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DeSantis Signs School Voucher Bill     03/28 06:11


   TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday signed 
legislation to allow all K-12 students in the state to get taxpayer-funded 
vouchers for private schools, continuing a focus on education as he prepares to 
launch an expected Republican presidential campaign.

   The law expands Florida's voucher system by eliminating income eligibility 
limits on the program. Democrats and critics have said the legislation has an 
unclear price tag, amounts to a subsidy for the wealthy and could harm public 

   The so-called school choice movement first gained traction in the U.S. in 
the 1990s but has seen a renewed push after coronavirus pandemic school 
closures and ongoing cultural debates over education around gender and race.

   DeSantis has made eliminating what he describes as liberal ideology in 
education a focal point of his conservative agenda, harnessing unease among 
some Republicans regarding what they view as inappropriate subjects being 
taught in schools.

   "There will be a preference for low and middle income families but at the 
end of the day we fundamentally believe that the money should follow the 
student and it should be directed based on what the parent thinks is the most 
appropriate education program for their child," DeSantis said at a bill signing 
ceremony at a Catholic school in Miami.

   The bill was a priority of Republican House Speaker Paul Renner and it was 
expedited through the GOP-dominated state Legislature. On Monday, Renner said 
the new law will allow parents to send children to alternative schools where 
their values and faith are respected, referencing "some of the craziness that 
happens in our K-12 schools."

   Florida began its voucher program to help parents pay for private schools 
more than two decades ago under Republican Gov. Jeb Bush and has passed several 
laws to expand it over the next three Republican administrations. DeSantis two 
years ago signed a bill raising income levels to receive vouchers to 375% of 
the federal poverty level. DeSantis on Monday said 1.3 million children in 
Florida attend a school chosen by parents.

   About a dozen other states have or are considering so-called school choice 
bills this year. A handful of states make vouchers available to all students, 
regardless of family income levels.

   Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association teachers union, 
said the law will divert public money to private schools.

   It "will drain billions of taxpayer dollars away from the neighborhood 
public schools that nearly 90 percent of Florida's parents trust to educate 
their children," he said in a statement. "Additionally, this new law will hand 
over that public money to unaccountable, corporate-run private schools."

   Democrats have repeatedly raised questions about the program's potential 

   A House analysis of the bill estimated it could cost more than $209 million, 
but a Senate analysis put the potential figure at more than $646 million. The 
independent Florida Policy Institute calculated that the program may cost $4 

   House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell on Monday said "cost and 
accountability are grave concerns."

   "I am personally concerned, and I think many in our caucus share this 
sentiment, that this could be devastating to Florida's public schools," she 

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