Florida House moves forward with major education bill

Wide-ranging proposal would expand school choice

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Looking to continue expanding school choice, the House Education Committee on Thursday approved a wide-ranging proposal that includes offering a new type of “scholarship” for public-school students who are struggling to read in third grade.

The 109-page bill deals with numerous issues, including changes that could help charter-school operators and a proposed expansion of a pilot program that gives some public-school principals more autonomy.

The bill (PCB EDC 18-01) emerged as House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, and other House GOP leaders have made a priority of bolstering school-choice programs.

For example, the bill would create a scholarship program that would make available money to families of third-grade students who score at the lowest levels on a statewide reading test.

The families could use the money for such things as instructional materials, tutoring and specialized services outside of public schools.

The program would be administered by non-profit organizations that run the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which provides voucher-like scholarships for students to attend private schools.

Committee member Bruce Antone, D-Orlando, questioned whether the proposed scholarship program is “too loose and too open-ended.”

But Education Chairman Michael Bileca, R-Miami, said third grade is a pivotal year for reading skills and that the program would help parents as they try to aid their children.