As published first in the Current by the Florida Tribune:
A private school voucher bill being pushed by top Republicans in the House and Senate could have a huge financial impact unless changes are made to the legislation.
Initial fiscal estimates showed that HB 1009 and SB 2126 would cost nearly $100 million in the upcoming fiscal year and would have a potential recurring cost of $242 million. The bills, sponsored by Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel and Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, would expand the tax sources that can be used to pay for a voucher program that helps out low-income families. The legislation would also increase the amount of each scholarship available over the next four years.
The current scholarship program serves nearly 28,000 children and allows companies to receive a tax credit when they give money to an organization that provides private school vouchers. The current program is capped at $118 million a year and backers of the legislation said the new bill would only grow the overall cost by 25 percent.
Negron said on Thursday that the bill – which was supposed by taken up by the Senate Finance and Tax Committee – had “technical issues” which need to be fixed before it can move forward. The plan is to alter the bill and bring back a new version next week that resolves some of the questions about its impact. State economists are scheduled to discuss that revamped version and come up with new financial estimates on Friday.
“We’re trying to make sure the numbers are accurate,’’ said Negron.
(UPDATE: State economists on Friday morning considered a revamped version of the bill and concluded it would have a financial impact of $31 million in the next fiscal year. That would grow to $65 million in 2011 and $107.8 million the following year.
However, the cost to the state could be offset by potential savings in the number of students who decide to use a voucher rather than attend a public school. Figures utilized by economists suggest that could reduce the overall impact and could even save a few million dollars. But this savings is also reached by assuming that 95 percent of the students who would use the scholarships would have wound up in public schools.)