2017 Florida Legislative Session and Education

By: Kristin Whitaker

May 9, 2017

The 2017 Florida Legislative Session ended Monday evening and approved an overall budget of 83 Billion. SB 2500, which is the 2017-18 General Appropriations Bill, provides $23.7 billion in funding for PreK-12 education agencies with $14.7 billion of that coming from the state.  The Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau reports that per-student spending would rise slightly to $7,221 which is an increase of only 0.34 percent, or about $24.49 per student.

The Senate originally wanted to increase K-12 spending by about $540 million more than the House proposed under the FEFP (Florida Education Finance Program). Gov. Rick Scott also called for similar large increases in spending. Scott’s and the senators’ plans depended on using additional property tax revenue, which came from rising property values in the state, but House leaders rejected that option saying it would be a tax increase.

During the last few days of session, HB 7069 which was originally the House version of the “Best and Brightest” teacher bonus plan became a large and very controversial education policy with a price tag of $419 million. The 278-page bill with numerous policies affecting public education was released Friday, which gave lawmakers little time to review it before making a vote on Monday. The most notable parts of HB 7069 are the “Schools of Hope” charter school incentives, 20 minutes of mandatory daily recess, limiting testing in public schools, giving school districts more flexibility regarding VAM scores for teacher evaluations and the expansion of the “Best and Brightest” teacher and principal scholarship.

The “Schools of Hope”, which was a top priority of Speaker Corcoran, creates an incentive plan to encourage charter schools to open in low economic areas where traditional public schools are failing. There is $140 million allotted for this program, but traditional public schools would also be able to request up to $2,000 a student from the fund to help with programs like “wraparound services.”

The popular mandatory recess proposal by parents across the state, including the “recess moms” that unanimously passed the Senate over a month ago was never brought to the House floor. It was, however, added last minute to HB 7069. The recess proponents spoke out against combining it with other education policy in which they did not agree. They were also opposed to not including charter schools in the 20-minute requirement.

If the bill is signed into law, the Algebra II end of course exam would be eliminated, and a study will be conducted to see if college entrance exams could replace some state-mandated high school tests. Also, districts have the option to ignore the controversial state formula based on those tests when doing teacher evaluations.

The “Best and Brightest” teacher bonus program will vastly expand under HB 7069. Every teacher rated “effective” on his or her evaluation will get $800. Those rated “highly effective” will earn $1,200. Beginning in the 2020-21 school year, teachers would once again be required to perform well on certain standardized tests.  But, more tests would be eligible and the score can now be slightly lower.  If a student graduates from college with honors, it will be even easier to earn a bonus of $6,000 a year.

Update on HB 5105

by: Kristin Whitaker

The Legislature is proposing a bill to address the failing K-12 public schools in Florida. HB 5105 has a 200 million spending plan to promote specialized charter schools, “schools of hope” in communities with public schools that are graded “D” or “F”, in hopes of giving parents an alternative to a failing public school.

This bill had more than three hours of heated floor debate on Thursday, with Democrats unanimously opposing it because they believe it would set up a segregated, unfair system that would disadvantage the failing public schools. A Democratic representative asked, “if we are returning to the days of over-funding charter schools and under funding public schools?” He called this legislation “another nail in the coffin of public education”.

While Republican supporters believe this is the way to help break the cycle of generational poverty in low-income communities with innovative techniques that have had success in areas such as Washington D.C. and New York. Other Republican Representatives accused these democratic critics of allowing failing schools to remain that way and this legislation would give the children in the failing schools a better opportunity at life.

The bill passed the House and is now headed to the Senate. Since the Senate does not have a companion bill, the Senate has the opportunity to consider the legislation. One Senator explained that the Senate likes the premise of helping students in perpetually failing schools, but senators will have their own ideas and unlike the House plan the Senate plan could involve more aid to traditional public schools.