Florida House Speaker wants to expand school voucher program

TALLAHASSEE, FL. – Florida would make every student eligible for coupons to attend private school with taxpayers’ money under proposed legislation. House Speaker Paul Renner said Thursday is a priority for the session, which begins in March.

The bill could significantly expand the state’s current voucher programs, but would prioritize low-income students with special needs over wealthier families seeking help with private tuition.

“We already have more school choice kids, more people voting in this state than in any other state in the country,” Renner said during a news conference. “We just make sure nobody gets left out.”

He said he was not concerned the legislation could lead to a mass exodus from public schools.

“A lot of people will stay where they are because they’re happy, but it’s really about making sure there’s more competition,” Renner said.

Critics said the legislation will harm public schools by sending money to private schools, which are not subject to the same accountability requirements. Democratic House Speaker Fentrice Driskell called the bill “alarming.”

“Our Republican-led Legislature continues to attack our public schools — our teachers — making it very difficult for Florida to compete with the rest of the nation,” Driskell said during a news conference. “This is setting our state back.”

Several states have tried more aggressively to expand school-choice laws in the past two years, including Iowa, where Republican Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds Vouchers made a priority for everyone in her State of the State address last week.

Florida began its voucher program more than two decades ago under Republican Gov. Jeb Bush and has passed several laws to extend it to the next three Republican administrations, including two years ago Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law raising income levels to get coupons.

If passed, Renner said it would eliminate a waiting list for vouchers for special needs children, though he didn’t know how large the waiting list is and the legislation doesn’t have a price tag.

The legislation has been dubbed House Bill 1, showing the Speaker its importance. The Legislature begins its annual 60-day session on March 7th.

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https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2023/01/20/florida-house-speaker-wants-to-expand-school-voucher-program/ Florida House Speaker wants to expand school voucher program

Sarah Y. Kim

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