Last month, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill to expand school choice and education options. Some have said it could be the largest school choice expansion among any state in the country.
The bill will expand eligibility to for school vouchers to low-income students and students with unique abilities. Approximately 60,000 Florida students, including military kids, foster children, and adopted students, will now be eligible to receive vouchers to attend private, charter, or other home schooling.
“This legislation creates historical levels of flexibility in both schooling and educational services for millions of low-income families and families of students with unique abilities,” said DeSantis. “As we have seen for more than 20 years now, these scholarship programs have elevated so many children and families. I am thankful to Senator Manny Diaz and Representatives Randy Fine and Jason Fischer for sponsoring this inclusive legislation to ensure that all of Florida’s students have the best chance for success.”
The bill, HB 7045, combined two previously funded scholarships into one, now called the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program, and both were scholarships designed for students with Down Syndrome, Spina Bifida, Cerebral Palsy, and Autism.
Today in Hialeah, I signed HB 7045 into law, which creates more opportunities and flexibility in both schooling and educational services for millions of low-income scholarship families as well as students with unique abilities. pic.twitter.com/3Hw6qO9UJ1
— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) May 11, 2021
Some special needs advocates have expressed concern over the newly signed legislation merging two of the scholarship programs. One of the former scholarships, the Gardiner Scholarship, was designed specifically for Down Syndrome students, and the factors contributing to determining how much funding a Down Syndrome student could receive might change under the new law.
“You’re putting together a population of students who are different, and when you have to fund them in a similar way, you’re comparing apples and oranges,” said Camille Gardiner, co-founder of the Down Syndrome Foundation of Central Florida, and whose husband, Andy Gardiner, was former Florida Senate President and crafted the original Gardiner Scholarship.
DeSantis noted those concerns, but Rep. Randy Fine (R-53), reiterated that this new law will provide opportunities for Florida’s students regardless of where they grow up.
“A great education is the passport to the American Dream, and in Florida, we have decided that the zip code you live in and the income of your parents should not determine your future,” said Fine. “I am so grateful to my colleagues and the Governor for guaranteeing that opportunity to all of our children by passing and signing HB 7045.”
– – –