BRADENTON – Opponents of charter school expansion breathed a sigh of relief last week when it appeared that efforts to expand the state's voucher program were dead. Senator Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) withdrew SB 1620, which would have allowed corporations to divert sales tax revenues to expand a program which offers "scholarships" for low-income students to attend private schools, including for-proft charters. However, much of the language from the bill has now been added to a separate one in the Florida House.
Under current law, the vouchers, often called "tax credit scholarships," are funded by businesses, which then receive a dollar-for-dollar credit on their corporate taxes. Galvano's bill would have allowed them to also claim a dollar-for-dollar credit on their sales taxes. It fell apart when it became clear there was not enough support for the bill, unless it had accountability measures, which supporters of its companion bill in the House didn't think were necessary.
However, on Wednesday, Rep. Erik Fresen (R-Miami) added most of the language from SB 1620 to a separate bill, HB 1503, which creates education savings accounts for special-needs children. Because that bill has a Senate companion, SB 1512, there is a chance that it can come to a vote.
The voucher program currently provides private-school scholarships to about 60,000 students, a number its supporters would like to double. Fresen left out the sales tax provision when adding the voucher expansion language to his bill, saying he thought it had a better chance at passing without it. However, Fresen also left out language that would require students using the vouchers at private schools to take the state's standardized exam (the yet unnamed replacement for the FCAT). Senate President Don Gaetz has said that a voucher expansion bill will not come to a vote without that provision.
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