At start of session, FL legislative leaders call for more school choice

Travis Pillow

Florida’s top lawmakers opened the legislative session Tuesday with calls to expand school choice.

House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz have included the expansion of career education programs and tax credit scholarships in their agenda for the 60-day session.

In his remarks in the House chamber before Gov. Rick Scott’s state of the state speech, Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, framed the expansion of education options as part of an effort to fight “generational poverty.”

“I believe that no child’s success should ever be dictated by their zip code,” he said, appropriating a favorite line of former Gov. Jeb Bush.  “In my opinion, no other issue today personifies freedom, opportunity and the God-given right to rise better than the school choice movement.”

Referring to tax credit scholarships specifically, he added, “There are 60,000 kids who are receiving scholarships today, primarily minority and overwhelmingly low-income. And there are tens of thousands more parents looking for that same opportunity to provide their child with that choice.  Let’s agree not to fight each other. Let’s fight for them. Let’s expand the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship.”

The scholarship program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog. You can read Weatherford’s full speech, as prepared for delivery, here.

Last session, Gaetz, R-Niceville, championed legislation that expanded career education programs offered by school districts. This year, he said, he wants lawmakers to lift funding caps on those programs.

Gaetz also said in his opening remarks that he wants to “end” the waiting list of students hoping to enroll in the tax credit scholarship program. At the same time, he said, the performance of students participating in the program “should be assessed just like the performance of any other child.”

The state does not require private school students who receive tax credit scholarships to take the state’s main standardized test, the FCAT (though some do). Students participating in the program are required, however, to take norm-referenced standardized tests approved by the Department of Education, which provides the data to an outside researcher for analysis.

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