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Florida School Superintendents Sound Off On What They Want From Legislature In 2014

Gov. Rick Scott, Commissioner Stewart and Sen. Bill Montford listen as superintendents discuss their issues

Florida school district superintendents are in the beginning stages of figuring out what changes the upcoming legislative session will bring. During a Tuesday meeting with Governor Rick Scott the group outlined a list of issues for state lawmakers to consider.

District superintendents say they don't wan standardized contracts for charter schools and a mandate to teach financial literacy. Proposals on both issues are pending in the Legislature, but districts say they need the flexibility to outline terms and conditions for charter schools, because while operating mostly independently of the districts those schools are located in, charters still affect a district’s overall grade. The superintendents also say mandating a financial literacy course will hamper students’ ability to take elective courses. They also contend such instruction is already happening in conjunction to other subjects.

The list of what school districts DO want, however, is much longer: such as additional authority to raise local tax caps on funds that pay for school repair, technology and safety upgrades. 

The superintendents are also again calling for some stability as the state tries to navigate what has become a rocky transition to new education standards, especially with school and teacher accountability systems also in flux. Brevard Superintendent Brian Benggali says he’s worried Florida is heading toward a crash.

"What I try to convey is we’re all out here working very hard to try to have meaningful improvements in our accountability systems. The worry is, those could be undone if we’re not thoughtful about how it rolls out with the very important assessment of that.”  

The state is on the verge of making changes to its standards—during a time when teachers are still adjusting to them. The Florida Department of Education has not decided what new English and Math tests will look like, though teachers and schools are still expected to be evaluated based on how well students perform on the exams. Superintendents want to wait to implement new school grades, new standards and new tests. Governor Rick Scott, however, did not say where he stands on the issue:

“I’ve always been supportive of high standards, of working with our superintendents," he said when asked about the issue by reporters. "I’m very comfortable with the commissioner the state board of education. They’re going to do the right thing.”

State Education Commissioner Pam Stewart has said there will be no pause to the school accountability system changes, even as House Speaker Will Weatherford suggested the idea deserves consideration.

Meanwhile, school districts are facing fraying relationships with their local community colleges, after the legislature last year changed how dual-enrolled students are funded. The districts are now required to pay tuition for dual-enrolled students, a cost they say was unexpected and is quickly becoming unaffordable. Prior to the change, the colleges received some funding for the students—but they said it wasn’t enough to cover the entire cost of teaching them.  Stewart says the Florida College System and her department are aware of the tensions:

“We certainly want to do whatever we can to help the relationship between the school districts and the local state colleges as it does benefit our students for them to continue to have dual-enrollment. So we’ll work together. We’ll continue to do that in those situations where it is a strained relationship.” 

Some districts have worked out deals with their local college to split the cost of teaching the students, but as more of them participate in dual-enrollment programs those expenses are increasing. In some districts the cost for dual-enrolled students was more than a million dollars.

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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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