DeSantis signs bill to expand school choices for Florida students

Bay District Schools official reacts
Private schools across Florida may soon start seeing an influx of students in the classroom.
Published: Mar. 27, 2023 at 12:36 PM CDT
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BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Students in Florida will now have more options when it comes to education.

On Monday, Governor DeSantis signed a bill into law that would expand school choices for K-12 by getting rid of financial eligibility restrictions and current enrollment cap.

“Parents have a fundamental role in the education of their kids, and the upbringing of their kids,” DeSantis said. “That’s just the way it’s gotta be.”

K-12 students who are Florida residents are eligible for the voucher regardless of income. Some say that factor can be seen as controversial.

“I think that’s the controversial part of it,” Bay District Schools School Board Chairman Steve Moss said. “A lot of taxpayers are saying, wait a second, you’re saying the tax dollars I have to send into the government via my Ad Valorem Property Tax. Now your students are able to use those to attend a private school.”

The taxpayer-financed voucher is around $8,000 per student. However, Moss said it shouldn’t substantially impact the local public school system.

“Will it affect Bay County at all? Probably very little to none,” Moss said.

Moss said there aren’t very many private schools in Bay County.

“There’s not a ton of private schools here in Bay County or any of the surrounding counties, honestly, for parents to take this voucher and go to these private schools,” he said.

However, Moss said it should incentivize BDS to be the best it can possibly be for its students.

“It behooves us, as a school district, to provide the very best choice for that parent, so they don’t look to go to a charter school or use the vouchers to go to a private school.”

According to the Governor’s office, this bill will prioritize awards to students with household incomes that do not exceed 185% of the federal poverty level, and scholarships to students who live in households with incomes between 185% of the federal poverty level and 400% of the federal poverty level.

To assist with high demand and wait lists, HB-1 is also set to increase the annual scholarship adjustment for the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities from 1% to 3%.

The current enrollment cap will be eliminated, as well as exemptions for the max number of students who can participate in FES-EO.

The Office of K-12 School Choice will also be required to set up a portal for parents to choose the best educational options for their child. Additionally, the bill gets rid of the requirement that students must complete at least one credit through a virtual course to graduate.

The Governor’s administration also states in order to make teaching more accessible; HB-1 is expected to remove “red tape and bureaucracy” from the profession by allowing a general education requirement to be waived for teacher who had had three years in the classroom if they have been rated ‘effective’ or ‘highly effective’ for three consecutive years.

A temporary teaching certificate would also be expanded from three years to five years.

More on the bill can be found here.