Florida House passes universal school choice

House speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, remarked that the legislation “will forever change the course of education in Florida.”

Editor’s note: This article appeared earlier today on politicopro.com.

Republicans in the Florida House passed a landmark universal school choice bill Friday that would give every K-12 student statewide access to a voucher for attending private school.

A 83-27 vote put Florida on the cusp of joining states like Arizona and Iowa in widely expanding access to private school, a priority of Republicans who are pushing to strengthen parental rights in education.

Democrats in Florida have fought against the legislation, which lawmakers sped through committees by week two, claiming it would give “millionaires a coupon” for private schools that are under looser regulations than traditional public schools.

“I didn’t hear one [Democrat] in the back row say that they were against choice, because they know choice works,” said state Rep. Ralph Massullo (R-Lecanto), who chairs the House’s top education committee. “Choice is important … because we’re all unique, we’re all different. Each child has their own abilities, their talents, their interests. And there’s no one better to recognize those than the parents.”

The legislation, FL HB1 (23R), would expand education savings accounts for students participating in the state’s Family Empowerment Scholarship, opening the vouchers to all K-12 students regardless of how much money is brought in by their household. Currently, these scholarships are available to students whose families earn no more than 400 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $120,000 for a family of four, a rate that by law can increase annually.

A top priority of House Republicans, the proposed growth could add potentially tens of thousands of students to the state’s voucher enrollment, whether they leave a traditional public school, already attend a private school without a scholarship or even are homeschooled.

After the legislation passed, House speaker Paul Renner (R-Palm Coast) said the proposal “will forever change the course of education in Florida.”

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