The Florida Senate is considering a sweeping proposal to overhaul the state's voucher program.
What You Need To Know
- Florida Senate bill would combine 5 school vouncher programs into 2.
- Funding for the programs would be changed, eligibility expanded
- Currently 160,000 students using voucher program
The bill would combine five major school voucher programs into two, changing how most of them are funded and expand eligibility.
Chikara Parks of St. Petersburg has four children who've taken advantage of the school voucher program, receiving scholarships to attend private schools.
Parks said she made the decision after struggling to get her children into public schools that she felt like were a "good fit."
"There are schools in the neighborhood that are "A" schools but to get into those schools, the waiting lists were so long that we had no choice but to go to schools that were considered "failing" schools. I wanted more for my children, I wanted more for myself," she said.
But a number of organizations, including the Florida NAACP and the Florida PTA, are criticizing the school voucher program.
They're asking state lawmakers to prioritize public school funding and cut back on the money going to private schools through vouchers.
"The better option is to give more money and more resources to the public schools, infuse them with cash to give them more teachers, better teacher pay," said Caityln Clibbon with Disability Rights Florida.
Statistics show more than 160,000 children are currently using the state's voucher programs.
More are given to students from low income families, students with disabilities and students in low performing schools.
State senators are considering expanding eligibility even more, a move opponents call "a mistake".
"This is not the time to embark on a poorly thought out scheme to transfer public education dollars to unacceptable, unregulated education savings account debit cards with little hope for a high quality, free education," said Patti Brigham with the League of Women Voters.
However, Parks said educational choices shouldn't be limited to those who can afford it.
"Our children are being pushed now at a whole different level," she said. "My children are thriving."
The bill increases the amount of money students receiving scholarships would receive.
It would also allow students who've never been enrolled in public schools to participate in the program.