vouchers

Florida could see another expansion of school-voucher programs, under a sweeping proposal advanced by a Senate panel on Wednesday.

The measure, filed by Republican Sen. Manny Diaz of Hialeah, would expand eligibility for school-voucher programs and allow parents to use taxpayer-backed education savings accounts for private schools and other costs.

The Senate Education Committee approved the proposal in a 6-4 party-line vote Wednesday, with Republicans overriding Democrats’ fiery objections to the plan.

Diaz argued that the state’s existing scholarship programs have produced observable student progress and that participating schools have done well.

Under the Senate plan, the state would fold all existing voucher programs into two main scholarships, with one serving students with special needs and the other directed at “traditional” students.

Under the Tax Credit Scholarship program, businesses receive tax credits for contributing money to nonprofit organizations that, in turn, provide scholarships to students to attend private schools.

In what would be a significant expansion of eligibility, the proposal also would allow students who have never been enrolled in public schools to receive vouchers, a change from rules currently in place.

In another significant change to current rules, the bill would increase the amount of funding students receive to pay for private-school tuition. Diaz’s proposal to expand the program would award 97.5 percent of public-school per-student funding to voucher recipients.

The proposal also would establish what are known as education savings accounts for eligible students, something that is currently only available to recipients of Gardiner scholarships for students with special needs. The

accounts could be used for a wide array of education-related costs and services, including private-school tuition, tutoring, digital devices, and internet access.

Andrew Spar, the president of the Florida Education Association, said that, under Diaz’s proposal, money for teacher pay raises would instead be used for private-school vouchers.

“The answer is yes. If last year was the ‘year of the teacher’ it looks like this year will be the ‘year to abandon teachers,'” Spar tweeted during

Wednesday’s meeting.

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