Education 'Train' Bill Including Charters, Public School Choice, Chuggs Through House

Apr 23, 2015

Credit Didier Lahousse / flickr/creative commons

 Update: 4/24/15: The bill has passed the House and awaits a final vote in the Senate. 

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The trains have started rolling in the House with several technical maneuvers creating massive new bills.  One of the so-called train bills combines a popular plan dubbed, “public school choice” with several other measures aimed at charter schools.

A train bill is a proposal that has been amended to incorporate similar themes found in other bills. That;s what happened to House Bill 1145 by Republican Representative Chris Sprowls. His main bill allows children to enroll in any public school in the state, as long as there is room. And the measure has enjoyed bipartisan support as it’s moved through the process.

“House Bill 1145 empowers parents by enhancing public school choice options for their students through open enrollment," he said, introducing the bill.

The proposal also allows adjunct teachers to work at charter schools. But by the end of Thursday, the bill had grown.

Miami Representative Manny Diaz added several amendments to Sprowls’ bill. Most of them are from other proposals on charter schools that have already cleared the House, although Diaz did manage to scale the additional language back a bit.

 “The amendment language does not include the language of allowing  charter schools to act as local education agencies for administering federal funds…it does not include the portion about allowing school boards to share a portion of tax revue with charter schools for any circumstances,' he explained.

That last part—about charter schools tapping into local school construction funds—has been a major sore spot for Democrats and local districts, which oppose it. And they welcome the removal of the language—which is not in any Senate bill. The House incorporated its charter school reform proposal into the public school choice bill.  The charter language was previously found in a separate bill that has already cleared the house. It creates an institute to study charter schools at Florida State University. And shuts down charter schools that get back-to-back failing grades. It also allows new charter schools to delay opening if they can’t find a facility—and that’s something Democratic Representative Shevrin Jones of Broward likes:

“We had been dealing with individuals saying they had a building only to find out they had been opening schools in hotels and signature grants, and other things of that nature. So I hope you’d support this amendment because it has the accountability aspect or those charter schools," Jones said.

Much of the combined bill has been stripped of any mention about spending. And that’s true for other proposals that previously had a costs associated with them, says Republican Representative Erik Fresen.

“We’re now passing policy bills that we may just have to recognize the reality of our circumstances right now. But nothing is going to change in the budget as far as whenever it gets done.”

The House also added in a voluntary program for school uniforms.

The move to combine a variety of bills now puts the House’s public school choice legislation in line with the Senate’s bill. The measures are both set for full chamber voters and could soon be chugging on to Governor Rick Scott’s desk for his approval.