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Gov. DeSantis expands private school voucher program

On Tuesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis stopped by Christ the King Catholic School in Jacksonville to sign House Bill 7045. (WJXT)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Florida’s school voucher program will be significantly expanded after Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Tuesday that increases eligibility to attend private schools at public expense.

The bill (House Bill 7045) is projected to allow more than 60,000 previously ineligible students to seek vouchers. The cost to the state will be an estimated $200 million.

DeSantis held a bill signing ceremony at a Miami-Dade County Catholic school surrounded by students in uniforms. He said the expansion will give parents more choices on where to send their children to school.

“Obviously, wealthy parents have the world as their oyster. They can make whatever decisions they want,” DeSantis said. “But when you talk about low-income families, working families -- they may not have the luxury of being able to get their kid in the school of their choice without our assistance.”

Later in the day, DeSantis visited Christ the King Catholic School in Jacksonville for a bill signing.

“We’re going on offense. We’re going to expand choice. We’re not going to be happy with the current amount of choice. We went on offense at the beginning of the school year by making sure all our schools were open,” DeSantis said.

The law takes effect July 1 and combines three existing voucher programs, two that provide vouchers for students with disabilities and a third that assists low-income families, into one program.

It also raises the income threshold to be eligible for vouchers from 260% of the federal poverty level to 375%, or from $68,900 for a family of four to $99,375.

It also expands how the money can be spent beyond tuition, such as transportation, instructional materials, fees for national standard achievement tests and private tutoring.

The current law only allows students enrolled in public school to apply for vouchers. The new law will allow children who have been home schooled to also apply.

The bill was passed on partisan vote, though a few Democrats sided with Republicans. Democrats argued that voucher programs take money away from public schools and give it to private schools that are not held to accountability standards.

Senate Democrats send out a news release criticizing the signing.

“Governor DeSantis is taking Floridians’ hard-earned tax dollars and diverting them out of public schools into private schools without transparency or accountability to taxpayers,” the release said.

It’s the third expansion of school choice in Florida under DeSantis.