Policy and Research
October Legislative and Policy Update
Brief from the Center for Urban Education & Policy
New Florida Education Bill Goes to Governor Rick Scott for Signature
On Monday, May 8th and in the closing hours of the 2017 Florida Legislative Session, the Florida Senate passed its 278-page education bill as part of a ‘conformation bill’ (the state’s required budget bill). The massive education bill, which includes over twenty separate topics, was first presented to senators on the evening of Friday May 5th, giving them less than 72 hours over the weekend to review the bill before a mandatory up or down vote on Monday night. Just prior to introducing the legislation, Senate President Joe Negron and Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran held their own private and informal conference committee to negotiate last-minute changes to the bill. Corcoran, who had promised prior to the legislative session to conduct legislative business in as transparent a way as possible, justified the closed-door deal saying “Under Article III (of the state Constitution), we have that right…we're going to go out there and we're going to grab that authority." First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen said of the back-room negotiations "The public should know that major policy decisions are being made [without] any public oversight or input." The resultant version of the bill includes language never discussed in any Senate committee and—in one case—language that was voted down in a Senate committee (a violation of Senate procedural rules). The bill was passed along a party-line vote, with three Republicans joining Democrats in opposition.
Rush to pass the bill resulted in significant and widely acknowledged flaws: Republican David Simmons (Altamonte Springs) acknowledged that the bill will be “exceedingly difficult to implement…the thought is to try to correct it after we pass the legislation.” Senator Doug Broxson (R – Gulf Breeze) said of the bill, “We’re just passing a bill that was formulated by the House, and that bothers me…Couldn’t we have hammered out some solutions that would’ve been kinder to our public school partners and not let the House make all these dramatic changes?”
While some aspects of the bill seem appealing (e.g., reducing mandatory K-12 testing and altering the value-added modeling used to evaluate teacher effectiveness), the actual outcomes of these aspects of the bill are ambiguous (the bill appears to allow more flexibility in teacher evaluations while prohibiting changes to evaluation models for the coming years; it reduces testing but, at first glance, this relates only to testing for Algebra II).
District Superintendents, the Florida PTA, and the Florida Education Association (the statewide teachers’ union), and the Florida League of Women Voters have voiced their opposition to the bill. The sole group to praise the bill thus far has been the conservative Florida Coalition of School Board Members (Senate President Joe Negron’s wife is a member of the board of this organization)
Below are major aspects of the bill (HB 7069)
- Requires 20 minutes of daily recess for students in traditional elementary public schools while exempting charter schools from the requirement
- Provides $200 million to charter school operators to open “schools of hope” within five miles of struggling traditional public schools and redirects $140 million in funding from traditional public schools and districts to privately held charters
- Allows charter schools to hire unlicensed and untrained teachers
- Redirects some of a district’s Title I funding to charter schools (who may deny services to students with special needs and English Language Learners)
- Eliminates districts’ ability to “regulate student enrollment and occupant load” at charter schools (allowing charters exemptions from local zoning regulations)
- Eliminates requirement that the Florida Department of Education compare a charter’s performance to traditional schools within the district and to other charter schools across the state
- Allows charter schools to use “unrestricted and current assets” for the charter organization’s other educational endeavors (e.g., using the building space for other charter schools)
- Allows districts and charter schools and charter management organizations to develop their own competency-based programs for teacher certification
- $234 million to expanding the “Best and Brightest” program, which rewards teachers based upon their SAT scores while disallowing any changes to reward criteria until at least 2021
- Provides up to $1,200 bonus to teachers rated “highly effective” and $800 to teachers rated “effective” via the teacher assessment model currently in place
- Provides up to $2,000 per student for wraparound services at struggling traditional K-12 schools but caps the number of eligible schools at 25 (the legislature noted 115 perpetually failing schools this year)
- Requires that schools engage in “patriotic programs,” especially in “American Founders Month (September).
- Gives “schools of excellence” (as based on school testing data) significant autonomy from class size, school hours, and reading instruction
- Adds $1.4 million to Teach for America
- Requires “uniform core curricula” in teacher education programs that must include “explicit, systematic, and sequential approaches to teaching phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency”
- Requires proof of civics literacy for all university-based teacher education students
- Requires that K-6 teacher education students must have “a minimum of two college credits or the equivalent inservice points in the use of explicit, systematic, and sequential approaches to reading instruction, developing phonemic awareness, and implementing multisensory intervention” and that this requirement may not take programs beyond 120 credit hours
- Allows for virtual instruction completely away from school grounds (remotely) and eliminates requirements for participation in virtual school programs
- Awards professional teaching certificate for applicants who hold a graduate degree in mathematics, science, technology, and Engineering and eliminates requirement for professional education exam to applicants who have been rated as “highly effective” in classrooms within their subject area
- Ties significant state funding to districts upon the latter’s creation and enforcement of a “standard attire policy” for all K-8 students
- Teachers eligible to receive up to $50 per student who earns a “qualifying score” on the International Baccalaureate test and up to $500 bonus for teachers in “D” or “F” schools who have at least one student score at or above a 4 on the IB exam or 3 or above on the AP exam.
- $15 million for testing reforms and $30 million to expand the Gardiner Scholarship for students with disabilities and rare diseases
- Mandates and additional hour of intensive reading instruction past the normal school day for students in the 300 lowest-performing elementary schools (based upon state reading assessment)
- Hospitalized and home-bound students’ test scores will be included in the test scores of the school to which the student would normally be assigned
- Removes the state requirement for district progress monitoring tests in middle and high school grades.
- Prohibits districts from giving final exams to students that have taken a state required test (FSA, FCAT science or state EOC).
- Allows districts to determine student performance measures for non-state assessed courses.
- Third through sixth grade ELA and Mathematics End-of-Course exams must be paper and pencil; all such assessments must be paper and pencil by the 2018-2019 school year
- Pushes back timelines for mandatory statewide assessments (to later in the academic year)
- Districts must report to parents their student’s test data as well as longitudinal correlations of that data to other assessments, recommendations for remediation, comparative data to other students in the district and the state, and predictive data on the relationship of a student’s score to “nationally recognized college entry examinations”
- Allows students to bring sunscreen to school and school related events
Please note that we compiled this information from numerous news organizations and from having read the bill. Nonetheless, because the bill is 278 pages in length, is full of legislative language—that repeatedly refers to other pieces of legislation past and present—and covers so wide a range of issues, we found it challenging if not impossible to completely understand the many specific and nuanced issues relative to the bill (a major complaint of legislators themselves as well as district superintendents). We will update information on the bill as it becomes available.