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.
   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 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.
   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.