Florida Senate breathes new life into school choice legislation

An expansion of parental choice programs in Florida received new life in the state Senate Friday, and now heads to a receptive House on the last day of the legislative session.

The Florida Senate received bipartisan support to add legislation opening the tax credit scholarship program to more families and creating new personal learning accounts for special-needs students to a broader school-choice bill.

The bill, SB 850, would also expand career-education programs championed by Senate President Don Gaetz, as well as collegiate high school programs offered by colleges.

The amendment adding the House’s school choice legislation was added on a voice vote. The full bill passed 29-11, with the support of a united Republican caucus and three Democrats: Sens. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, Gwen Margolis, D-Miami Beach, and Darren Soto, D-Orlando.

The most contentious provisions dealt with the state’s tax-credit scholarship program, which is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog. State Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, told members the bill would bring the program under tighter oversight.

“If you really want accountability in this program, if you really want transparency in this program, then support this bill,” he said.

Ring, one of the Democrats who supported the bill, focused his arguments on provisions aimed at helping students with disabilities.

It would create individual accounts that parents could use to meet the educational needs of their special-needs children if their children do not attend public school. It would also do away with special diplomas, pushing more of them to leave high school with a standard diploma.

“I want these children to be able to be normalized, to be equalized. What I want for them is to have a path that they can be in a workforce,” he said. “I cannot wait to go home and defend this bill.”

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