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.

Opening week of Florida’s 2017 Legislative Session

PEN Legislative Update:

by Kristin Whitaker

Opening week of Florida’s 2017 Legislative Session was busy with many policy changes being proposed in both the House and Senate that could impact Florida’s schools.

Senator Montford hosted a press conference on 3/8/17 regarding his proposed legislation in SB 964, which would eliminate some tests, push back testing dates to the end of the school year and allow schools to use paper-and-pencil exams rather than online ones. “There is far too much testing and not enough teaching,” said Sen. Montford D-Tallahassee, the bill’s sponsor. “We have tied the hands of teachers and stressed out our kids.”

Legislation has been proposed in HB 15 sponsored by Rep. Sullivan and Rep. Fischer that would allocate $200 million annually for the Gardiner Scholarships, which help children with disabilities pay for specialty educational services and therapies. The bill would also increase payments to recipients of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarships.  This would help mostly minority and poor students attend private schools by offering dollar-for-dollar tax breaks to businesses that donate to organizations that distribute the scholarships.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Pre-K-12 Education passed SB 78 sponsored by Sen. Flores, which would require each district school board to provide students in certain grades at least 20 minutes of unstructured free play recess per day.

The House Education Committee met this morning to hear from Rep. Diaz regarding a proposed committee bill (EDC2) that modifies the Best and Brightest scholarship. It gives more teachers access to the Best and Brightest scholarship by lowering the qualifying exam score to 75th percentile as well as including other assessments not just SAT and ACT. If a teacher received a Latin honor at graduation then the qualifying percentile is lowered to the 70th percentile. Another major change is the scholarship would now include principals. Also, if a principal becomes a best and brightest principal they will be given a greater autonomy in regards to the budget.



New Bills Filed Relating to Student Assessments

By Kristin Whitaker

Representative Manny Diaz filed HB 773 last Friday and Senator Flores filed an identical bill on Tuesday, February 14th.  Below are the key points of this bill.

  • Provide teachers with more time to teach and minimize disruption to student and school schedules by moving the state assessment to the last three weeks of school.
  • Provide teachers with the results of the state assessment for their current and incoming students to help them tailor their instruction.
  • Provide teachers with the results of the local formative assessments within one week to help them tailor their instruction.
  • Require easy-to-understand, parent-friendly score reports that include:
    • A clear explanation of the student’s performance.
    • Information on the student’s areas of strengths and areas for improvement.
    • Specific actions and resources to assist parents.
    • Longitudinal information, if available.
    • Require the Commissioner of Education to conduct an independent review of the SAT, ACT or other nationally-recognized assessment to determine their level of alignment with the Florida standards, in case the state considers using one of these tests in the future.
  • With the next contract of state assessments, require the Department of Education to make achievement level 3 means that a student is proficient and able to succeed in the next grade.

6 Reasons Why PEN of Florida is the Best Choice for Florida Educators

By Lindsey Bailey

Serving teachers since 1995, PEN of Florida has membership in all of Florida’s school districts.  When teachers learn about PEN, their first question is, “Why haven’t I heard about PEN before now?”.  Professional Educators Network of Florida (PEN) is a professional organization for teachers and support staff throughout the state of Florida. PEN offers liability protections, legal representation, professional development and networking opportunities for educators in the Sunshine State. Here are just some of the reasons why teachers LOVE being a PEN member.

1. Lower Cost

PEN Members get the BEST price for the BEST coverage in the classroom.  PEN members save about $412 a year (in comparison with other teacher organizations) in membership dues.  PEN membership is only $218 a year or $18 a month.



2. Premier Coverage 

Just because PEN’s price is lower doesn’t mean you are lowering your coverage.  In fact, with PEN of Florida, you have immediate access to a REAL attorney when you have employment-related questions.  PEN membership gives you 2 million dollars in liability protection and 10 thousand dollars in employment rights protection.


3. Dues money pays for your services, not agendas.

PEN is bipartisan and does not use your dues money to endorse political agendas in which you may or may not agree.



4.  PEN is an advocate for Florida     Teachers.

PEN’s mission is to make Florida a better place for teachers to teach and students to learn.  PEN keeps members informed with legislative updates and employment-related news.  PEN shares our members’ opinions with those making the decisions in Tallahassee.


5. PEN is a great place to network.

PEN members are some of the best educators in the state.  They are focused on being premier educators for their career and students.  Collaborate with this like-minded group through a members’ only facebook group and connection opportunities throughout the state.



 6. Online Professional Development

PEN knows that teachers have many choices when it comes to professional development.  PEN offers convenient online professional development courses to help keep your teaching certification as well as become the best educator that you can be.



group of international students with hands on top

PEN is a premier membership organization for Florida educators.  PEN is a place to network with like-minded professionals. PEN has a members’ only Facebook group where you can ask questions, collaborate and contribute. PEN promotes teachers NOT agendas.  PEN doesn’t fund divisive agendas, but we do advocate for the Florida teacher. We want to help make Florida a better place for teachers to teach and students to learn. We are a network for the professional teacher to be inspired, grow and connect with other educators


Teacher helping students with schoolwork in school classroom. Horizontally framed shot.

