deal….and results in students molded in the same mindset and capabilities. What happened to the cries for diversity??? It’s only achieved when minds are allowed the freedom and opportunity to grow at their own pace and on the path which their unique creativity and abilities lead them. BMW is so right in his comment. Home schoolers also maintain higher scores and cost much less per year to educate. As a grandparent who watched my son pay tuition for my two grandchildren, grade 1 through 12, while also having to pay to educate children in the public school system, struck me as quite unfair. Vouchers for everyone and let them choose! (The one benefit was that both grandchildren earned full 4-year scholarships to college, so my son at least did not have to pay any college tuition whatsoever.)
Mike Cocchiola says
This is not good. There is only so much funding for schools. All funds allocated to private schools (80% religious-affiliated) diminish those available to public schools. The net result is that funds that could have been used to improve facilities, educational materials and teachers’ salaries in the public school system will be siphoned off for profits to private school owners.
Remember… in public schools educating our kids is preeminent. In private schools, profit is the motive.
@The 23rd year of Republican party and Libertarian party (Republicans with malignant narcissism that have consumed the GOP)
Florida has been run as a criminal enterprise since jeb, et al, sank their claws into it. They (Republican party criminals and religious fanatics) have worked without pause or rest to destroy public education. Many of us are witnesses:
In the beginning
Your tax money and their rules
23 years of shameless destruction of small-d democracy is the sum of the Florida Republican party’s control. They told you what they are about early on, “…There would be no greater tribute to our maturity as a society than if we can make these buildings around us empty of workers; silent monuments to the time when government played a larger role than it deserved or could adequately fill…”
Context of the above cited quote
When the public education system of Florida, like the so-called public health system of Florida, succumbs to Republican party blood suckers – don’t say you didn’t know what was happening.
Private and Charter schools DO NOT have the same testing requirements as public schools. I have been teaching for over 30 years at public schools, and have seen so many students that come from Private and Charter schools that are academically low and we have to work extra hard to catch them up. Very rarely have I seen a student from a private or charter school on or above grade level. When a private or charter school closes, all the tax dollars spent on that facility are lost. More money needs to be directed to title 1 schools so they can hire more teachers and reduce class size.
It all sounds complicated. Dont know one way or other.
Public$= Public Schools is best I can do with what little I know.
Sheila Zinkerman says
Florida is number 2 in the country with 40% of charter school closures. Think of the catastrophic loss of our taxpayer dollars due to those closures. Furthermore, please don’t talk about “school choice” to parents in Detroit who choose to send their children to public schools but can’t. The public schools were shuttered, in part, for lack of funding caused by an influx of charter schools in their districts. Those charter schools are funded by the same education tax dollars but they are labeled as “tax credits” and “vouchers.” For example, billionaire former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s husband Dick owns charter schools. It’s no wonder DeVos lobbied for more charter schools under the mantra of “school choice.” Our public money for our public schools should never be funneled into the portfolios of charter school’s Chief Executive Officers like Dick DeVos. Invest our public money in our public schools, not in billionaire’s portfolios. With financial help, public schools will continue to improve and will serve the majority of our children.
Like school in the summertime, no class says
Our public schools are terrible and have been getting worse every year. If schools need to compete for dollars, then quality will go up. No system is perfect, but pouring money into poorly run public schools definitely isn’t the answer. If the schools were already providing high quality education, then their would be little or no demand for private schools and nothing would change. The current system protects poor teachers at the expense of our children. Getting a degree in education is one of the easiest to obtain; it is hard to believe that it even qualifies as secondary education. If dollars are taken from the public schools, the schools will need to cut staff and consolidate. Private schools will pop up and some will be good and some will not. Parents will generally try to move their children to the best schools and the lousy schools will not last long. Poor teachers will find new professions and better teachers will have the potential to make much higher salaries. Many children that never reach their potential due to poor educators. Our main concern should be for children, but it seems like we are more concerned with keeping poor educators employed.
The Voice Of Reason says
Feel free to send your precious children wherever you want. Especially religion based schools. Just don’t expect taxpayers to fund you, That would equate to an unfair entitlement, a form of welfare.
Stephen J Smith says
Public Tax dollars should not be used to support private schools. If private schools are so much better than public schools then the money should be spent fixing the problems with public schools. Sending our tax dollars to private schools will just take more money from public schools that will continue the downward spiral of our education system. Or result in higher taxes.
Parents should be free to choose the best education for their children. If public schools provide the best education, that is what they will choose. If not, parents will make a better choice. They are paying for their children’s education through their taxes, and their education should be funded by those taxes wherever they choose to go. I trust them to make the best choice for their children, not the government or the school board, whose interests are not always in the best interest of the children.