Florida already has among the most expansive school-choice offerings in the nation, and this week the Legislature expanded private-school vouchers to more families.
Florida established the Family Empowerment Scholarship (FES) program in 2019 to help low-income students attend private schools. In the 2020-2021 school year, more than 36,000 students participated, with an average scholarship of nearly $7,000.
The bill increases the eligible household income cap from 300% to 375% of the poverty level—about $100,000 for a family of four—though it prioritizes households under 185%. The enrollment cap will continue to escalate by 1% of public-school enrollment annually, allowing roughly 28,000 new students each year.
The new bill also folds special-needs scholarships into the FES program, which it caps at 20,000. But an automatic escalator lets capacity increase every year by about 4,500 students. The special-needs funds are education savings accounts that can be used for tutoring and other services.
One of the bill’s biggest boons is extending scholarships to students already in private school. Under current law, only students enrolled in public school can apply. Eliminating this requirement will help private-school families who have suffered financially from the pandemic or can no longer afford private tuition for other reasons. Applicants from public schools also don’t count toward program caps.
The bill is headed to
Gov. Ron DeSantis,
who is expected to sign it. Florida is a haven for overtaxed northerners, but it’s also an education refuge for low- and middle-income families.
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Appeared in the April 28, 2021, print edition.
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