Senate Releases Sweeping School Choice Proposal

Senate Releases Sweeping School Choice Proposal

By Ryan Dailey, The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — Republican legislative leaders are lauding a sweeping school-choice measure filed Thursday, while Senate Democrats have vowed to “fight like hell” against the proposal.

The legislation, filed by Republican Sen. Manny Diaz of Hialeah, would expand eligibility for school-voucher programs, consolidate existing school-choice programs and allow parents to use taxpayer-backed education savings accounts for private schools and other costs.

“Using funds Florida taxpayers have already dedicated to education, this legislation consolidates our scholarship programs to make it clear what options are available to parents, and expands eligibility to provide more options to more low income families and families with a child with unique abilities,” Diaz wrote in a press release on Thursday.

Diaz’s proposal (SB 48) would expand the existing Family Empowerment Scholarship, which currently serves middle- and low-income students, in part by combining it with the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship. Under the Tax Credit Scholarship program, businesses receive tax credits for contributing money to nonprofit organizations that, in turn, provide scholarships to students to attend private schools.

Diaz’s measure would also fold the Hope Scholarship program, which allows bullied students to switch to different public schools or use taxpayer funds to pay for private schools, into the Family Empowerment Scholarship.

The Senate proposal also would establish the “Gardiner-McKay Scholarship,” by combining two existing voucher programs that serve students with special needs.

Diaz’s plan would result in the consolidation of five of the state’s existing major school-voucher programs into two programs.

The proposal would establish what are known as education savings accounts for eligible students, which could be used for a wide array of education-related costs and services, including private-school tuition, tutoring, digital devices, and internet access.

Proponents of Diaz’s bill maintain that it would make it easier for parents to navigate the state’s complex school-voucher system. 

The state currently has “a pretty confusing system of scholarship programs with various eligibility and funding mechanisms,” Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, said in a press release on Thursday. 

“This patchwork system is largely the result of years of legal challenges from school choice opponents who have attempted to thwart every effort to actually give parents a say in how their children are educated,” he said.

Diaz’s legislation also garnered praise from former Gov. Jeb Bush, who was an architect of school vouchers in Florida.

“Let’s keep expanding access to learning options – #Florida families want and deserve it,” Bush tweeted.

Step Up for Students, a nonprofit organization that helps administer two of the state’s existing voucher programs, also is backing Diaz’s proposal. 

“We support the Senate’s efforts to streamline these programs and give families the flexibility they need to meet each child’s safety and academic needs,” Step Up for Students president Doug Tuthill said in a prepared statement.

Senate Democrats, who learned of Diaz’s plan prior to Thursday’s release of the legislation, discussed the proposed voucher bill during a caucus meeting earlier this week.

The Democrats expressed fear that Diaz’s proposal would shift Florida’s public schools toward a universal school-choice system.

Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, told his colleagues that one of his aides told him about the bill early this week.

“This is a huge, huge problem that they’re about to do this in a COVID year, with all the budget constraints,” Jones, who is vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said during Tuesday’s Democratic caucus meeting. “We’re going to have to fight like hell on this one.”

The Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, also opposes the measure.

“What the world has learned during this pandemic is the importance of public schools to a functioning society, but one of the first bills out the gate this year in Florida undercuts public education. Parents want lawmakers to invest in and support public schools. This bill does the opposite, and would drain away more resources from the schools that educate the great majority of our state’s children,” FEA president Andrew Spar said in a prepared statement.

11 Responses to "Senate Releases Sweeping School Choice Proposal"

  1. Imagine, living in a country where, except for the wealthy, parents have no control over where there children are for most of there waking hours, what they’re being taught, and who’s teaching them. Oh yeah, that’s the United States! That’s what’s wrong with this country, we’ve forgotten what freedom is. The brainwashing of America is complete!

    Give every parent a voucher and let them choose the school. They’d have top notch schools right in the middle of the poorest neighborhoods. They’d be able to teach right from wrong and students and families who are not interested in doing well can just stay in other schools. Everybody gets what they want. This is the biggest social issue of our time.

    The reason they won’t do it is that it will be perfectly clear that it’s not some invisible boogieman that’s keeping people down, it’s strong family values, work ethic, and faith in God.

  2. in 1861 the local Democrats “fought like hell” to keep blacks as slaves. Now the teachers union democrats will do the same to keep blacks enslaved by mandatory government skules. No choice. no escape. Kids are = a railroad car of coal, unions say. Hopefully, they will lose again.

  3. As a Step Up family … we love having the choice to place our children where we feel they will be allowed to achieve success. I am so sick of democrats pushing the agenda that parents shouldn’t have the right to make personal choices for their children when it comes to education. My children will NEVER attend public school. I’ll homeschool them before that ever happens. My daughter was diagnosed with PTSD in first grade due to the bullying she received by her teacher … after that … we vowed to never, ever, ever force her back into that toxic environment.

  4. Why is it that the NaziCrats only support the “right to choose” when it comes to killing millions of innocent babies… particularly within communities “of color”?

    … weird huh?

  5. Imagine that. The democrats want to protect their radical left wing socialist, marxist teachers union and to hell with the parents and students. If the kids go to schools of their choice they might not be indoctrinated with the hate America theme. They might even recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Maybe even the Lord’s Prayer! God forbid. Marxism has not place for such radical thoughts. No wonder the democrats want to “fight like hell.”

  6. Every school age child should be given a voucher every year, and let the parents choose where they attend school on a first come first serve basis…regardless of whether they are public or private. Those underperforming schools will become better & better each year as schools compete for the best teachers and administrators. The teachers unions do not want you to have the ability to hold them accountable for their failures, or to have raises determined by their performance.

  7. Better idea Tony, why not give the money allocated per student by the government directly to the parents and let them decide where their child goes to school!

  8. END all school-voucher programs. Take THAT money and put it into our Public Schools. If a Parent wants their Kid to go to a different Public School, MOVE to that School District. If a Parent wants to send their kid to a Private School, PAY FOR IT YOURSELF.

  9. To be clear, the NaziCrat legislators are being made to “fight like hell” by their Union puppet masters, in order to protect their fiefdom of dues coming from those who run our miserably-failing Public Indoctrination School System.

    Parents; if you care at all about your children, their future, and ability to function in a decent society… get you children the hell out of the PISS as fast as you can.

  10. With all due respect to the FEA, what the world has learned during this pandemic is just how little their children our being taught and what little there is is mostly crap!

  11. This article should tell you all you need to know how democrats view the education of Florida’s students. Democrats want to “fight like hell” to stop a proposal that would give parents more choices to get their kids out of failing public schools. It’s also ironic that the Florida Education Association is saying the pandemic has highlighted the importance of public schools. If it was up to the FEA most Florida students would still not be back to in-person learning.

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