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Legislature Poised To Expand School Vouchers In 2014 Session

Step Up For Students
Jon East, Vice President, Policy and Public Affairs

Florida legislative leaders are promising what they’re calling a, “massive expansion” of school choice in Florida, and advocates of the  Corporate Tax Scholarship program are  anxious to see what that means for them.

No bills relating to the corporate tax scholarship program have been filed yet, but the type of expansion Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford want could mean more money for the program. Step Up For Students is the non-profit group that oversees the state’s school voucher system, and Policy Director Jon East says the group is excited to see what comes out of the Legislature.

“Speaker Weatherford is also responsible for a 2010 bill that set up a really nice growth pattern to reduce our waiting list...and we think he’s coming back saying, wow, that hasn’t been enough. Can we boost the scholarship a little more to serve more kids faster.” 

Low-income students can apply to Step Up For Students to receive funding assistance to attend a private school. Funding comes from corporations which get dollar-for-dollar tax breaks on their donations. Opponents have maintained the program diverts dollars away from the state’s general revenue fund, where they might otherwise have been spent on public schools.

“To portray that vouchers are the only way for children to succeed is not true," said Colleen Wood, with the public education advocacy group 50th No More. "To focus on the expansion of vouchers while not looking at what’s happening in the lives of the majority of students in our state is not appropriate for our legislature.”

House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz haven’t said exactly how they would expand the Corporate Tax Scholarship program, but one proposal could include lifting the cap on how much businesses can give.  Supporters say students in the program do better in school and cost the state less money.

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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