School Choice, or funding aimed directly at students and families rather than public school systems, continues to gain ground across the country. The latest state to move closer to passing legislation for its expansion is Florida, where the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor of “House Bill 7045: School Choice.”
The final vote was 79 in favor, 36 against and 5 abstentions. The bill was passed less than a month after it was introduced in the House of Representatives.
According to the Florida Senate website, HB 7045 had its first reading on March 24. Then, it passed through the Appropriations Committee, where it was given a favorable approval, amendments were made and filed in approximately three weeks. On April 20, it went to second reading and the third reading was held on April 21, when it was voted on by the representatives.
The legislation will now go to the state Senate, where Republicans hold the majority. If the bill passes there, the last step for final approval of school choice expansion in Florida would be the signature of Governor Ron DeSantis.
HB 7045 has several goals, including streamlining Florida’s choice programs and application processes, expanding eligibility and increasing the number of scholarships available so that thousands of young people are more likely to have access to more educational options that meet their needs.
The bill to expand school choice also “increases the funded scholarship amounts by aligning the awarded amount with the public school per-student funding levels. Need-based scholarships may be used for digital devices and internet access” according to the American Federation for Children.
In a statement, the same organization explained some details of the bill and took the opportunity to “praise” the Florida House of Representatives “for the passage of HB 7045. This landmark legislation will vastly expand Florida’s need-based and special needs scholarships so that more children will have access to educational options.”
“Florida leads the nation in the number of families accessing choice programs and this bill assures families desperately awaiting a scholarship will have the opportunity in future years to have the very best educational options for their children,” they added.
What is school choice and why is its approval growing?
The term “school choice” is understood to mean direct funding from the federal government to students or, failing that, families, rather than public systems. Typically, Republicans promote school choice more than Democrats, although that can vary depending on counties and states.
“School choice is what I call funding students instead of institutions. It’s the idea that a child’s education dollars should follow them whenever they’re getting an education. That could be the traditional public school where children tend to be residentially assigned to, or a charter, religious or non-religious private school,” said Corey DeAngelis, director of school choice at the Reason Foundation, in an interview with El American.
Now with the pandemic, many Americans began to see school choice as an option instead of directly funding the public school system, especially given the problems generated by unions in reopening schools. In addition, many parents began to distrust that the public system is the right one to educate their children, especially those families with religious values who feel that the system does not fully meet their needs.
Statistics show that school choice is gaining much more acceptance in the midst of the pandemic. For example, the latest RealClear Opinion Research survey revealed that support for school choice rose 10% between April and August 2020, from 67% to 77%.