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Universal voucher heading for Florida House vote. What it means for public, private schools

NewsUniversal voucher heading for Florida House vote. What it means for public, private schools

A universal school voucher plan to use tax dollars to pay private school tuition is ready for floor debate in the Florida House. 

Friday, the House Education Quality Subcommittee amended HB 1 to match the Senate companion. SB 202 is one committee stop from consideration by the full Senate. 

Tuesday in an opening day speech, House Speaker Paul Renner declared the Legislature “will deliver the largest expansion of school choice in the nation.”  The bill was ready for the full House to consider three days later. 

House sponsor Kaylee Tuck, R-Lake Placid, had introduced the proposal to provide private school vouchers for all in January.  

Rep. Kaylee Tuck revised HB 1 four times during the committee and picked up Democratic allies as the proposal made its way to the floor.

Opponents complained the plan will divert billions of dollars from the public education system and fear it will lead to segregated school systems, with more affluent families leaving traditional public schools. 

Sen. Corey Simon, R-Tallahassee, then produced a Senate voucher plan that inserted into the proposal a review of all education regulations on public schools, and a state Board of Education recommendation of which to repeal. 

The intent is to provide a level playing field for public schools to compete for students with private and charter schools, something school superintendents have long asked lawmakers to provide. 

Friday, in a rare moment of bipartisanship, Tuck stood at the lectern next to Rep. Susan Valdes, D-Tampa, when Valdes presented a five-page amendment “reforming the regulation of traditional public schools,” and aligned Tuck’s proposal with Simon’s. 

Simon took a House proposal and inserted a review of education regulations that school superintendents say handcuffs public school's ability to compete for private school students

Counting the cost:House puts price tspang on universspanl school voucher plspann critics find hspanrd to believe

Concerns:As Floridspan voucher plspann spandvspannces, critics worry it could ‘cspanuse segregspantion’ in schools

Point:Pspanrents will be the winners with proposed school choice spanssistspannce legislspantion | Opinion

Counterpoint:The illusion of choice in Floridspan’s school choice

 Tuck told the committee that HB 1 had been revised four times since January. 

“When you look at the blood, sweat and tears, the weeks, months that has been put into this bill by stakeholders, families, staff –especially staff. We went from a good bill to a phenomenal bill,” said Tuck in a closing statement. 

The committee advanced the bill to the House floor on a 13 – 3 vote with Democrats Gallop Franklin of Tallahassee, and Jacksonville’s Kimberly Daniels voting with the Republican majority.  

Counting the cost of the bill

The plan supporters argue private school families pay property taxes to support public schools but don't utilize the public system.

Florida currently provides more than $1.6 billion annually, about 10% of the PreK-12 budget, in education savings accounts. The money is for students to attend private schools and is distributed through three scholarship programs:   

  • The Family Empowerment Scholarship, for low- and middle-income students. The FES also includes two education savings accounts for students with unique abilities and a new world scholarship program.  
  • The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship – a tax deduction for businesses in exchange for contributions to the scholarship program.  
  • Hope Scholarship – for students who have been bullied or harassed. 

The proposal expands eligibility for education savings accounts worth up to $8,000 to all 2.9 million K-12 students.  

  • The House assumes not all students would apply for scholarships and pegs costs at $210 million spannnuspanlly.  
  • The Florida Policy Institute produced an estimspante of $4 billion. 
  •  State economists are working on a cost estimate for the Senate Appropriations Committee. 

What else does the bill do?

HB1/SB 202 also:

  1. Extends the time from three years to five years for teachers to complete certification.
  2. Allows flexibility in how school districts distribute raises for teachers.  
  3. Streamlines transportation regulations to allow for vehicles other than buses. 
  4. Requires State Board of Education to review all Florida education statutes and issue recommendations to reduce regulations on public schools in November. 
  5. Mandates the Board of Education to “consider input” from teachers, school boards, post-secondary institutions, home educators and others when writing recommendations to reduce regulations. 

What people are saying

“Universal choice means that every school has a chance to compete for students, and their parents can decide the best fit. Additionally, 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 options.” –

“When we look at school choice, there’s this knee jerk to automatically go to private school. Public school will still be a choice for 85% of students. That will still be a choice. …  When we say that the money will follow the child, and the child is no longer in the classroom, then why are we funding the school without the student?” 

“This is a tax rebate for opting out of public education. Anybody who has been sending their children to private schools, their accountant is going to say, ‘hey, don’t forget to sign up for your $8,000 opt out of public schools’ tax rebate.’” –

“My high school is going to get the kids whose parents are not aware of this and don’t have the ability to advocate for them. This bill is going to cause segregation – we’re going backwards.” –

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