What Jeb Bush started 20 years ago Florida House finishes in passing voucher bill

The ABCs of charter schools

Charter schools are one option in the growing “school choice” movement. Funded by taxpayer money, these schools are growing nationally, though some states have yet to pass related laws. Find out what sets them apart from traditional public and pri

Charter schools are one option in the growing “school choice” movement. Funded by taxpayer money, these schools are growing nationally, though some states have yet to pass related laws. Find out what sets them apart from traditional public and pri

A far-reaching, omnibus education bill that creates a new private school voucher and restructures the state’s teacher bonus program is on its way to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk, after the Florida House passed it Tuesday.

The bill, Senate Bill 7070, achieves a goal that has been sought by Republicans since Jeb Bush was governor: funding a voucher for low-income families that can be used by parents to send their children to private schools using the state pot of per-student funding for public schools.

Bush was on the floor of the House on Tuesday afternoon when the bill came to a final vote, along with commissioner of education and former speaker Richard Corcoran, plus Senate leaders, all of whom stood up and applauded when the bill passed 76-39.

“Almost 20 years ago one visionary leader started Florida and Florida’s children on a path to choice,” House Speaker José Oliva said when introducing Bush to the members.

But when Bush attempted a similar program, it was ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court in 2006 — raising serious questions about how this proposal will fare in the judicial branch.

“The notion that the very clear Florida Supreme Court precedent is going to be disregarded here simply because there are new justices on the court honestly is an insult to all of those new justices,” said Democratic Rep. Joe Geller of Aventura. “They will reject this law as unconstitutional as the previous iteration was rejected.”

The bill’s passage was mostly on party lines, however, several Democrats also supported it, including Rep. Susan Valdes of Tampa and Rep. Wengay “Newt” Newton of St. Petersburg.

The teacher bonus section of the bill marked a bittersweet victory for teachers’ unions, which have vocally opposed the way the bonus program, called “Best and Brightest,” considered their SAT and ACT scores from when they were in college as part of criteria for their bonus availability. Tuesday’s bill removed that requirement, and instead creates a three-tiered bonus system.

However, teachers have also said they would prefer to have across-the-board salary raises rather than use the roughly $300 million for bonuses, which are based on the teachers’ as well as their entire school’s year-to-year performance.

This story will be updated.