Flanked by lawmakers, educators, parents and students who attend private schools, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a far-reaching education bill that creates a new private school voucher.
The new program, the “Family Empowerment Scholarship,” prioritizes vouchers for low-income students by using the state pot of per-student funding for public school.
“It’s done!” he said Thursday, as he signed Senate Bill 7070 with a blue Sharpie marker at William A. Kirlew Junior Academy, a Seventh-day Adventist K-8 school in Miami Gardens.
DeSantis spent the day crisscrossing the state, visiting private schools in Jacksonville and St. Petersburg to tout the bill, which gives access to the vouchers for families of four earning up to $77,000, or 300 percent of the federal poverty level. The bill creates a maximum of 18,000 new vouchers for a cost of about $130 million.
“I personally believe that parents know what’s best for their kids,” he said at the Miami Gardens school. “If you empower parents regardless of income, the parents will make the best decision.”
DeSantis has supported the idea since before his election, when he made a goal of ending the wait list for tax-credit scholarships. He said Thursday that the program was successful but has grown as large as it can.
The new program will offer similar opportunities for low-income families who want to send their children to private schools, he said.
“In one fell swoop, you’re offering more opportunity for thousands and thousands of low-income families in the state of Florida,” he said.
When the bill passed in the final days of the legislative session, Senate and House leaders applauded. The bill achieves a goal that has been sought by Republicans since Jeb Bush was governor. Bush was on the floor of the House when the bill came to a final vote, along with state Education Commissioner and former House Speaker Richard Corcoran.
“This is a big, big deal and it will go an awful long way,” DeSantis added Thursday.
The governor was flanked by education committee chairs Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, and Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, who spoke about the long process of making their bill a success.
Diaz said he has been a proponent of a voucher program since he entered the Legislature in 2012.
“Sometimes it’s not popular, but it’s the right thing to do,” he said, receiving rousing applause.
Sullivan said she was thankful for the parents who came to Tallahassee from all corners of the state to testify in front of her committee on behalf of the voucher programs.
“We see you. We have heard you. This bill funds you,” she said. “Parents, you now have that choice.”
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