Fla. House, Senate agree to expand special needs scholarship accounts

Florida’s next state budget would expand eligibility for the state’s newest parental choice program, and more than double its funding, under an agreement reached late Monday by legislative negotiators.

A spending plan agreed to late Monday by House and Senate budget writers would set aside nearly $42 million more than $53 million for Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts for special needs students, a more than two-fold increase from the program’s first year. The agreement would also extend eligibility to three- and four-year-olds and children with muscular dystrophy, and clarify the definition of autism to include a broader range of students.

Lawmakers are expected to vote on the budget Friday, a day before the scheduled end of a three-week special legislative session.

Bills aimed at expanding  eligibility for the program and improving its administration were heard during the regular session that ended in May, but fell victim to a legislative standoff despite receiving unanimous support in both chambers. The budget agreement would revive several key provisions of that legislation for the coming state fiscal year, which begins in June.

The new budget deal would also allow scholarship funding organizations, including Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog and employs the author of this post, to receive funding equal to 3 percent of each scholarship to cover the cost of administering the accounts. The funding would not be deducted from students’ scholarships.

Note: An earlier version of this blog post missed additional funding that was allocated to the program late Monday, meaning the funding increase was larger than first reported.

Courts, Gardiner Scholarship