Senate panel signs off on school voucher expansion

Demonstrators shout out at the Florida Capitol as they rally in support of the school voucher program in 2016. A Florida Senate panel on Thursday advanced a bill that would expand the state's voucher program.

TALLAHASSEE – Florida could see another expansion of school-voucher programs, under a sweeping proposal advanced by a Senate panel on Wednesday.

The measure (SB 48), filed by Republican Sen. Manny Diaz of Hialeah, would expand eligibility for school-voucher programs and allow parents to use taxpayer-backed education savings accounts for private schools and other costs.

The Senate Education Committee approved the proposal (SB 48) in a 6-4 party-line vote Wednesday, with Republicans overriding Democrats’ fiery objections to the plan.

“What evidence is there that these programs will be effective and efficient uses of our taxpayer dollars?” Sen. Lori Berman, D-Boynton Beach, asked Diaz during the committee meeting. 

Diaz argued that the state’s existing scholarship programs have produced observable student progress and that participating schools have done well. He insisted that his bill would not change accountability standards used by participating private schools.