Florida Senate - 2022 SB 710 By Senator Ausley 3-00507-22 2022710__ 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, administered by the Division of Early 6 Learning; providing the purpose of the program; 7 defining terms; specifying eligibility criteria; 8 providing that a student who receives a scholarship 9 remains eligible to participate until the student is 10 admitted to kindergarten or attains the age of 6 years 11 by a specified date; requiring program funds to be 12 used for a specified purpose; providing for the 13 administration of the program; requiring the division 14 to contract with an independent contractor to evaluate 15 the program; requiring that the evaluation include 16 specified recommendations; requiring the division to 17 submit a written copy of the evaluation to the 18 Legislature and certain state agencies by a specified 19 date; specifying provider eligibility criteria; 20 exempting the state from liability; providing that the 21 program does not expand the regulatory authority of 22 the state; requiring the State Board of Education to 23 adopt rules; providing an effective date. 24 25 Be It Enacted by the Legislature of the State of Florida: 26 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 1002.56 Early Learning Scholarship program.— 32 (1) PURPOSE.—There is established the Early Learning 33 Scholarship program to be administered by the Division 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 education services. 37 (2) DEFINITIONS.—As used in this section, the term: 38 (a) “Direct certification list” has the same meaning as in 39 s. 1002.395(2). 40 (b) “Division” means the Division of Early Learning. 41 (c) “Household income” has the same meaning as in s. 42 1002.395(2). 43 (d) “Parent” means a resident of this state who is a parent 44 as defined in s. 1000.21(5). 45 (e) “Program” means the Early Learning Scholarship program. 46 (f) “Provider” means a private prekindergarten provider 47 pursuant to s. 1002.55 or a contracted school readiness provider 48 pursuant to s. 1002.88 which meets the requirements of 49 subsection (6). 50 (3) ELIGIBILITY.—A student is eligible for a scholarship 51 under the program to attend education services offered by 52 providers if: 53 (a) The student: 54 1. Is a resident of this state; 55 2. Is not receiving any other scholarship established under 56 this chapter; and 57 3. Meets at least one of the eligibility priorities 58 described in paragraph (5)(c); 59 (b) The student’s household income level does not exceed 60 300 percent of the federal poverty level; and 61 (c) The student’s parent has applied for a scholarship with 62 the division. 63 64 A student who initially receives a scholarship based on 65 eligibility under this subsection remains eligible to 66 participate until the student is admitted to kindergarten or 67 attains the age of 6 years by February 1 of any school year. 68 (4) USE OF FUNDS.—Funds awarded under the program must be 69 used for tuition and fees for eligible children to access 70 educational services offered by providers. 71 (5) ADMINISTRATION.— 72 (a) Subject to the appropriation of funds by the 73 Legislature, the division shall coordinate annually with early 74 learning coalitions to issue program scholarships. 75 (b) The division shall establish application timelines and 76 determine the schedule for awarding scholarships in a manner 77 that meets the needs of eligible students and their parents. 78 Such awards must be made by direct payment from early learning 79 coalitions to program providers. 80 (c) An early learning coalition shall apply the following 81 priority order for students in awarding scholarships, beginning 82 with the highest priority: 83 1. Students who are in foster care. 84 2. Students who are infants or toddlers with a current 85 individualized family service plan. 86 3. Students who have a parent younger than 21 years of age 87 who is pursuing a high school or high school equivalency 88 diploma. 89 4. Students who are experiencing or have experienced 90 homelessness or who fall within the category “children known to 91 the department” as defined in s. 39.0016(1). 92 5. Students who have a household income that does not 93 exceed 185 percent of the federal poverty level. 94 6. Students on the direct certification list. 95 7. Subject to the appropriation of general revenue funds by 96 the Legislature, students who have a household income above 185 97 percent but not exceeding 300 percent of the federal poverty 98 level. 99 (d) An early learning coalition may prioritize applications 100 on the basis of additional factors, including geographic 101 location and whether the student’s family is currently enrolled 102 in, or on a waiting list for, a publicly funded program that 103 provides early education or child care services. 104 (e) The division shall establish criteria for early 105 learning coalitions to use when determining the amount of 106 scholarship awards. The total amount of a scholarship award, or 107 the amount of a scholarship award in combination with any other 108 public funds received to provide early education or child care 109 services for the student, may not exceed the program provider’s 110 published private pay rate. Scholarship funds may not be used to 111 supplant any federal funding received by the program to provide 112 services for the student. 113 (f) The division shall report on program implementation and 114 progress as part of its annual reporting requirements under s. 115 1002.82(7). The report must include, at a minimum, information 116 on the number, ages, and priority levels of children served and 117 the total number and the total dollar amount of scholarships 118 awarded by priority level. 119 (g) The division shall contract with an independent 120 contractor to evaluate the program. The evaluation must include 121 recommendations regarding the appropriate scholarship amount, 122 the efficiency and effectiveness of program administration, and 123 the impact on kindergarten readiness. By January 15, 2025, the 124 division shall submit a written copy of the evaluation to the 125 chairs and ranking minority members of the legislative 126 committees and to state agencies with primary jurisdiction over 127 kindergarten through grade 12 education. 128 (6) PROVIDER ELIGIBILITY.— 129 (a) A provider is eligible to receive scholarship funds if 130 the provider: 131 1. Meets the minimum performance metric or designation 132 under s. 1002.68(5); or 133 2. Demonstrates acceptable performance on the program 134 assessment under s. 1002.82(2)(n). 135 (b) A provider that is providing services under contract 136 with both the Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Program and 137 the school readiness program must satisfy the requirements of 138 subparagraphs (a)1. and 2. 139 (7) LIABILITY.—The state is not liable for the award of 140 funds or any use of awarded funds under this section. 141 (8) SCOPE OF AUTHORITY.—This section does not expand the 142 regulatory authority of the state, its officers, or the division 143 to impose additional regulations on participating private 144 Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Program providers beyond 145 those reasonably necessary to enforce requirements expressly set 146 forth in this section. 147 (9) RULES.—The State Board of Education shall adopt rules 148 to administer this section. 149 Section 3. This act shall take effect July 1, 2022.