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FL Passes Voucher Expansion for All Students, Giving Parents a Major Victory for School Choice

(Photo by note thanun via Unsplash)

Florida's Republican-led Senate on Thursday passed legislation designed to expand an existing taxpayer-backed school choice program for all students, regardless of their parent's income. It now heads to Gov. Ron DeSantis' desk for his signature. 

In a 26-12 party-line vote, senators approved measure HB1 that passed the Florida House last week 83-27, receiving some Democrat votes.

Once signed, Florida will become the fourth state this year to enact a universal school choice program after similar bills were passed in Utah, Iowa, and Arkansas, according to The Washington Examiner. It would also be the sixth state to enact school choice for all families in the last two years. 

slider img 2Under the legislation, any student would be eligible to receive vouchers if they are "a resident of this state" and "eligible to enroll in kindergarten through grade 12" in a public school.

Parents who are eligible for the program will get $8,000 toward education-related expenses including tuition at private schools, homeschooling, tutoring, materials, and fees for standardized tests, Fox News reported. The vouchers will roll out over time with low- and middle-income families prioritized. 

Conservative education activists applauded the Sunshine State's move to universal school choice, calling it a top state for "education freedom."

"Gov. Ron DeSantis and legislative leaders like House Speaker Paul Renner, as well as Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, deserve great credit for advancing policies that put students and families first," Heritage Foundation education experts Lindsey Burke and Jason Bedrick said in a statement. 

"By expanding the state's innovative education savings account policy to all K-12 students, Florida likely will retain its position as one of the best states in the nation for education freedom," they added. 

However, some Democrats, teacher's unions, and public school districts complain the move will take needed funding away from public and charter schools if parents are given the option to send their students to the school of their choice. 

WFSU News reports a cost estimate from the Florida House of Representatives puts the price tag of expanding the school voucher program at $210 million. The Florida Policy Institute, a non-profit group that opposes the voucher plan, estimates that the proposal would cost about $4 billion.

"The more successful this becomes, the more it drains and the more it pulls," state Sen. Jason Pizzo (D-Hollywood) told the outlet. 

The Florida Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, said, "Florida's families overwhelmingly count on their neighborhood public schools as the best place for their children to get the education they deserve and need. HB 1 will siphon billions away from the schools where nearly 90 percent of Florida's students learn and grow."

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But state Sen. Corey Simon (R-Tallahassee) pushed back against those arguments. 

"We are spending record amounts of dollars in this year's budget on our public schools. They won't tell you that because they're not arguing for the kids; they're not arguing for the parents. They're arguing for the system," Simon told the News Service of Florida

Other supporters of HB1 said it will make schools compete for students, give parents more choices, and raise the quality of education in the state. 

"Universal school choice means that every school has a chance to compete for students, and their parents can decide the best fit," Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, said in a statement.

Corey DeAngelis, a senior fellow at the American Federation for Children, told Fox News that he believes a universal school choice revolution has finally ignited. 

"The dominoes are falling and there's nothing the power-hungry teachers' unions can do about it," he said. "We all owe {American Federation of Teachers President} Randi Weingarten and her union allies a special thank you for overplaying their hand and awakening a sleeping giant: parents who want more of a say in their children's education." 

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