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Published in Print: April 7, 1999, as Fla. House Approves Bush's Voucher Plan; Senate Action Likely

Fla. House Approves Bush's Voucher Plan; Senate Action Likely

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In a move that pushes Gov. Jeb Bush's statewide voucher plan one step closer to adoption, the Florida House has approved the Republican governor's wide-ranging education reform package in a 71-49 vote split mainly along party lines.

The "A+ For Education" package passed the GOP-controlled House on March 25 after nearly six hours of speeches and pleas from both its critics and supporters.

The plan would assign grades to individual schools on a scale of A to F scale, based on a school's test scores and other factors. Schools that markedly improved their grades, and those earning an A, would receive financial incentives of up to $100 per student. Students in failing schools would receive vouchers of up to $4,000 each to attend qualifying public, private, and religious schools.

"It's a revolutionary time in Florida," said Rep. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, a Republican who served as the House's primary sponsor of the education bill. "We have a moral obligation to tell parents: 'We're going to give you a choice.'"

Limits Fail in House

In addition, on March 22, the Senate education committee passed its own version of the education bill, with more restrictions on the vouchers than in the House version. This week, the Senate measure is expected to pass the chamber's fiscal committee before going before the full Senate, which is also controlled by the gop, for a vote later this month. In Florida, it is common for bills to pass before the House and Senate fiscal committees before reaching the floor.

Critics of the voucher component of the House reform bill fumed that several proposals designed to set limits on the plan, including one that would have required schools accepting voucher students to have been accredited for at least three years, failed to gain the necessary support to win adoption in the House.

As a result, the House version of the plan would pay for students coming from failing schools to attend schools that have no obligation to meet even basic academic standards, said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat.

"The problem now is that any group of people could get together and start a private school," Ms. Wasserman Schultz said. "If we're going to do this, we should at least ensure that taxpayer dollars are accounted for and that the schools are high-quality."

Supporters of the House-passed package counter that it would violate the state's constitution to force private schools to meet the same standards that public schools face.

"We would end up creating more public schools," Mr. Diaz de la Portilla said. "We're saying, let's give the parents the choice."

Vol. 18, Issue 30, Page 22

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