Florida leaders have agreed on a $350m fund to cover public schools amid voucher cost uncertainty
Florida Republican lawmakers voiced confidence in their estimated costs for the state’s newest expansion of school vouchers, but they’re setting aside money just in case those estimates are off. House and Senate leaders have agreed on an emergency fund school districts can tap into if their enrollment declines more than expected.
HB1 was among the earliest bills approved this session and it goes into effect this summer. The result is that all school-aged children in the state will become eligible for a private school tuition stipend or funding to use on other education-related expenses. But early in the measure’s consideration, a major issue loomed: cost.
“Where is the gap?” asked Hillsboro Republican Rep. Daniel Alvarez, after the House rolled out a $210 million dollar estimate for the expansion last month. The House's figure came after an independent group put the price at $4 billion.
Later, the Senate rolled out a $646 million figure. The differences in the amounts lie in the way each chamber and organization is making its calculations.
So for safekeeping, the House and Senate are putting $350 million into an emergency fund school districts can tap in case their enrollment numbers fall beyond the estimates due to students leaving to go to private schools with vouchers.
“If there’s a situation in House Bill 1 where we have numbers lower than what the FTE come in, this is where they would be able to tap into this fund and make their districts whole," said Rep. Josie Tomkow, the House K-12 budget negotiator.
The districts will have to apply to the Florida Department of Education to access that money. Tomkow says having such as backstop has always been part of lawmakers’ plans.
“It has been our commitment from Day 1 [that] what if we’re wrong? We always hope we aren’t wrong, but we were anticipating that issue," Tomkow said.
The $350 million agreement brings the House up to the amount of money the Senate had wanted to set aside in case of overages.
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