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Senator pulls controversial voucher bill

The Senate sponsor of the controversial school voucher bill withdrew his proposal Thursday, significantly weakening its chances of becoming law this year.

Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said he pulled the bill because there wasn't enough time to develop accountability provisions that everybody could agree on.

"I thought it would be better if we took time and vetted it out," Galvano said.

The House and Senate had clashed over requiring voucher recipients to take the state tests. Senate leaders, including Senate President Don Gaetz, were unwilling to pass a bill that did not include a testing requirement. But the House refused to add the language. 

There is still a slim chance that the Senate could take up the House bill.

"You can never say that the Senate won't take up a House bill or that the House won't take up a Senate bill," Gaetz said Thursday. "But when the sponsor of a bill asks to have the bill withdrawn from any further consideration by the Senate, that's an indication that the sponsor has changed his mind about the prospects of the bill."

Gaetz, a former schools superintendent, said he was disappointed in the outcome.

"I had hoped that we would be able to do two things at the same time: expand the opportunity for low-income families to have more choice in education and at the same time bring financial and academic accountability to this program, the tax credit scholarship program," he said. "Apparently we're not going to be able to do that this session, but hope springs eternal."

The president of the company that manages the tax credit scholarship program said was not surprised. 

"We knew that there was no agreement on the assessment piece," Doug Tuthill said.

But Tuthill isn't convinced the bill is dead, he said.

"There is still bill moving in the House," he said. "[House Speaker] Will Weatherford hasn't thrown in the towel yet."