HIALEAH, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday announced major and controversial changes to the Sunshine State's school choice program.
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Speaking at St. John the Apostle Catholic School in Hialeah, the governor signed HB 7045 into law, which allows more children from low-income families to be eligible for K-12 private school "vouchers," also known as scholarships.
"We really believe that empowering parents to have the widest variety of educational choice for their kids is a recipe for success," DeSantis said.
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The bill repeals the Gardiner and McKay Scholarship Programs for special needs students, and transitions those children into the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program.
To be eligible for a Family Empowerment Scholarship, a family's household income level must not exceed 375% of the federal poverty level, or about $100,000 for a family of four.
"When you talk about low-income families, working class families, they may not have the luxury to be able to get their kid in the school of their choice without our assistance," DeSantis said.
The governor said the vouchers can be used toward private school tuition, tutors, and mentoring programs for low-income children.
However, public school officials have criticized the measure, saying the bill siphons taxpayer money away from public schools and allows students to attend private schools for free using taxpayer money.
State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, sponsored the legislation and said lawmakers anticipate that 50,000 additional students will be eligible for vouchers through HB 7045.
"This bill before you will transform, not only the children, but their communities and our state," Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said at Tuesday's news conference.