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Florida Senate's Education Package Looks To Create New State Scholarship, Expand Community Schools

Ryan Dailey

Florida Senate Republicans are pushing a new scholarship program that expands school choice. The proposed Family Empowerment Scholarship would pay for low income families to enroll in private schools.

Senator Manny Diaz says the plan would also reduce the wait list for the existing Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, which gives businesses tax incentives in exchange for donations. Diaz says under his proposal, more families could qualify for private tuition assistance.

“Available to low-income families, 260 percent and below at the poverty level, with prior public school attendance or entering kindergarten. That’s a family of four at a poverty level between $25,000 and $62,260,” Diaz said during a press conference at the Capitol Thursday.

The federal poverty level for a family of four is $31,000 per year.

The scholarship would be funded using the Florida Education Finance Program, the main funding mechanism for public schools. If the legislation passes, the scholarship would be capped at 15,000 recipients, with the opportunity to grow that number in the future.

Diaz was asked how the Senate’s plan differs from Governor Ron DeSantis’ proposal to eliminate wait lists from several state-offered scholarships. He didn’t get into specifics.

“Our theme is very similar. We are going after the waiting list and addressing it and making sure we can provide the opportunity for every student and every parent that’s in that situation to be able to have the best educational setting for their child,” Diaz said. “So I think, in looking at his proposal that was rolled out, there are a lot of similarities to it.”

The Senate’s education legislation package also looks to create the Community Schools Grant Program. It would be intended to foster more of what the legislators characterize as “neighborhood public schools with unique community needs.” The schools would provide wrap-around services including healthcare and counseling.

Senators have not yet said what the total cost of the education package will be.

Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.