Editor’s note: In his closing argument for a landmark bill that would expand education choice options for Florida families, Diaz, R-Hialeah, said he believes all his colleagues want the state to have the best possible education system; they just hold different views on how to achieve that goal. He then made the case for House Bill 7045, which would expand options for about 61,000 more students. The bill passed on a 25-14 vote and is headed to Gov. Ron DeSantis for his signature. It would take effect July 1.
Thank you, Mr. President. And when we talk about these school choice issues, I think everyone in the room has the best intent. Every senator wants to have a better education system for our state, for every child. But the question we have here is a philosophical choice: Do we trust our families to make the right decisions for their students; do we trust our parents to be able to make the right decisions for our students?
COVID has exposed this even further because parents have seen the education of their children go on, sometimes on their dining room table, and we ask the question once again. We should be in the business of funding students, not institutions.
Having said that, the incredible work of our budget chair and our education budget chair has increased the amount of money that we’re putting in for teacher salaries by $50 million to a total of $550 million, which is not affected at all by this bill, nor is it a drain. None of these monies will be used for this. We also have an increase through our per student funding. And additionally, we have decided that we are going to give our teachers, all our teachers, our public schoolteachers, a thousand dollars bonus this year.
So, when it comes to the issue of funding – Senator (Dennis) Baxley mentioned it – it is the largest piece; public education is the largest piece of our general revenue budget. If you take out federal funds that make health care the largest piece, we fund education at the largest clip in the budget from our general revenue funds.
This bill doesn’t change that. All it does is invest more in the choices that parents can make for their child. And especially when you talk about students with unique abilities. This provides a stable growth pattern for those students that are currently in the Gardiner Scholarship, and it also protects the exact amounts that they are receiving today. Every single student with a Gardiner Scholarship is protected. Every single student with a McKay Scholarship is protected.
What it does do in the change is increase the amount of dollars that we provide for those students who have the most severe disabilities. The highest categories are increased by $4,127 per year and $4,850 per year, respectively.
And while with change there is concern, I can tell you I have looked at these changes. And in my professional opinion, with having dealt with this, this is something that is a change that in the long run will continue to provide stability for these students and continue to provide these parents with the choices and flexibility they need to provide the best education for these children.
So, when we have these debates on the floor, understanding that everyone comes from a good place, this is a choice. This is a choice we’re making. Do we believe in our families? Do we believe in our parents making the best decisions for our children?
So, I ask you to support that choice today on this bill.