Vouchers continue to be a controversial issue in the Sunshine State, with a new poll showing more than half of voters are opposed to providing scholarships to low-income students to attend nonpublic or private schools.
The Voter Survey Service, commissioned by Sunshine State News, found 55 percent of voters said they oppose vouchers, while a smaller number -- 42 percent -- said they support vouchers.
Only 2 percent of voters were undecided.
This has been a tough sell, said James Lee,president of Voter Survey Service, on the voucher issue.
According to the poll, voters in Southwest Florida had stronger opposition to expanding vouchers than voters in the Panhandle, with 61 percent of voters opposing them.
Lee says the regional results reflect a more culturally conservative Southwest Florida, which was also strongly opposed to offering in-state tuition rates for children of undocumented immigrants.
Beyond the regional differences, Lee also said it appeared there was an age difference between those in support of vouchers and those who oppose them.
The only subgroup to favor school vouchers is the under 45 [age group], whereas for those [aged] 45 and up, theres more opposition, said Lee. So there does seem to be a clean divide there.
Legislation regarding vouchers has caused quite a commotion in the Florida Legislature. On Wednesday, Democrats and Republicans went head to head over a proposal to expand Floridas voucher program, with Democrats proposing a slew of amendments, one of which would have required students in the states voucher program to take Floridas high-stakes tests.
The proposal was, however, shot down by House Republicans by a 66-44 vote.
HB 7167 will head to a final vote on the House floor Friday.
At the end of the day, we are trying to expand opportunities for kids, said House Speaker Will Weatherford. This bill will give more choices to more families and more students, and we think that's a great thing."
Nearly 60,000 students from low-income families attend private schools in Florida as a result of the voucher program. State data show that more than 80 percent of the schools participating in the program are religious schools.
Desire to get into the voucher program is strong -- its estimated that around 25,000 additional students are currently trying to get into the program.
Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen at Allison@sunshinestatenews.com or follow her on Twitter at @AllisonNielsen.