An Education Preview With Senate Ed Chairman John Legg

Jan 15, 2015

Sen. John Legg (R-Lutz)
Credit Florida Senate

Florida lawmakers say they’re serious about addressing what’s become a testing crisis in the state’s public schools. In addition to testing, they’re also planning to tackle a tech gap. Senator John Legg Chairs the chamber's K-12 Education Committee.

Lutz Republican Senator John Legg, knows education.

“We have converging lines of opportunity here with teacher evaluations, technology, testing and school grades—all coming to a head in 2015-2016," he says, summing up the current state of Florida's school accountability system.

Legg has been a Florida certified teacher for more than a decade. He runs a charter school, and since being first elected to the legislature in the House in 2004—he’s served mostly on education committees. It was Legg who first proposed the idea of end-of-course exams, some which overlap with other tests students take. The end-of-course exams have been particularly vexing to teachers, and parents.

“Our greatest challenge this year is how to bring reasonable testing and protect reasonable testing, but eliminate some of the duplicate nature of it.”

There’s a new statewide exam to replace the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test this year. There are tests for industry certifications and advanced courses.  Teacher evaluations are partly based on the exams. They decide student promotions, school and district grades, teacher salaries. It’s an interconnected web that Legg and other lawmakers will try to pick apart this year:

“How do we do these teacher evaluations, is it equitable? At what level or percentage should data influence it? Should we use peer evaluation from what we learned in Hillsborough County? These are questions I’m most excited about looking at.”

This year, Legg is chairman of the Senate’s K-12 Education committee. His board is also looking at more opportunities for collaboration among districts. One way Legg wants to do that is by building upon the state’s current career and tech programs in high schools. Under state rules, students can substitute certain classes for others and still earn a high school diploma while getting industry certifications.

“The days of the Photoshop of the 1990’s, if you’re still doing that today, you shouldn’t get extra dollars for that. But if you’re doing a computer-based program that helps students learn multi-media and helps students earn certifications where they can go from high school to making $40,000 a year—absolutely, there needs to be weighted dollars on that.”

Many of the state’s current education policies rely heavily on classroom technology. Last year, legislative staff recommended the state spend $80 million on classroom upgrades. Lawmakers awarded $40 million. The Governor has called for $80 million and Legg says the state is taking a gradual approach when it comes to tech:

“We want to scale up. Technology isn’t about giving every kid a laptop, or iPad or Android. It’s about integrating digital curriculum into the school. And what you don’t want to do is put a big funnel of money to the school districts without them knowing how to implement it.”

Legg says the senate will also be moving toward tightening up on the state’s early learning and voluntary pre-kindergarten programs. The House led the charge last year and Legg says the senate plans to pick up the issue this time around.

For more news updates, follow Lynn Hatter on twitter @HatterLynn