School Choice Expansion

Right now just 14-hundred students receive money from the state to leave a failing school for a better school in their district. But the Florida Legislature hopes to expand the school voucher program. A bill to expand the definition of a failing school is at the heart of their plan to grow the voucher program.

Twenty-four schools in Florida are considered failing. Students from those schools can receive a state voucher to attend a better school in their district. Just 14-hundred students are using the vouchers.

Governor Rick Scott and the state legislature want to expand the school choice program. Representative Brad Drake of DeFuniak Springs says options will improve education. “Anytime you give a child an opportunity to learn in a different environment, something more suitable, more comfortable to the parents, I say all for it.”

A bill to allow a student from a failing schools to not just leave the school, but leave the district is moving in the legislature. House Democrat Geraldine Thompson says simply leaving a failing school doesn’t ensure academic success. “The data show that students that leave a “failing” school and go to another school do no better at the second school than they did at the school where they were.”

The definition of a failing school is broadened under the legislation. Right now state law defines a failing school as a school that’s received two Fs in a four year period. The bill redefines failing to include Ds.

Rep. Will Weatherford of Wesley Chapel thinks the change would add dozens of schools to the failure roles making thousands of students eligible to leave their schools. “Children learn differently and not everybody learns the same way so it’s important that while empowering the parent you’re also empowering the child.”

The vouchers can only be used to transfer to traditional public schools or charter schools, but a constitutional amendment is in the works that would pave the way for the vouchers to be used at private religious schools.

The Religious Freedom Act would overturn a 125 year old state constitutional amendment that banned public money from funding religious institutions. If that happens opponents of the school choice legislation think the vouchers could then be used at religious schools.

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