The law also scraps the enrollment cap on parents who can participate in the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Educational Options. Whereas a family of five making over $129,880 was previously ineligible for the scholarship — which is funded through the Florida Education Finance Program — now they and others of varying means will be able to apply for assistance. Lower-income families will, however, continue to receive priority.
The number of Family Empowerment Scholarships for students with unique abilities will also see an annual increase from 1% to 3%.
In addition to making sure parents have a choice in the schools they support and send their children to, the legislation requires the development of a government website informing parents of every educational option available to their family.
House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell and other opposition members are critical of this effort to empower parents, suggesting that the Republican voucher expansion may be "too expensive" and "could be devastating to Florida public schools."
The Tallahassee Democrat reported that the state House estimated the cost of the voucher expansion to be roughly $209.6 million to public schools. A Senate analysis indicated the school choice push might cost upwards of $646 million in the 2023-2024 school year alone.
Having contorted itself into a fiscally conservative position, the Florida Policy Institute, a leftist research outfit, claimed taxpayers might ultimately be on the hook for $4 billion.
Ahead of the passage of HB1, Mary McKillip, a senior researcher at the leftist Education Law Center, indicated that the restoration of parental and student choice at a greater scale in Florida would amount to a "devastating attack on the public schools."
DeSantis appears to be of the mind that this is not an attack on public schools, but instead a defense of Floridians and their ability to chart their own destinies.
"Florida is number one when it comes to education freedom and education choice, and today’s bill signing represents the largest expansion of education choice in the history of these United States," DeSantis said in a statement. "When you combine private scholarships, charter schools, and district choice programs, Florida already has 1.3 million students attending a school of their choosing."
Laura Zorc, director of education reform at the Freedom Works advocacy group, told Newsweek that HB1 "is an example of what [DeSantis] would do as the president."
"What I'm seeing is that he is very pro-parent, he's very in tune to making sure our kids get what they need to be educated," added Zorc. "And so he's not following along with the talking points of the teachers' unions that all kids have to be in the public schools, because he feels that parents do know what's best for their kids and he's allowing them — us — to make that choice."
Florida House Speaker Paul Renner (R) noted that with DeSantis' support, "Florida has delivered the greatest expansion of educational freedom in the nation and will unleash a wave of opportunity for millions of families."
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