Scott signs off on expansion of school voucher program

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Middle-income families in Florida will get a chance to receive a private-school voucher under a significant expansion of the state’s existing program signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.

On Friday, Scott signed bill SB 850.

The $300 million program already serves nearly 60,000 families, but the new law broadens who is eligible to receive vouchers.

Currently, the program is limited to low-income families. However, the new law allows middle-income families in Florida apply to receive vouchers starting in 2016.

Sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chair John Legg, SB 850 is a comprehensive education reform package expanding the Tax Credit Scholarship Program, the state’s de facto voucher program. The new law makes it easier for low-income families to transfer into the program.

Among other reforms seeking to improve Florida’s education system, the new law also creates the Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts Program for students with disabilities.

Christopher Hudson, state director of the Florida chapter of Americans for Prosperity (AFP-FL), praised the bill signing.

“Today is a good day for Florida’s students. SB 850 continues to move our state forward by giving parents the tools they need to ensure their children receive the education that is best for them. Florida’s neediest students, both students trapped in schools that are failing them and students with special needs, will have more access to programs that will help them succeed.

Hudson noted that the Tax Credit Scholarship Program has a proven record of accomplishment of success and the new Scholarship Accounts Program will allow students with disabilities that are in private school or homeschool access to services that were once out of reach.

“Both of these programs place accountability for their child’s education in the hands of the parents, where it belongs,” he added.

For opponents of the law, Scott’s action could trigger a lawsuit from the state’s teacher union.

Joanne McCall, vice president of Florida Education Association, said the voucher expansion would come at the expense of public schools.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.