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Florida bills could expand school choice, help students with reading, math


(The Center Square) — Florida school students will have more assistance with subjects such as reading and math after the Florida House passed two new bills this week.

House Bill 1403 is sponsored by state Rep. Josie Tomkow, R-Polk City. It would increase the growth rate of the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities scholarship program from 3% to 5%, then automatically by 1% based on demand.

Scholarship Funding Organizations would be required to deposit scholarship funds to applicants within seven business days of approval; report on performance metrics on applications and reimbursement requests; and get feedback from parents, private schools, and providers before making any significant changes to the scholarship funding organization’s reimbursement process.

In addition, the bill would authorize a charitable organization to apply at any time to be recognized as a scholarship-funding organization, allowing them to participate in the scholarship program.

Rep. Bruce Hadley Antone, D-Orlando, thanked bill sponsor Tomkow for her hard work on the bill, however, he stated during the bill’s debate on Thursday that there are concerns around accountability, particularly with student achievement.

“My comments really are directed at the lack of accountability for the schools and measuring student achievement data,” Antone said. “We still have to address that situation… measuring academic gains, and making sure that these little black and Hispanic kids that go to these raggedy schools are actually learning.”

House Bill 1361 by Rep. John Temple, R-Wildwood, passed unanimously and would expand the New Worlds Scholarship eligibility for students falling behind in their early reading and math proficiency and would create a tutoring program to kindergarten through fifth grade students who exhibit a significant lack in these skills.

The bill would further allow teachers to lighten class workloads by creating a grant program to expand the use of artificial intelligence in schools.

“Deficiencies in a student’s reading and math skills must be caught early so that proper intervention and resources can be provided to build a strong foundation and set them up for a successful academic future,” Temple said in a news release.

Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, also said in a news release that he commends the bill sponsors for identifying where improvements could be made to deliver better results to Florida students. He stated that this is why Florida continues to be the leading state in the nation for school choice.