We are forwarding this legislative report from the President of the Home Education Foundation, Brenda Dickinson, for your information.
HB 1 is Headed for the House Floor
HB 1, the “School Choice Bill”, will be heard on Thursday, March 16, 2023, when the House goes into Session. The hearing will be live streamed at https://myfloridahouse.gov/ and maybe on the Florida Channel in your area. The Session begins at Noon.
The Home Education Foundation (HEF) has worked hard to make this bill as good as it is. The first draft was a threat to current home education law, and we worked tirelessly to make sure our concerns were heard and current home education law was preserved.
Over the last weeks, Brenda Dickinson, President and Lobbyist for HEF, contacted the bill sponsor, the Speaker, the Governor’s office, and many other members of the Legislature. She asked that the proposed scholarship for parents who wished to direct the education of their children on a state scholarship be separated from the home education program. She asked to call that program something other than home education.
It was HEF’s desire to preserve the current home education law for parents who choose not to apply for funding, and for those who did not receive a scholarship either because of their level of personal income or a lack of funding.
These concerns were heard, and the new Personalized Education Program (PEP) was created. The PEP exists in a completely different statute, separate from home education, with its own specific criteria.
The Personalized Education Program (PEP)
A parent who chooses to apply for a scholarship under the PEP will have all the same rights as those who home educate under the current home education law. There are, however, some differences in requirements for PEP students that do not apply to home education students.
Under the Personalized Education Program (PEP):
Parents will be required to have the student take a nationally norm-referenced test and submit the student’s test scores to the Scholarship Funding Organization (SFO) that awarded the scholarship.
The SFO, in turn, will submit the test scores to a state university contracted by the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) to compile the scores and compare the performance of the PEP students to the performance of public school students with similar socioeconomic backgrounds.
Beginning with the 2027-2028 school year, an annual report containing this information will be published on the FLDOE website.
Test scores for PEP students will automatically serve as their annual evaluation.
PEP parents will register with the SFO, not the Superintendent, for attendance purposes. PEP parents are prohibited from registering in a home education program, and will register for a PEP with a SFO instead.
PEP students will not be required to keep attendance records.
PEP parents have a list of ways they can spend the scholarship funds. From the scholarship funds, they will have to pay for classes taken at a public school, classes from an FLDOE-approved virtual school, classes using FLVS, and for classes at postsecondary educational institutions. Parents will also pay for all private options, including tutors and private school classes, from the scholarship funds.
Parents will be required to submit a student learning plan to the SFO prior to the scholarship award. The SFO will provide parents with information, guidance and support to create the plan; however, the SFO may not further regulate, exercise control over or require documentation beyond the requirements in the law.
Parents will have to sign an agreement with the SFO that they will only use the program funds for the student’s educational needs.
Any student is eligible to apply for the PEP; however, first priority will be given to those families whose income is 185% of the federal poverty level first, and then to those families whose income is between 185% and 400% of poverty. For reference, for a family of 4, 185% of the federal poverty level is $51,337.50 while 400% is $111,000.
In the first year, the SFOs are only allowed to award scholarships to 20,000 students. A total of 40,000 scholarships will be awarded each subsequent year.
SFOs may require parents to purchase certain items – for instance, curriculum or academic programs - directly from an online platform, however, the SFO cannot limit the parent’s choice of curriculum or academic programs. Parents may have to pay out of pocket and submit an invoice for reimbursement.
Parents may use the scholarship funds for a home education instructional program, but the student may not be registered in a home education program for attendance purposes (students must be registered in a PEP).
Funds will be available to parents on a quarterly basis. Parents will have to plan their expenditures carefully, or pay out of pocket at the beginning of the year and wait for reimbursement in the following quarter(s).
Clarifying the different scholarships
The Family Empowerment Scholarship in s.1002.394 F.S. has 2 parts (a) and (b). These are both funded from the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) which is the funding mechanism for the public schools.
The two scholarships are:
(a) The Family Empowerment Scholarship for Education Options (FES-EO). This allows a student to use the funds to attend a private school and if any funds remain after the tuition and fees are paid, the parent may use the funds for certain items listed in CS/CS/CS/CS/HB 1.
(b)The Family Empowerment Scholarship for Unique Abilities (FES-UA). This is for students with unique abilities, and was formerly known as McKay and Gardiner Scholarships.
The PEP scholarship is funded from the Florida Tax Credit program s.1002.395 F.S. This program raises funds from corporations that donate a portion of the corporate tax owed to the state to a Scholarship Funding Organization (SFO) established in Florida law to accept and disburse education scholarships for K-12 students.
What is to come
The plan at this point is that the House bill (HB 1) will be sent to the Senate, and the Senate will replace its bill (SB 202) with the House bill (HB 1) instead. The House bill (HB 1) will then pass, and be sent to the Governor.
Some issues yet to be worked out
HEF is pleased with this outcome, but some questions still remain unanswered. In the coming months, we hope to be able to clarify the following:
· To whom should parents submit volunteer hours needed for students to apply for the Bright Futures’ Scholarship?
· Do PEP students have to be registered in a PEP program for the 11th and 12th grades to be eligible for Bright Futures?
· What happens if a student doesn’t have a PEP scholarship for either the 11th grade or 12th grade year?
· For purposes of athletics and dual enrollment, will SFOs be responsible for verifying registration in a PEP program?
· Will there be a certain date by which parents are required to submit the student’s test score to a state university? Will this testing and date follow the public school calendar?
In Your Service,
President of The Home Education Foundation