Florida lawmakers are preparing to wrap several education policy issues into a single deal—what’s often called a “train” bill in legislative parlance. The massive proposal represents an emerging compromise on everything from school testing to recess.
Republican Sen. Anitere Flores’ testing bill has grown substantially since it was first introduced last month. At first it simply pushed tests back to the end of the school year and made other minor changes. But now, little Senate Bill 926 isn’t so little anymore.
“Yes, the bill is long. Yes, some would say it is a train, but I would take the view that that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad thing," she says.
It’s called a train bill in legislative terminology. And just as trains have a locomotive which tows various cars along the tracks, Flores’ main bill is now towing some extra issues along in the process. Like a proposal to give kids more recess time in elementary school, and language tweaking absentee policies for ESE students, along with changes to rules for Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten providers.
Most of those proposals have already been heard in previous committees, and by rolling them up into a single bill, Flores says, “I would take the view that that’s a way to bring several good ideas that sometimes don’t all individually have the time to make it through the process—for us to come together and work on comprehensive education policy.”
Over in the House, a similar train bill is being assembled. The conductor of that one is Republican Representative Manny Diaz, who tacked on a massive amendment to an education bill sponsored by Republican Representative Randy Fine.
When it comes to testing, the Senate plan eliminates several end-of-course exams while the House only gets rid of one: Algebra II. The House allows paper-and-pencil exams through the sixth grade while the Senate makes the option available to most students. And there are discrepancies over how and when elementary students get recess. It’s all a part of the process of striking deals in the waning days of a legislative session.
Still while trains are common, they can also be controversial—sometimes used to tack unpopular policy decisions onto popular proposals, and as Beth Overholt notes, they can also be used to obscure issues. She’s with the anti-testing group Common Ground.
“If this is the best you can do, please come back and work on it next year. We oppose train bills, especially late filed ones, because they’re a poor way to legislate public policy," Overholt says.
Still, this is one education train that’s left the station and isn’t going back.