TALLAHASSEE – The more than 20-year push by Florida Republicans to steer taxpayer money toward private schools took a giant leap forward on Wednesday with the House approving an overhaul of state voucher programs, making eligible families earning almost $100,000 annually.
The legislation (CS/HB 7045) by Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, was approved 79-36, in a mostly party-line vote.
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“I hate the term public schools,” Fine said, insisting that what is in place today was not envisioned by founder Thomas Jefferson.
“Public education was not supposed to be about the vehicle in which he chose to get educated. It was supposed to be about the education of the public … he expected that education would be led by parents,” Fine said.
The Florida Senate has been working on its own version (SB 48) of legislation that consolidates the state’s five voucher programs into two, including one that combines payments for children with special needs into the Gardiner-McKay Scholarship.
But the Senate now is expected to take up the House version of the voucher expansion.
House Democrats on Wednesday echoed their long opposition to voucher programs – an argument that goes back to former Gov. Jeb Bush’s creation of the nation’s first statewide voucher program in 1999, Opportunity Scholarships, which were later ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court.
Private voucher schools largely are exempt from…