Florida GOP Lawmakers Push for School Choice Expansion

Democratic lawmakers will have to explain why they disapprove of a legislation that could potentially benefit minority communities.

The Florida State legislature is ready to vote for a bill that dramatically expands the state’s school voucher program. The proposal, which would grant parents with greater school choice, was passed by the Appropriations Committee of the Florida Senate. The bill is now up for debate on the senate’s floor. Both chambers are controlled by Republican majorities, giving the school choice supporters high hopes. Republican Governor Ron DeSantis is a strong supporter of school choice and is expected he will sign the bill into law.

The proposal, which was approved by an 11-9 vote along party lines in the Appropriations Committee, would combine the existing five school choice programs into two with the intention of “streamlining” what some consider a complicated school choice system. The bill would allow these programs to pay for private school tuition and other related programs.

The bill would make school choice programs more widely available to the public, according to state Rep. Many Diaz (R-Hialeah). The proposal would “make school choice a reality for more Florida families by using funds taxpayers have already dedicated to education”. Opponents of the bill have argued that the program would hurt the public school system. Florida Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer (D-Lighthouse Point) claims that the program “would be unfair taking of money from public schools and giving it to private schools”

School choice has become one of the most touted policy achievements implemented by the DeSantis administration. DeSantis signed a Scholarship legislation in June 2020 that aimed to increase and improve the quality of the Florida school choice program over the next years.

Furthermore, the current Florida Tax Credit scholarship program (which encourages corporations to finance school vouchers by promising tax cuts) enrolled a record 111,219 students on the 2019-20 academic year, a 6.8% increase from the previous year, with 67% of those enrolled being either Hispanics or African-Americans.

Gov. Ron DeSantis addressing the State Legislature earlier this month (Photo: school_bus by Thomas Devenishek|Flickr| CC BY 4.0)

School choice has proven to be one of the most successful policies proposed by Republican lawmakers nationally. A 2020 survey conducted for the American Federation for Children showed that more than 70% support a federal scholarship tax credit program. Similarly, a 2019 EdChoice survey showed that there is an overall favorable trend among those who support school choice programs. Additionally, a 2019 Education Next poll shows that minority Democrat voters are far more likely to support school choice programs when compared to white Democrats.

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School choice has also been a political gift for Republicans who are trying to win support among minority voters. Black and Latino children are most likely to benefit from school vouchers or charter school programs. A CNN poll showed that DeSantis earned 18% of the female black vote in the 2018 election, a relatively high number of a Republican candidate.

Governor DeSantis has yet to announce whether he would sign the legislation into law if it is sent to his desk. Democratic lawmakers will have to explain why they disapprove of a legislation that could potentially benefit minority communities.

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