Bill proposes changes and restrictions after disastrous school voucher rollout

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Republican Representative Josie Tomkow of Polk County // The Florida Channel

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A disastrous rollout left many Florida families without school voucher funds. A house bill that advanced Tuesday is seeking to make some changes.

Last year, Governor Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 1, one of the largest school voucher programs in the nation. Now, Republican Representative Josie Tomkow is sponsoring a bill trying to fix certain things.

“There have been issues with providing funds in the timeframe we would expect. To address these issues, HB 1403 establishes separate application and renewal deadlines for the scholarship programs, so that renewals can be funded earlier.”

Step Up for Students is the organization responsible for distributing most of the scholarships. They spoke to the legislature earlier this month. They blamed the large increase of students applying for the vouchers, the vetting process, and a new onboarding system for the troubles.

Democratic Representative Patricia Williams spoke during debate.

“I’m very concerned about the accountability, the transparency, and the taxpayer’s dollar. And if we can’t show the number of students that’s using these scholarships, the number of schools that’s in the public school system, the number of students that’s in the private school system – we don’t have accountability of the taxpayer’s money.”

Another part of this bill would provide more scrutiny of what these vouchers are spent on.  The Tampa Bay Times reported earlier this month that school voucher money could be spent on TVs, kayaks, and theme park tickets, among other things.

“If we’re going to have equity in all of the forms of education, we have to take a real look at what is actually going to help that child go from point A to point B and succeed.”

The bill advanced unanimously through the House Education & Employment Committee.

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