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Parent Trigger, Tuition and Charter school construction money run into roadblocks

The Florida House has signed off on a tuition increase at two of Florida’s public universities. A plan to allow charter schools to get a slice of tax-funded public school construction money faces an uncertain future. A procedural move in the Senate has put the safety back on a parent-trigger plan, and as Lynn Hatter reports, the state’s newly approved school grading system could be delayed.

Time is running out to get several high-profile education bills cleared. But there are problems on the horizon, and state leaders are still far apart on some of the most pressing issues in education. Take for instance a proposal by Republican Representative Bill Proctor. He’s worked all session to craft a plan that he says, will steer the state’s universities to the next level. That proposal calls for universities that want to increase tuition above the current 15-percent a year cap, to meet 11 out of 14 benchmarks. Right now, only the University of Florida, and Florida State would qualify.

 “Yes, you will have some opportunity tuition on market-rate basis for some programs such as STEM. However, to do that you must get approval from the board of trustees, board of governors, and it has to be approved in the legislative budget request.”

STEM is short for science, technology, engineering and math-- subjects where state leaders have said they want to see more degree production. But The move faced critics in the House, with Democratic Representative Rick Kriseman saying it makes UF and FSU into the “bad guys” for raising tuition as the legislature works on a deal to cut higher education by $300 million dollars.

And even if it makes it through the Senate and to Governor Rick Scott’s desk, the governor is holding firm on his “no tuition increase” position.

 “As you know, I’m not in favor of tuition increases.”

And then, there’s the legislature’s omnibus charter school bill. House Democrats like Broward Representative Martin Kair, argue the proposal will exempt charters from having to comply with parts of the state’s new teacher evaluation and performance pay system.

 “It appears that charter schools won’t have to report results of instructor evaluations, the Department wouldn’t have to approve charter school evaluation systems, the public would have to have the approval and implementation of personnel evaluation systems where the charter schools wouldn’t.”

But Democrat Rene Garcia, who usually votes against such bills, found himself on the other side of the debate—as he called on his fellow Democrats to support it. Garcia was able to attach wording that calls on charter schools to clearly identify their owners.

 “Is this a perfect bill? I don’t think so. But this bill contains some clauses, especially one that’s very important to me, and that’s the one that provides transparency. I want to thank my colleague Representative Atkins for including my bill in this bill.”

But the Senate-version of the charter bill is carrying something extra: a plan to require school districts to share some of the property tax money used for school construction with charter schools. The House is resistant to that plan and is floating the idea of creating a task force to take a look at it.

Meanwhile, as the House worked to put the final touches on its education policy plans for the year, the Senate wants to slow the process down. A procedural move by Republican Jack Latvala blocked a bill that would allow parents a say in what happens to failing public schools from being heard on the Senate floor. The so-called “parent trigger” has already cleared the House.

“Can we separate out…it takes a 2/3rd vote to withdraw a bill—this is the parent-trigger bill that there are a lot of concerns about—can we separate out the issue and let the other bills go or do we have to vote on them at one time?”

The chamber is also looking to temporarily block a series of changes by the Department of Education that would make it harder for students to pass the standardized FCAT test, and increase the number of failing schools. Republican Senator David Simmons of Maitland says his chamber supports the delay of the new school grading scale for a year until a study can be done to weigh its effects.

The move comes days after the State Board of Education voted to approve the new grading system.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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