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School choice rally draws hundreds

By Lynn Hatter


Tallahassee, FL – The Florida Legislature wants to give students and parents more options when it comes to choosing schools, and both the House and Senate have bills that could vastly expand what's available now. Lynn Hatter reports supporters of school choice rallied at the capital Tuesday to urge lawmakers to pass the bills out before the end of the 2011 legislative session.

Sound- "Our governor campaigned on the promise to support and expand school choice. And let me tell you he's keeping his word thank you so much for joining us today "

Governor Rick Scott joined the Florida Coalition for Public School Options in a rally to support several school choice bills making their way through the legislature.

"Well at least you have a nice windy day, it's not too hot out and you know everyone can hear you in the capital and that's what you're supposed to do. You're supposed to come up and let your voices be heard, and you're doing it."

One of those proposals would expand virtual school to more students and require high schoolers to take an online course before they graduate. It's one of several bills aimed at expanding education options for students and their parents. And supporters of school choice are calling on lawmakers to pass the bill. It's sponsored by Miami Senator Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican.

"I think that all these folks out here today we've got over 500 people on the steps of the capital wanting choices in their educational opportunities. And all that 1620 does is expand those opportunities to online learning, virtual learning .Students learn differently and as adults we shouldn't put up artificial barriers."

The measure was before the Senate Budget Committee Monday and again on Tuesday. It's being vetted by committee members, who are concerned about some of the additional requirements on the bill, like a provision to create charter virtual schools and another that allows out-of-state private educators to operate in the state. Tallahassee Democrat and Florida Association of District School Superintendents head, Senator Bill Montford wants to know what kind of training would be required from teachers in online courses.

"Under this particular bill, would teachers be required to be certified or would they just be adjunct certified?"

Flores: "They'll be adjunct teachers in the state of Florida..so, that answers your question, I hope."

The bill is getting some push-back from senators concerned about how the expansion of digital and virtual learning will work, but Flores remains optimistic.

"We hope we might get it on the floor of the senate as soon as Thursday or Friday, and we're confident about all the bills. I mean, it's a short amount of time but a lot of things to get done in session, we feel pretty confident."

Joining in the push for more school options is Step Up For Students director, Michael Benjamin. His program provides scholarships to students in failing public schools to go to private ones. Benjamin is a supporter of school choice bills that would expand the McKay Scholarship for students with disabilities and another that would allow students in failing public schools to go to another across district lines.

"Everywhere else in America you have options. You didn't come here in the same vehicle I came in. So why are we not customizing education? And that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to customize education and empower low-income families to chose the best education environment for their kids. We're trying to empower parents and its really a social justice issue, it really is."

Benjamin says he is concerned about the governor's plan to cut corporate taxes, because some of the money is used to fund the scholarship program. Putting weight behind the bills is Senate President Mike Haridopolos. There are only 11 more days left before the session ends, but he says at least a few of the school choice bills will get through.

"I think they have a great chance. I'm a big proponent of school choice, the more options parents have, the better students do. This is not a one-size fits all solution in education, that's why I'm so supportive of school choice whether it be in charter schools, private schools or public schools."