House Speaker Paul Renner

House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, opens the special session on Dec. 12, 2022, at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. 

(The Center Square) — Florida House Speaker Paul Renner announced on Thursday that he filed school choice legislation that would provide education savings accounts and expand eligibility to children with unique abilities.

House Bill 1, which is sponsored by Choice & Innovation Subcommittee Chairwoman Kaylee Tuck, R-Lake Placid, would expand the state’s ESA program, known as the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program. It would allow the money to be used for tuition at a home education or private school, private tutoring or an approved online course.

"Florida has been a leader in the school choice movement, with more students participating in choice programs than any other state," Renner, R-Palm Coast, said in a news release. "School choice empowers parents, creates competition, fosters innovation, and raises the level of excellence in all of our schools.

"HB1 will give every parent the freedom to customize their children's education with a learning program that fits their unique needs."

The scholarship funds could also be used to pay for contracted services by a public school district where the student isn’t enrolled and fees for achievement tests such as Advanced Placement exams.

The amount of scholarships under HB1 would expand from an initial 10,000 students in the first year to increase by 20,000 in every subsequent school year.

Each year, the parents of ESA recipients would be required to meet with what the bill calls a choice navigator that would help discuss the academic needs and progress of the student based on educational records submitted by the parent and annual test results.

The navigator would also affirm that the student was in good standing with the private school or home school program.

If signed into law by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, the bill would go into effect on July 1.

"School choice helped elevate Florida from being one of the worst education states in America to being ranked third in K-12 achievement," Tuck said in a news release. "Empowering parents and students with customizable learning options will not only boost educational outcomes for individual students, but will create competition that raises the bar for schools across the state."

Regional Editor

Steve Wilson has been an award-winning writer and editor for nearly 20 years at newspapers in Georgia, Florida and Mississippi and is a U.S. Coast Guard veteran and University of Alabama graduate.