Florida Senate - 2021                                    SB 1496
       By Senator Ausley
       3-01068A-21                                           20211496__
    1                        A bill to be entitled                      
    2         An act relating to the Early Learning Scholarship
    3         program; providing a short title; creating s. 1002.56,
    4         F.S.; establishing the Early Learning Scholarship
    5         program; requiring the program to be administered by
    6         the Office of Early Learning; providing the purpose of
    7         the program; defining terms; specifying eligibility
    8         criteria; providing that a student who receives a
    9         scholarship remains eligible to participate until the
   10         student is admitted to kindergarten or attains the age
   11         of 6 years by a specified date; requiring program
   12         funds to be used for a specified purpose; providing
   13         for the administration of the program; requiring the
   14         office to contract with an independent contractor to
   15         evaluate the program; specifying the recommendations
   16         to be included in the evaluation; requiring the office
   17         to submit a written copy of the evaluation to the
   18         Legislature and state agencies by a specified date;
   19         specifying provider eligibility criteria; exempting
   20         the state from liability; providing that the program
   21         does not expand the regulatory authority of the state;
   22         requiring the office to adopt rules; providing an
   23         effective date.
   25  Be It Enacted by the Legislature of the State of Florida:
   27         Section 1. This act may be cited as the “Brighter Future
   28  Act.”
   29         Section 2. Section 1002.56, Florida Statutes, is created to
   30  read:
   31         1002.56Early Learning Scholarship program.—
   32         (1) PURPOSE.—There is established the Early Learning
   33  Scholarship program to be administered by the Office of Early
   34  Learning. The program is established in order to close the
   35  opportunity gap by increasing access to high-quality early
   36  childhood programs.
   37         (2) DEFINITIONS.—As used in this section, the term:
   38         (a) “Direct certification list” means the certified list of
   39  children who qualify for the food assistance program, the
   40  Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program, or the Food
   41  Distribution Program on Indian Reservations provided to the
   42  Department of Education by the Department of Children and
   43  Families.
   44         (b) “Household income” has the same meaning as the term
   45  “income” as defined in the Income Eligibility Guidelines for
   46  free and reduced price meals under the National School Lunch
   47  Program in 7 C.F.R. part 210 as published in the Federal
   48  Register by the United States Department of Agriculture.
   49         (c) “Office” means the Office of Early Learning.
   50         (d) “Parent” means a resident of this state who is a parent
   51  as defined in s. 1000.21(5).
   52         (e) “Program” means the Early Learning Scholarship program.
   53         (f) “Provider” means a Voluntary Prekindergarten Education
   54  Program or school readiness contracted provider approved
   55  pursuant to ss. 1002.55 and 1002.88 and which meets the
   56  requirements of subsection (6).
   57         (3) ELIGIBILITY.—A student is eligible for a scholarship
   58  under this program to attend programs offered by providers if:
   59         (a)The student:
   60         1. Is a resident of this state;
   61         2.Is not receiving any other scholarship established under
   62  this chapter;
   63         3. Meets at least one of the following criteria:
   64         a. The student is on the direct certification list;
   65         b. The student is experiencing or has experienced
   66  homelessness or falls within the category “children known to the
   67  department” as defined in s. 39.0016;
   68         c. The student is the child of a parent younger than 21
   69  years of age who is pursuing a high school or high school
   70  equivalency diploma; or
   71         d. The student’s household income level does not exceed 300
   72  percent of the federal poverty level; and
   73         (b) The parent has applied for a scholarship with the
   74  office.
   76  A student who initially receives a scholarship based on
   77  eligibility under this subsection remains eligible to
   78  participate until the student is admitted to kindergarten or
   79  attains the age of 6 years by February 1 of any school year.
   80         (4) USE OF FUNDS.—Funds awarded under the program shall be
   81  used for tuition and fees for eligible children to attend
   82  programs offered by providers.
   83         (5)ADMINISTRATION.—
   84         (a) Subject to the appropriation of funds by the
   85  Legislature, the office shall coordinate annually with early
   86  learning coalitions to issue scholarships from the program.
   87         (b) The office shall establish application timelines and
   88  determine the schedule for awarding scholarship awards by direct
   89  payment from early learning coalitions to program providers in a
   90  manner that meets the needs of eligible parents and students.
   91         (c) The early learning coalitions shall use the following
   92  priority order to award scholarships:
   93         1. Students who are in foster care.
   94         2. Students who are infants or toddlers with a current
   95  individualized family service plan.
   96         3.Students who have a parent younger than 21 years of age
   97  who is pursuing a high school or high school equivalency
   98  diploma.
   99         4. Students who are experiencing or have experienced
  100  homelessness or who fall within the category “children known to
  101  the department” as defined in s. 39.0016.
  102         5. Students who have a household family income that does
  103  not exceed 185 percent of the federal poverty level.
  104         6.Subject to available general revenue appropriation,
  105  students who have a household family income above 185 percent
  106  but not exceeding 300 percent of the federal poverty level.
  107         (d) The early learning coalitions may prioritize
  108  applications on the basis of additional factors, including
  109  geographic location and whether the student’s family is
  110  currently receiving, or on a waiting list for, a publicly funded
  111  program providing early education or child care services.
  112         (e) The office shall establish criteria for early learning
  113  coalitions to use when determining the amount of scholarship
  114  awards. The total amount of a scholarship award, or the amount
  115  of a scholarship award in combination with any other public
  116  funds received to provide early education or child care services
  117  for the student, may not exceed the program provider’s published
  118  private pay rate. Scholarship funds may not be used to supplant
  119  any federal funding received by the program to provide services
  120  for the student.
  121         (f)The office shall report on program implementation and
  122  progress as part of its annual reporting requirements under s.
  123  1002.82(5). The report must include, at a minimum, information
  124  on the number, ages, and priority levels of children served and
  125  the total number and amount of scholarships awarded by priority
  126  level.
  127         (g)The office shall contract with an independent
  128  contractor to evaluate the program. The evaluation must include
  129  recommendations regarding the appropriate scholarship amount,
  130  the efficiency and effectiveness of program administration, and
  131  the impact on kindergarten readiness. By January 15, 2024, the
  132  office shall submit a written copy of the evaluation to the
  133  chairs and ranking minority members of the legislative
  134  committees and state agencies with primary jurisdiction over
  135  kindergarten through grade 12 education.
  136         (6) PROVIDER ELIGIBILITY.—
  137         (a) A provider is eligible to receive scholarship funds if
  138  the provider:
  139         1.Meets the minimum kindergarten readiness rate as
  140  determined under s. 1002.69(6); or
  141         2.Demonstrates acceptable performance on the program
  142  assessment under s. 1002.82(2)(n).
  143         (b) Providers who are contracted for both the Voluntary
  144  Prekindergarten Education Program and the school readiness
  145  program must meet both criteria under subparagraphs (a)1. and 2.
  146         (7) LIABILITY.—The state is not liable for the award of
  147  funds or any use of awarded funds under this section.
  148         (8) SCOPE OF AUTHORITY.—This section does not expand the
  149  regulatory authority of the state, its officers, or the office
  150  to impose additional regulations on participating private
  151  Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Program providers beyond
  152  those reasonably necessary to enforce requirements expressly set
  153  forth in this section.
  154         (9) RULES.—The office shall adopt rules to administer this
  155  section.
  156         Section 3. This act shall take effect July 1, 2021.