Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed a sweeping education bill that will, among other things, expand the state school voucher program.
The expansion was not as dramatic as lawmakers had initially proposed.
Still, the proposal drew strong opposition from the Florida PTA, the statewide teachers union, the Florida Conference of the NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), which argued the measure would drain resources from public schools. LULAC also raised concerns that the bill would drive more immigrant children into private schools, which are not subject to state standards for teaching English as a second language.
Mindy Gould, the legislation chair for the statewide PTA, said she was disappointed by Scott's action.
"He did not care enough to listen to the concerns of hundreds of thousands of people," she said.
But Lane Wright, a spokesman for the education reform group StudentsFirst Florida, called the expansion "a great step forward for school choice in Florida."
"We think it is really important to prioritize low-income students and students who are in failing schools," Wright said.
The larger bill (SB 850) will also let the parents of special-needs children access state dollars for private-school tuition, tutoring, educational materials and various types of therapies. The legislature has set aside more than $18 million for the initiative.
The measure was a priority for the Foundation for Florida's Future, the influential think tank founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush.
"Every child has unique learning needs, and we should strive to customize education opportunities that meet those needs," Bush said in a statement Friday. "Thanks to the leadership of Gov. Scott and the Florida Legislature, Florida is giving families the ability to achieve more successful outcomes for their children."
Another part of the legislation requires state colleges to create accelerated learning programs for high-school students. Independent colleges will also be able to enter into contracts with local school districts.
Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg, R-Trinity, said the initiative would offer students across the state "the opportunity for advancement through a collegiate high school."
SB 850 wasn't the only education bill signed into law Friday.
Scott also inked the so-called Pop-Tart bill (HB 7029), which allows children to play with simulated weapons in school without fear of being disciplined. It was nicknamed the Pop-Tart bill because a boy in Maryland had been suspended for nibbling his breakfast pastry into the shape of a gun.
The NRA supported the measure. But many educators said it was unnecessary.