Florida’s governor signs bill expanding school voucher program into law

Gov. Rick Scott of Florida has signed a bill into law that significant expands the state’s private school voucher program, reports the Associated Press (AP) in the Pensacola News Journal. The governor’s action came in the face of protests from from parent groups and the state’s teachers union who argue expansion will come at the expense of traditional public schools.

The program currently provides tax credits to businesses that pay for vouchers, which serves nearly 60,000 families, most of whom attend religious schools. The new law, however, will broaden who is eligible to participate, which will help push the cost of the program beyond the current total of nearly $300 million. Although the program is presently limited to low-income families, in 2016, families who earn more than $60,000 a year could receive partial scholarships.

The new law removes a requirement that students attend a public school before becoming eligible for a voucher. The measure also creates “personal learning scholarship accounts” which help parents of disabled children get additional services for their children.

Former governor Jeb Bush’s first voucher program, which offered vouchers to students in failing schools, that sparked a legal battle that resulted in a state Supreme Court ruling declaring the vouchers unconstitutional. That ruling did not apply to the tax credit scholarship program, but Joanne McCall, vice president of the Florida Education Association, said the group now is reviewing whether to challenge it in court. “Instead of investing to make every public school as good as it can be, the Legislature and the governor divert a rapidly growing chunk of taxpayer dollars into these voucher schools and the groups that run them,” McCall said.

Source: Pensacola News Journal, 6/20/14, By Gary Fineout (AP)

[Editor's Note: In May 2012, Legal Clips summarized a New York Times article that discussed how tuition-tax credit laws were being used as a way to shift public funds to private schools via scholarship programs. The article noted that some states had moved to tighten restrictions after receiving complaints. In Florida, where the scholarships are strictly controlled to make sure they go to poor families, only corporations are eligible for the tax credits, eliminating the chance of parents donating for their own benefit.] 

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