60ºF

House speaker gives thumbs-up to Senate voucher bill

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A day after the Senate passed a wide-ranging education bill that would create a new voucher program, House Speaker Jose Oliva indicated Friday that his chamber will approve it with changes made by the Senate.

“We expect to take it up in the House as amended,” Oliva told reporters.

The Senate made a series of changes to its proposal (SB 7070) in the last two weeks that aligned details in the new “Family Empowerment Scholarship” program with what the House wanted.

One key change increased an eligibility threshold to allow middle-class families to use the state-funded scholarships to pay private-school tuition.

Initially, Senate Education Chairman Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, wanted to gear the scholarships to lower-income students. But as the legislative process moved forward, Diaz agreed to make the scholarships available to higher-income families.

The proposal now would open the scholarships, for example, to families of four who make roughly $77,000 a year, a move that aligned it with the House's income threshold. With that tweak, an enrollment cap increased 15,000 to 18,0000 students.

After the Senate passed the bill Thursday, Oliva said he is poised next week to take up the Senate proposal as amended.

The bill also includes other education-system changes, such as restructuring a controversial teacher-bonus program, tweaking other voucher-type scholarship programs and making it cheaper for teachers to get certified.