DeSantis signs historic, bipartisan school choice expansion for 61,000 students

DeSantis signs historic, bipartisan school choice expansion for 61,000 students

Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed into law Florida’s largest school choice expansion in the state’s history.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law May 11 a sweeping $200 million school choice expansion bill.

House Bill 7045, sponsored by state Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, and state Sen. Manny Diaz, Jr., R-Hialeah, marks the largest school choice expansion in Florida history.

“This legislation creates historical levels of flexibility in both schooling and educational services for millions of low-income families and families of students with unique abilities,” DeSantis said.

“This is public money, scholarship money, not going to any particular institution,” added DeSantis. “It’s going to the parents, and the parents are now in power. They would not have the wherewithal to do this but for these scholarships.”

HB 7045 cleared the Senate April 26 on a bipartisan 25-14 vote. “I firmly believe the only way you can truly eliminate generational poverty is through educational choice in the K-12 system,” said Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby.

The new school choice law streamlines school choice programs while expanding the state’s school choice program to give access to about 61,000 new students. HB 7045 increases scholarship amounts to 100% from 95% for students in the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, Hope Scholarship Program and the Family Empowerment Scholarship. The Family Empower Scholarships will be expanded to serve low-income students, students with unique abilities and special needs.

The bill also increased household income eligibility limits for school choice scholarships, moving away from centering school choice funding on income in order to allow more families across the state of qualify. “We do not want Florida families, who are already paying taxes that fund our K-12 education system, to have to choose between furthering their professional careers and qualifying for school choice scholarships,” Diaz said.

HB 7045 also ensures priority for students in foster care, out-of-home care or low-income households. Moreover, it eliminates the requirement – as a condition of eligibility – for a student to be in public school before applying for the scholarships.

In addition, the spectrum of allowable educational expenses has been expanded to include tuition, fees and transportation. For students with disabilities, the scholarships will now cover a broad range of expenses like special tutors, after-school programs, therapeutic and educational supports, and assistive technologies.

“School choice is here to stay,” added Simpson. “We have been talking about a massive expansion of this kind since I first ran for office, and the day [has] finally come where we can tell our constituents it has been signed into law.”

The school choice expansion will go into effect July 1.

As the pandemic has not only revealed, but also deepened educational disparities, Florida’s expansion of school choice is a much-needed response to a rising need in communities for greater access to educational options. This expansion will give thousands of Florida students the education they deserve, opening up a path to opportunity for families across the state.

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