Millions more Florida school children became eligible for taxpayer-funded school vouchers on Monday as Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a far-reaching bill that the Legislature sped to completion.
“The State of Florida is No. 1 when it comes to education freedom and education choice. And today’s bill signing cements us in that No. 1 position,” DeSantis said during a ceremony held at a Miami private school. He was surrounded by House and Senate leaders who made the measure a priority.
DeSantis noted that 1.3 million children in Florida use some sort of choice, whether vouchers, charter schools or district options such as magnets. “That empowers parents ... to find the best school for their child,” the governor said.
The bill has generated strong criticism from Floridians who contend the initiative will hurt an under-funded public education system without having many of the accountability requirements that traditional public schools must meet.
They continued to blister the bill after the governor signed it.
“Once again, we see Gov. DeSantis putting his political ambitions ahead of Floridians, including our students,” said Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association. “We are deeply concerned that children will pay the ultimate price for the governor’s politics.”
The Senate approved HB1 on Friday along party lines, replacing its own version of the measure with the House language. While the two chambers agreed on the policy of granting vouchers or education savings accounts to all K-12 school-aged children regardless of family income, they have yet to agree on how much the expanded program will cost or how to pay for it.
Supporters carried the day, though. They have argued that families know best what their children need for schooling, and that the state should help parents pay for their choices.
Florida Chamber of Commerce president Mark Wilson said the measure takes the state in a positive direction in its effort to meet individual needs for academic excellence.
“With only 53 percent of Florida third graders reading at or above grade level, it is clear Florida families and students need support and flexibility, and this bill empowers them to have tailored educational experiences rather than the current one-size fits all approach,” Wilson said in a news release.
House Speaker Paul Renner, who championed the legislation, said the goal goes beyond offering children and families a customized education.
“We don’t want your child to go to a school where their values are mocked,” Renner said, noting the law’s inclusion of religious schools in the mix of those that can accept vouchers.
Robert Enlow, president of the national advocacy group EdChoice, praised Florida for seeking ways to improve upon its already substantial voucher and scholarship initiatives.
Follow what’s happening in Tampa Bay schools
Subscribe to our free Gradebook newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
“Importantly, Florida lawmakers show that even states with existing school choice programs in operation shouldn’t rest until those opportunities are available for all,” Enlow said.
At the same time, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo said, the bill also sets guidelines for reducing regulations on public schools.
“It’s critical,” she said, “and it’s a great step forward.”
The law takes effect on July 1.
• • •
Sign up for the Gradebook newsletter!
Every Thursday, get the latest updates on what’s happening in Tampa Bay area schools from Times education reporter Jeffrey S. Solochek. Click here to sign up.