Florida Law Gives Parents Right to Personalized Scholarship Accounts

A new Florida state law passed on Friday gives some parents access to Personalized Learning Scholarship Accounts, allowing them to customize their child's education. Children must have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), or be diagnosed with Down Syndrome, autism, or a list of other disabilities to qualify.

Parents will be given money in an education savings account each year to use toward their child's education, whether it be private school tuition, therapy, tutors, or other related expenses. The money also can be saved from year to year to pay for college.

Jeff Reed, communications director for Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, said:

"It's about using the services and educators and tools that exist out there that are most appropriate for that child's needs. If that's a school, great. If it's not a school, if it's a tutor, a therapist, an online learning program — that's what this gets to," he said.

Mary Tillotson for Florida Watchdog reported that Florida is estimating 1,800 students will receive these Education Spending Accounts (ESAs), which will contain 90% of what the student would cost the state if they were to remain in public schools.

"I think states are beginning to see ESAs as the way forward on school choice. I expect to see other states consider going with this innovative model," said Lindsey Burke, Will Skillman Fellow in Education for the Heritage Foundation, in an email.

Step Up For Students, Florida's only scholarship organization, is working with the state's education department to iron out the program details.

Seven other states have made similar ESA plans this year.

The new bill also expanded the state's private school voucher program to include middle-income families, raising the amount of students served to more than 68,000, writes Leslie Postal for The Orlando Sentinel.

Currently, 60,000 low-income families are eligible for the program. However, as of 2016, families earning more than $60,000 may receive a partial scholarship. According to the US Census, the average household income in Florida was slightly higher than $47,000 in 2012.

According to an article from The Associated Press, the teachers' union and many parents in the state claim the bill will take taxpayer money away from the public schools where it is needed and bring it to private schools that are not held to the same standards.

"This expansion of corporate vouchers comes at the expense of our underfunded public schools," said Joanne McCall, vice president of the Florida Education Association, in a statement.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush praised the bill, stating:

"Florida is giving families the ability to achieve more successful outcomes for their children … Every child has unique learning needs, and we should strive to customize educational opportunities that meet those needs"

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