PEN will protect your rights as an educator regarding:
Contract Enforcement | Certification Problems/Questions | Reduction in Force/Layoff | Suspension Without Pay | Letters of Reprimand | Evaluations | Student Discipline Issues | Parent and Student Complaints | Professional Practices Cases | Transfers | Harassment | Surplus | Health and Safety Issues

Highlights of the insurance policy include:

The PEN Member Legal Services Department team will provide eligible members with quick, confidential assistance with employment-related legal concerns and questions.

Up to $1,000 in attorney fees for initial consultation without regard to outcome.

Professional Liability Protection, Up to $2,000,000 in liability insurance, which protects you from claims and/or lawsuits arising out of activities in your professional capacity

Employment Rights Defense Protection,Up to $10,000 in attorney fees, which will provide an attorney to defend you if your employment rights are violated.

Certification/Credentials Protection which will provide an attorney to defend you when Professional Practices Services is investigating you for an alleged claim

Up to $10,000 in attorney fees To defend you in a claim filed as a result of your private instruction or tutoring.

Criminal Charges Representation Up to $20,000 in attorney fees to defend you in a criminal proceeding against you arising out of activities in your professional capacity, if you are found not guilty or if all charges are dismissed.

Up to $1,000 per bail bond

All of these benefits are included with your PEN membership.
This brief description of the policy is to provide information only and in no way alters or modifies the policy on file with the association.
Our policies cover you for activities performed in your professional capacity, i.e., those duties required of you as an employee of your school or school district. There is NO coverage for activities performed outside your professional capacity like those done on a volunteer basis or those conducted in a private business or private professional endeavor.

Our professional liability insurance coverage protects you from lawsuits filed by parents or students with coverage limits of $2,000,000 per insured and $3,000,000 per occurrence.

In the unlikely event that you are charged with a crime, in relation to your duties as an educator, the PEN Legal Protection Plan provides for the payment of attorney fees, up to $20,000 per member per claim with final judgment of not guilty. In addition, there is coverage under our liability insurance of up to $1,000 for reimbursement of bail bond premium.

Immediate and comprehensive legal consultation is provided to you free of charge. A PEN attorney will review all of the particulars of your situation at no cost to you. If your rights have been violated or the relevant education law has been broken, the policy will pay up to $10,000 in legal fees to resolve the matter with no out of pocket money from you. This is the protection you need most as you interact daily with your students. PEN stands with you as you go about your required duties each day in an increasingly litigious world.

Our members tell us they appreciate the attorney-client confidentially privilege and don’t have to have a colleague represent them or know all the details of their employment issue. We believe that this is the best way to resolve sensitive legal matters involving our members.

What about the State Liability Coverage? Isn’t that enough?
Liability Insurance is Not Enough to Protect Teachers in the Classroom—Employment Rights and Career Security are Not Included in This Bare-bones Liability Insurance
Liability insurance only goes so far. Membership with The Professional Educators Network of Florida already provides teachers with liability insurance, along with other important benefits such as employee rights protection and other coverages that are not included in the bare-bones liability insurance provided by the State. We are concerned that some educators, not understanding the difference between simple liability insurance and the comprehensive coverage included in PEN of Florida membership may be left without vital representation when they encounter some of the most common problems educators face in the course of their careers.

Professional Educators Network of Florida protects its members with both superior liability and employment defense. We provide experienced attorneys and membership representatives who are experts in school law. Bob Boyd directs PEN of Florida’s legal benefits program and has been practicing school law for 28 years. This is something that free statewide liability insurance simply will not give you. Please read more about the additional protections provided in addition to liability insurance on our website at http://www.penfl.org/legal-benefits

You may also call the PEN office at 800-311-7770 or email legal@penfl.org with any questions

Please note legal coverage conditions
Coverage applies to an insured’s activities within his/her professional capacity and does not apply to activities that predate the coverage period. Eligibility for PEN of FL membership benefits is contingent upon PEN of FL’s receipt of appropriate payment or authorization forms as indicated by your choice of payment method for your appropriate membership category. A disruption in payments to an authorized payment plan may result in discontinuation of such benefits, including cancellation of insurance coverage.

You must be a PEN member prior to the incident.

Evaluations are a year-long process. For assistance with evaluation appeals or reviews, you must have been a PEN member prior to your first observation or by October 31 of the current school year; whichever comes first.

PEN must be the only legal representation you have obtained. PEN will not represent you legally if another organization has provided or is providing representation or consultation to you for the same incident or issue. Please contact PEN at the onset of the employment difficulty.