Gov. DeSantis, Florida legislative leaders highlight historic education choice expansion

Florida lawmakers are convening in Tallahassee for their 60-day regular legislative session.

In his annual State of the State address, Gov. Ron DeSantis hailed last year’s HB 1 as the largest expansion of educational options in the nation’s history and celebrated a Florida-born school choice advocate.

Let’s continue to make Florida the envy of the nation.

We lead the nation in school choice.

Last session, under the leadership of Speaker Renner, we enacted the largest expansion of school choice in American history.

Florida has close to 1.5 million students enrolled full-time in various choice programs – from private scholarships to charter schools to choice options within school districts.

Through these programs, we have delivered for people like Hera Varmah. Hera has 11 brothers and sisters, making education hard to afford for their parents, but, because of our school choice scholarships, she and her siblings have been able to attend high-quality schools.

Today, she is a college graduate, her three older brothers are college graduates, two of her younger sisters are in college, and the rest are on track to follow in her footsteps.

As she likes to say in her own words “When people say that school choice doesn’t work, I simply show them my family.”

In his session-opening speech, Speaker Renner highlighted plans to accelerate the growth of scholarships for students with unique abilities and expand tutoring.

Perhaps our biggest victory came through numerous measures and funding to protect children, defend childhood, and create an environment in which every boy and girl can thrive. By passing HB 1, you made Florida the undisputed champion of educational freedom and provided every child the opportunity to succeed in the classroom.

This Session, we’ll ensure adequate funding for students with unique abilities and a more efficient system for parents and students who embrace educational freedom. We will also provide our students greater support to reach grade level in the critical subjects of reading and math.

Senate President Kathleen Passidomo opened the session by calling attention to proposed legislation, spurred by HB 1, that would ease regulations on Florida’s school districts.

Tomorrow we will take up our public school deregulation package, Learn Local, by Senators Calatayud, Hutson, and Simon. I am so proud of this first-in-the-nation effort to cut the red tape and reduce bureaucracy in our neighborhood public schools, while maintaining high academic standards and school safety.

For decades now, we have rejected the idea that neighborhoods and zip codes alone should govern how and where a child is educated. We created and implemented rigorous standards across every aspect of the public school system as a way to make certain every child has access to a great education, regardless of where they live.

As part of that effort, every year, more and more regulations are placed on our school districts, which leads to more paperwork, and more tasks in an already packed school day.

Telling districts what to do and how to do it was supposed to ensure quality, but it can also stifle innovation.

With Learn Local we do not lose one inch of the accountability measures instituted over the last thirty years. These metrics and measurements provide information to help parents make the best decisions for their children. Parents are more involved than ever before. Parents are the ultimate arbiter of performance. Parents will hold neighborhood schools, charter schools, and private schools accountable with their voices and their feet.

With universal school choice now a reality for Florida families, reducing bureaucratic red tape will give neighborhood public schools that have served our communities and families for generations, a meaningful chance to compete right alongside other school choice options.

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BY Travis Pillow

Travis Pillow is Director of Thought Leadership at Step Up For Students and editor of NextSteps. He lives in Sanford, Fla. with his wife and two children. A former Tallahassee statehouse reporter, he most recently worked at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a research organization at Arizona State University, where he studied community-led learning innovation and school systems' responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. He can be reached at tpillow (at)