Education 'Train' Bill Starts Chugging In Senate

Feb 25, 2016

Credit Sean Lamb / Flickr

A massive education bill covering everything from a teacher bonus program to school construction is rolling out of the Senate Appropriations Committee. It’s getting to the point in the legislative session when trains start to leave the station.

Trains. It’s a term given to a bill that ends up with a bunch of other issues tacked on. Although Senator Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, tried to stop it from leaving the depot.

Joyner argued a 60-page amendment filled with varying other education proposals violates a rule that says bills have to be limited to a single subject. She argues the rest of the education ideas in the amendment aren’t germane. But as Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee notes, the definition of what is and isn’t relevant, is pretty broad.

"Senator Joyner, I believe the title is “An act related to education." So the proposed committee substitute contains a title broad enough to fit everything but fracking in it," he said.

So how many other issues got added on? The amendment contains a bill tamping down on school construction. It changes how charter schools get building funds and creates a new category for universities to get performance funding. Principals could get more authority to run their schools as they choose, and kids in certain areas could get the opportunity to get through school quicker once they demonstrate mastery in subjects.

But the portion of the train drawing the most debate, outside of the bill itself—language relating to the Best and Brightest Teacher Bonus program. It’s for teachers with high ACT or SAT scores. And it’s been controversial since the state established the program last year. Gaetz argues it’s a recruitment tool, but Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, says the program isn’t fair.

“Don’t make it insulting to those teachers who have been in their career for decades and are highly effective and yet just because they didn’t score high on that test, they’re ineligible for this program," said Hays. "I think it’s insulting to those teachers, and I think this is a very good amendment and would urge your support with it.”

The Senate Appropriations committee defeated Hays’ amendment  in a voice vote. But Sen. Jack Latvala alluded it's not the end of the debate. The fight could hit the chamber floor, where the train bill formally known as “An act relating to Relating to State University System Performance-based Incentives,” aka SB 524, is now heading.