Legislature 2017: An Overview Of Education Issues

Mar 6, 2017

Credit peoriapublicradio.org

Florida lawmakers are pushing an education agenda that includes big changes to higher education and k-12 schools. Recess could become mandatory, tuition less expensive and Bright Futures expanded under proposals in the House and Senate.

The sound of kids playing on jungle gyms and monkey bars isn’t as common as it used to be in public schools. Over the years, as the state has increased requirements on schools, they've cut back on recess. It’s now optional in many districts, and that’s not fair to students says Angie Gallo, legislative chair of the Florida Parent-Teacher Organization.

“We know that daily recess is in the best interest of all elementary schools children and that by-and-large, local control on this issue just isn’t working."

A measure mandating at least 100 minutes a week of free play for students in public schools could be derailed this year. It failed last year over concerns that it usurped local district authority.

District Superintendents across the state have been speaking with lawmakers about other changes they’d like to see-- like an increase in teacher pay, finding new ways to recruit teachers into the system, and finally making substantive changes in the way the state tests is students. Senate Education Chief David Simmons is looking into the possibilities.

“We cannot spend time testing when we should be teaching. When you’re teaching, you’re learning," he says.

Meanwhile, a plan to boost universities is already waiting for a full Senate vote. The plan calls for the state to use a four-year graduation rate instead of the traditional six-year-figure to help determine who gets what money. Bright Futures scholarships would expand to cover 100 percent of tuition. There are also dollars for recruiting new faculty into the system. And schools would have to offer flat, block tuition plans. Senate President Joe Negron says students take fewer courses because they can’t afford more. 

"That’s part of the reason our grad rate is so low," Negron says. "I don’t want there to be a financial disincentive for a student to be full time.”

Negron has also long criticized the state’s community and state colleges for what he sees as mission creep. Now the Senate is putting pressure on community and state colleges by moving them under the authority of a different board, mandating they form partnerships with the universities and restricting their ability to offer more four-year degrees. But the measure is running into trouble from some who say it’s too restrictive. Driving all of the conversation is where the money will come from. Education makes up one of the two largest portions of the state’s budget. And there’s already a breakdown on how to fund the state’s public schools. Most of the money comes from property taxes and House Speaker Richard Corcoran says no way:

“We will not raise taxes. And if that means a lengthy year, we’re prepared for that. We will not raise property taxes. Not today, not tomorrow. Not ever.”