Florida Senate moves closer to expanding scholarship programs for low-income families

Lisa Buie

family empowerment scholarship

The Florida Senate agreed today to vote on a House bill that expands and aligns two K-12 scholarship programs for economically disadvantaged students. The action sets up a floor vote for Friday on HB 7067, which, if approved, will be sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis for his signature.

The  bill is aimed at aligning policies between the new Family Empowerment Scholarship, adopted last year and serving 18,000 students, and the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, created in 2001 and serving 108,000 students.

Both scholarship programs serve students from lower-income and working-class families. The primary difference is that the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship is funded by corporations that receive a 100 percent tax credit, and the Family Empowerment Scholarship is funded directly from the state education budget.

The House bill and Senate version, SB 1220, were nearly identical. So with the House already having approved HB 7067 on Monday by a bipartisan 81 to 39 vote, the Senate switched to the House bill and rejected an amendment that would have changed it.

The bill would increase the allowed enrollment growth in the Family Empowerment Scholarship. Under current law, the program can grow by up to 0.25 of total public school enrollment each year, which is roughly 7,000 students. The bill would increase that growth to 1 percent, or roughly 28,000.

The bill gives clear priority to renewal students in both programs and provides for a gradual increase in household income eligibility over time. That provision allows the eligible income level in the Family Empowerment Scholarship, currently 300 percent of federal poverty, to increase by 25 percentage points in the next year if more than 5 percent of the available scholarships remain unawarded.

The income limit for Tax Credit Scholarships would remain at 260 percent of poverty.

The bill also allows students who receive scholarships to remain in the program until they graduate or turn 21.

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