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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Education savings account bill gains traction in Florida Senate



Even before taking office, Florida Gov. Rick Scott began talking about offering vouchers to all Florida school children

The idea came under heavy criticism, leading Scott to back away from the controversial idea.

That hasn't stopped lawmakers from pressing ahead with the concept, though. This morning, SB 1550 "Education Savings Account Program" won unanimous approval from the Florida Senate Pre-K-12 Committee. Even the lone Democrat, Sen. Bill Montford, offered his tentative support.

"I've got some serious concerns," said Montford, a retired Leon schools superintendent. "But this concept is certainly worth exploring."

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Palm City, would allow parents to use 40 percent of the state's per-student funding amount to pay for K-12 education options outside the mainstream public school system. Negron called the legislation a "GI Bill for kids" and suggested that families deserve to use their state funding for K-12 choices just as they can use their Bright Futures scholarships, VPK funds and several other education funds as they see fit within approved options.

"For some reason we've decided there's this one little part of the education system -- K-12 -- where there should be a government monopoly," Negron said. "What this bill does is a real simple idea that I think gives tremendous opportunity and choice to parents."

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Wellington, raised concerns that the money might be misspent by families who decide to "keep my child home and keep the money." Negron assured her that the legislation would not permit that, with families never having direct access to the money. They would have to send bills to the state, which would reimburse the approved service providers, he said.

A couple of teachers rose to oppose the proposal, including Barbara Wilmarth of Pinellas County. She urged lawmakers to keep state money in public schools, so they do not have to diminish programs for all students.

The committee voted on the measure with limited comment. A similar bill in the House has not yet moved. 

[Last modified: Thursday, April 14, 2011 10:26am]


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