The Florida Senate Monday passed a bill that would provide $200 million in state funds for school choice voucher programs, sending the bill to the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).
As reported by The Florida Capital Star last week, the Florida House passed HB 7045 by a margin of 79-36, with four Democrats joining the Republican majority. The voucher program will allow 60,000 more students in Florida to attend an alternative to public school, usually in low-income areas.
“It’s not about low income anymore,” the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Randy Fine (R-Palm Bay) said during the House floor debate. “You can make up to $100,000. We are now creating that option, for more people to make the right decision for them so schools can be accountable to parents.”
Monday, the bill’s Senate equivalent passed by a vote of 25-14, mostly along party lines. One Democrat, state Sen. Audrey Gibson, (D-Jacksonville) voted in favor of the bill.
“It continues to give more families the opportunity to choose the best course they see fit for their children,” said state Sen. Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota) reportedly said upon the bill’s passage.
Many Democrats remain opposed to such legislation, since private schools do not have to follow state-mandated standardized testing or grading systems like public schools. They claim that there is no way to hold private schools that receive state funds accountable.
But Republicans argue that families have the right to choose where their children are educated.
“The question we have here is a philosophical choice: Do we trust our families to make the right decisions for their student?” bill sponsor state Sen. Manny Diaz Jr. (R-Hialeah) said during the floor debate. “COVID has exposed this even further, because parents have seen the education of their children go on, sometimes, on their dining room table.”
DeSantis has long been a champion of school voucher programs.
Last year, he signed a separate bill into law quadrupling the number of recipients of school vouchers annually.
We worked really hard this year to deliver for students and families,” he said at the time, adding that “we also were mindful of a lot of our low-income families that needed a little help to get their children into schools that best meet their needs.”
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