The Florida House approved changes to a bill that would bolster and align two state scholarship programs that provide education choice to economically disadvantaged students.
The changes, approved on a voice vote, line up HB 7067 to nearly match a Senate version, SB 1220, that won approval in the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday and now awaits action on the Senate floor. The House version awaits a final reading and floor vote before being sent to the Senate.
The House and Senate bills include provisions 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.
Both bills 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. SB 1220 and HB 7067 both increase that growth to 1 percent, or roughly 28,000.
Both bills now give clear priority to renewal students in both programs and provide 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.
Other parts of the bill approved today included:
- Allowing Florida Tax Credit Scholarship students to continue receiving the scholarship until they graduate from high school or turn 21, aligning it with the Family Empowerment Scholarship provision. Now, Florida Tax Credit students must reapply each year.
- Allowing Florida Tax Credit Scholarship students whose scholarships were not renewed due to a lack of funding to transfer to the Family Empowerment Scholarship.
- Allowing students in the Family Empowerment Scholarship program to take up to two state-supported virtual courses each year without cost. That provision already applies to Florida Tax Credit Scholarship students.