Legislation that would open scholarship eligibility to more Florida students in kindergarten through 12th grade passed through the Republican-controlled House on day 11 of a 60-day session. 

Currently, a student in a household of four making no more than $111,000, or 400% percent of the federal poverty line, is eligible for the Florida Tax Credit (FTC) Scholarship or the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program (FES). THE FTC provides scholarships to students with priority given to children of low-income families and those who are in foster care. 

The FES program provides students with financial resources if they’re children of law enforcement or a military member, as well as children with disabilities. One part of the program assists students to pay for tuition and fees to attend a private school or transportation to a public school. The other part covers certain costs associated with a disabled students, including instructional materials, tutoring and specialized services, to name a few.

Under Republican Rep. Kaylee Tuck’s House Bill 1, financial resources associated with those programs would expand beyond low- and middle-income families to any Florida K-12 student. A similar bill in the Senate, SB 202, is sponsored by Republican state Sen. Corey Simon.

Republican supporters touted the bill, which passed in the House via an 83-27 vote on March 17. It expands school choice to 2.9 million school-aged children, regardless of background, all while prioritizing low-income families followed by middle-income families. Per the bill, students could receive an average of $8,000 from the state for school expenses. 

“The goal is to deliver education in a much different way than the one-size-fits-all model that we all knew growing up,” Speaker Paul Renner said following passage in the House. “The Florida model factors in the unique learning needs of every child to deliver education by empowering parents and students to choose the best way to achieve their educational goals, regardless of ZIP code, race or income.”

Many Democrats opposing the bill expressed concern that it would destroy the public school system and give wealthier families that already can afford sending their child to a private school a voucher. There were also issues with the projected cost associated with the scholarship expansion. According to a House analysis, scholarship funding would total $209.6 million. A Senate analysis of the expansion shows costs at $646.5 million.

“The truth is we don’t know how much that cost will be,” said Democratic Rep. Daryl Campbell, of Jacksonville. “Researchers are saying this will cost $2.1 billion. This money can be used to make the worst public schools in the state the best in the country.”

Democratic state Rep. Robin Bartleman, of Broward County, called the proposal a “coupon for millionaires” on the House floor before a vote. The Florida Education Association, composed of unions representing educators and school professionals, called on the public to oppose House Bill 1 and a Senate Bill 202, saying they “rip money away from public schools and give that money to unaccountable, private and religious schools vouchers.”

“All of Florida’s children should be able to get the education they deserve and need at fully funded and staffed public schools. This bill is going to make life tougher for a lot of kids. It will mean fewer resources in their schools, and fewer teachers and staff to meet their day-to-day needs,” said Andrew Spar, Florida Education Association president. 

With approval of House Bill 1, Senate Bill 202 was to go to a vote on March 22.

Jim McCarthy is one of the many Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 4-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, hockey, mixed martial arts and golf. He also enjoys time with family and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.