SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - On Friday, Florida lawmakers issued their final approval to a bill that would expand taxpayer-funded voucher programs.
The Senate voted 21-14 to pass the measure after it was approved last week by the House of Representatives. The measure is now going to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has supported voucher programs in the past.
The bill is designed to expand the Family Empowerment Scholarship program that was created in 2019. In February, the program provided 17,724 vouchers. That number could increase to more than 46,600 during the 2020-21 academic year under the bill.
School-choice backers praised the bill after two decades of efforts by governors and lawmakers to develop voucher programs. "“Today’s vote is not only a victory for the tens of thousands of new students who will benefit from the Family Empowerment Scholarship, it is also a victory for the state of Florida as we prepare our students for success in school and in life,” Patricia Levesque, Executive Director of the Foundation for Florida’s Future.
Voucher programs have been a long controversial issue in Florida education. Critics argue that they take away money from public schools and that the state should require accountability measures for private schools.
Supporters argue that vouchers provide a path for families to choose the best schools for their children. This includes allowing low-income children to leave public schools that may be troubled.
“Empowering parents and students of all economic backgrounds is an essential component to ensuring high-quality education for all our children," Senate Education Chairman, Manny Diaz Jr., said.