by Andrew Powell
The Florida Senate Education Committee approved a bill that will further expand education choice in the Sunshine State on Tuesday.
Education Committee Chairman Corey Simon, R-Tallahassee, introduced Senate Bill 202 which will give additional access and support to parents and students.
“SB 202 modifies K-12 education programs to provide additional financial support for families and flexibility for school districts.” Simon said.
The bill “expands and supports school choice by increasing the number of students served under the Family Empowerment Scholarship for students with disabilities, by increasing annual scholarship growth rates from 1% to 3% for Florida exceptional education students,” Simon said.
Eligibility will be expanded to any student and eligible to enroll in a public school, kindergarten through 12th grade. The bill would also remove certain enrollment caps.
The scope of authorized use of tax credits in family empowerment scholarships has also widened to include specified purchases through an empowerment educational savings account and excess funds from taxpayer scholarship funds will be authorized to go towards funding disability scholarships.
The bill also requires the State Board of Education to provide recommendations to Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Legislature by Nov. 2, regarding any repeals and/or revisions of the Florida Early Learning-20 Education Code, which will be considered in the 2024 legislative session.
Another change will be that other vehicles will be authorized to be used in place of school buses to transport students and school districts will be able to set salary schedules for instructional personnel or school administrators.
According to Simon, the Urban Institute conducted a study on the outcomes of students who had used scholarship programs prior to attending college or university and the results showed that those students were 45% more likely to finish their degree.
Simon also stated that according to that same study, 99% of those students who had had four years of scholarships, were likely to attend college.
Simon pointed out that the bill is not to discourage parents from sending their children to public school, but instead to give parents more options – whether that’s private school or a better public school in a different district.
Regulations have been removed from private, religious and homeschooling to level the playing field, according to Simon.
Simon also clarified that the program does not encompass all private schools in Florida, as some private schools have opted to not participate in the program.
Denise Howard, a member of Leon County’s’ Guardians for Public Schools, opposed the bill and stated that, “the diversion of public funds to private options, will actually reduce choice for most families.”
Howard also stated that moving the funds from public schools will force neighborhood public schools to close and private school tuition will be out of reach for lower-income families.
Ingrin Lyle, a Jacksonville mother whose children are exceptional education students living with disabilities, supported the bill and outlined how much her family has benefited from the educational choice scholarships.
The main concern during debates was transparency and the fiscal responsibility that the committee has to taxpayers, but despite concerns the committee voted favorably for SB 202.
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Andrew Powell is a contributor to The Center Square.