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Flurry Of Ed Bills Get House Backing But Face Long Odds In Senate

The Florida House has approved several education bills changing everything from the way students can transfer to how how quickly they can advance in school. But some of those proposals face opposition in the Senate when they get there.

Democratic Representative Steve Geller sums up his party’s sentiment about the education bills.

“It’s a pattern we’re going to see on a lot of these bills today. Take some really good provisions, things that make sense, and then package them with tings that would never pass on their own and hope the good outweighs the bad. The problem is that would result in our passing a lot of bad things.” He said.

The proposals heading over to the Senate were generated by Republicans, and cover the state’s controversial teacher bonus program, called “Best and Brightest” to giving elementary schoolers more recreational play time.

The so-called recess bill calls 100 minutes of recess a week in elementary schools, a policy that currently differs school-by-school, and district-by-district.

"We don’ see that as fair. It should be across the board. It shouldn’t be that one teacher likes it, and another teacher doesn’t. All kids need a break, and it’s not fair to them?" Said, St. Petersburg parent Christie Bruner, traveled to Tallahassee to push for the bill: during a press conference at the Capitol.  

And while the plan gained approval in the House—it faces near certain death in the Senate, as one of the chamber’s education chief’s—Sen. John Legg of Lutz—is refusing to take it up. Legg believes recess is a local issue, not a state one.

Over the objections of mostly Democrats, the House also approved several charter school reforms in House Bill 7029 by Representative Bob Cortes. His bill requires potential charter school operators to provide more financial information and gives high-performing charter schools more flexibility to open in high need areas if they’re teaching disadvantaged kids.

“Education is definitely a right, not a privledge. Quality education is our main goal and priority in this legislature. The option of parents to choose what they’re children use is their prerogative," Cortes said.

A Senate companion is sitting in that chamber’s appropriations committee.

The idea of “public school choice” also garnered largely Republican Support. The plan, by Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, allows families to send their kids to any public school in the state—as long as there’s room. But Rep. Reggie Fullwood, D-Jacksonville, believes the bill gives families a false sense of choice. He says people who live closer to a school should have preference over those who live in another part of the county. And many highly rated schools will already be at capacity. Furthermore, some families may struggle with transportation.

“I heard, ‘well the school district could provide transportation.’ Well, we all know how that works. What school district is going to provide transportation to a kid who doesn’t live in their county?" He said. "It doesn’t make sense. So we’re creating opportunity, but false opportunity for some families who think they’ll have an opportunity to get to some of these great 'A'schools.”

Another measure likely to be rejected by the Senate when it gets there, is Miami Republican Rep. Erik Fresen’s proposal capping what districts can spend on school construction. While the Senate has a similar proposal it doesn’t include a requirement that districts share a portion of their locally generated building funds with charter schools. 

But for students who want to move through school faster, there could be a new option. A proposal on competency-based education supported by one of the state's most prominent school choice groups managed to advance out of the House.

“We know children develop and learn at different speeds determined by their own unique abilities. Yet our education system congregates them in classrooms and demands they absorb the same knowledge in the same manner and at the same pace,” said Patricia Levesque, executive director of the Foundation for Florida’s Future.

List of Approved Bills:

HB 7017 – Career and Adult Education

CS/HB 7019 – Post Secondary Access and Affordability

CS/CS/HB 7029 – School Choice

CS/HB 7043 – Education

HB 799 – Out-Of-State Fee Waivers for Active Duty Servicemembers

CS/HB 1157 – Postsecondary Education for Veterans

CS/CS/CS/HB 669 – Educational Choice

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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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