Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Voucher expansion proposal gets new life in Florida House

State Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, says the move makes sense.

State Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, says the move makes sense.

TALLAHASSEE — Remember that school voucher bill thought to be on life support?

The proposal was given a second chance Wednesday, thanks to a procedural maneuver by a state representative.

Many observers thought the proposed expansion of the school voucher program was off the table after Sen. Bill Galvano withdrew the Senate version of the bill (SB 1620) last week. Without a companion in the upper chamber, the voucher bill in the House (HB 7099) stood virtually no chance of becoming law.

But late Wednesday, Rep. Erik Fresen combined the voucher language with a separate bill creating education savings accounts for children with special needs. That bill (HB 5103, now PCB EDAS 14-03) has a counterpart being considered in the Senate (SB 1512), and is thus still in play.

Fresen, R-Miami, said it made sense to combine the proposals.

"The two bills were on separate paths to begin with, but they both fit under the umbrella of school choice," he said. "This bill now covers the entire scope of school choice."

Critics said they were disheartened — but not surprised — by the move.

"They're just not listening to the people," said Jeff Wright, who oversees public policy advocacy for the statewide teachers union. "The public wants its public schools funded, and this is taking away resources."

The voucher program, also known as the tax credit scholarship program, provides private-school scholarships to about 60,000 low-income children.

The scholarships are funded by private businesses, which receive a dollar-for-dollar credit on their corporate income taxes. The cap on tax credits is currently set at $286 million but is set to grow to $874 million over the next five years.

Supporters are hoping to expand the cap at a faster pace to provide scholarships for an additional 50,000 children over the next five years.

The original proposal would have allowed sales tax revenue to help fund the voucher program. It would have also enabled certain students to receive partial scholarships, and removed some of the barriers to participation in the program.

Fresen did not carry the sales tax provision over to the new combined bill.

"It was the most contentious point," he said. "We figured if we were going to revive the bill, we should adjust that part."

Fresen did not add language requiring scholarship students to take the state exams. Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, has said a voucher expansion bill will not be heard in the Senate without that provision. But the House has insisted that such a requirement is both unnecessary and impractical.

"The House position has always been different from the Senate position," Fresen said. "All we were doing was consolidating two (House) proposals dealing with school choice."

The new combined bill will be heard at a House Education Appropriations Subcommittee meeting on Friday.

Expect some tweaks to the education savings account provision, which seeks to create accounts for children with profound disabilities. Parents could use the money as reimbursement for tuition at private schools, tutoring, learning materials or services such as applied behavior analysis, speech-language pathology and physical therapy.

What happens next will be a high-stakes battle among powerful forces.

Expanding the tax credit scholarship is a top priority for House Speaker Will Weatherford. But Gaetz is holding firm on the testing requirement.

Adding to the drama: the education savings account provision is important to incoming Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, who has a child with special needs.

Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg, R-Trinity, said he was not sure if the combined bill language would be heard in the Senate.

"It would still have to have a policy committee meeting, and I'm not planning on meeting again," he said.

But Galvano, the Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee chairman who spiked the original voucher proposal and is a co-sponsor on the savings account bill, said he was willing to "look at the language."

"I still want to make sure there is strong accountability in there," he said.

Contact Kathleen McGrory at

Voucher expansion proposal gets new life in Florida House 03/26/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 10:04pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Trigaux: How Moffitt Cancer's M2Gen startup won $75 million from Hearst


    TAMPA — A Moffitt Cancer Center spin-off that's building a massive genetic data base of individual patient cancer information just caught the attention of a deep-pocketed health care investor.

    Richard P. Malloch is the president of Hearst Business Media, which is announcing a $75 million investment in M2Gen, the for-profit cancer informatics unit spun off by Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center. Malloch's job is to find innovative investments for the Hearst family fortune. A substantial amount has been invested in health care, financial and the transportation and logistics industries.
  2. A boat lays on its side off the shore of Sainte-Anne on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, early Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, after the passing of Hurricane Maria. [Dominique Chomereau-Lamotte | Associated Press]
  3. 7.1 magnitude quake kills at least 149, collapses buildings in Mexico


    MEXICO CITY — A magnitude 7.1 earthquake stunned central Mexico on Tuesday, killing at least 149 people as buildings collapsed in plumes of dust. Thousands fled into the streets in panic, and many stayed to help rescue those trapped.

    A woman is lifted on a stretcher from of a building that collapsed during an earthquake in Mexico City, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. [Rebecca Blackwell | Associated Press]
  4. FHP seeks semitrailer truck driver that left fiery wreck on I-75


    TAMPA — The Florida Highway Patrol is looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an Interstate 75 crash that left another car burning on Tuesday afternoon.

    Troopers were looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an accident scene on Interstate 75 in Tampa on Tuesday afternoon that caused a car to catch fire. [Courtesy of Florida Highway Patrol]
  5. Joe Maddon gets warm reception in return to the Trop

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The night was arranged to honor former Rays manager Joe Maddon in his first visit back to the Trop, and the standing ovation from the bipartisan crowd and scoreboard video tribute seemed proper acknowledgments of his hefty role in the Rays' success during his nine-year stint.

    Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon (70) talks with reporters during a press conference before the start of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017.