Florida legislation brings more growth, more options for state education choice scholarships


Cooper Campen, right, met House Speaker Pro Tempore Chuck Clemons, R-Newberry, while serving as a student page during this year’s legislative session. Cooper and his younger brother, Alexander, receive education savings accounts as part of the state’s Personalized Education Program.

More students would be able to use scholarships at hybrid schools, scholarship programs for students with disabilities would grow more quickly to meet demand, and religious virtual schools could become eligible to participate in scholarship programs under a bill passed during Florida’s 2024 legislative session.

Provisions in HB 1403, by Rep. Josie Tomkow, R-Polk City, and Sen. Corey Simon, R-Tallahassee, would:

  • Allow families using the Personalized Education Program scholarship, also known as PEP, to use their education savings account funds at private schools they attend in person at least two days per week if their student learning plan addresses the remaining instructional time.
  • Open the door to online religious schools such as the Archdiocese of Miami Virtual Catholic School to become state-approved virtual education providers, which would allow them to fully participate in the state’s scholarship programs. Previously, only “non-sectarian” virtual schools were eligible to become state-approved providers. As a result, parents at the Archdiocese of Miami Virtual Catholic School could only use funds to buy the school’s curriculum to use at home but not to take live classes. Leaders at religious online schools expressed hope last year that lawmakers would remove these limitations. “We are pleased by the passage of HB 1403, which will allow faith-based virtual schools to participate in state scholarship programs in the same way as secular programs,” said Jim Rigg, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Miami. “Once again, our lawmakers have demonstrated their focus on empowering parents to make informed choices about the education of their children. Such choice makes all schools better, and ultimately benefits the learning of students throughout the state.”
  • Increases the growth escalator for the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program for students with Unique Abilities to ensure the funding of more families Beginning in the 2025-26 school year, the maximum number of scholarships funded would increase annually by 5% of the state’s exceptional student education enrollment, minus those classified as gifted. The maximum number of scholarships funded would increase by an additional 1% following any school year in which the number of funded scholarships exceeded 95% of the number of scholarships available.

The bill will be sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis for his signature.

The bill’s bipartisan passage drew praise from the Foundation for Florida’s Future, the nonprofit education organization founded by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

“As Florida’s parental choice landscape continues to expand, we look forward to working with Gov. DeSantis, the legislature and the Department of Education to ensure Florida remains the national leader in parental choice,” the foundation said in a statement on its website.


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BY Lisa Buie

Lisa Buie is senior reporter for NextSteps. The daughter of a public school superintendent, she spent more than a dozen years as a reporter and bureau chief at the Tampa Bay Times before joining Shriners Hospitals for Children — Tampa, where she served for nearly five years as marketing and communications manager. She lives with her husband and their teenage son, who has benefited from education choice.

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