March 7 – May 5, 2017
In the four weeks that the 2017 Legislative Session has been underway, I’ve struggled to find a way to monitor the many proposed bills that would affect public education in Florida. A few, notably SB 1210/HB 989 Instructional Materials for K–12 Public Education, have deservedly gotten a lot of attention, but I wanted to see the bigger picture. Who is making education policy in Florida? In addition to the most covered issues, what else is being considered? What’s the best way for me to be involved, and with my goal of encouraging informed voting, what should I share with readers?
There are no fast or easy answers to those questions, but I had to start doing something. In the Florida Legislature, House and Senate rules provide for standing committees, subcommittees, and special or select committees. The Senate President names the chairs and members of all Senate committees; the Speaker of the House names the chairs and members of all House committees.
After reviewing the list of Senate committees, I made the assumption that most education policy bills would go through the Senate Standing Committee on Education (Education Committee) before reaching the Floor for a final vote. And if that’s true, then monitoring that Committee and the bills that pass favorably through it should give me the overview I’m looking for. At least, that’s the plan for now.
Knowing little about it, I did a deep dive into that Committee through the Florida Senate website. In this post, I’ll share what I learned.
The big picture
The Senate Education Committee has 10 members. Seven are Republicans and three are Democrats, which is fairly consistent with the makeup of the Senate as a whole. They are:
- Senator Dorothy L. Hukill (R) – Chair
- Senator Debbie Mayfield (R) – Vice Chair
- Senator Gary M. Farmer, Jr. (D)
- Senator Anitere Flores (R)
- Senator Bill Galvano (R)
- Senator Tom Lee (R)
- Senator David Simmons (R)
- Senator Wilton Simpson (R)
- Senator Linda Stewart (D)
- Senator Perry E. Thurston, Jr. (D)
Chair Hukill is the only member of the Committee who has been an educator. A former elementary school teacher and now attorney/small business owner, she has held elected office in Central Florida since 1998. Due to treatment for cancer, she is not participating in this legislative session.
Vice Chair Mayfield is a self-described “public servant” who has served in the state Legislature since 2008. She is the only member of the Committee whose Senate bio lists being honored by the politically conservative Americans for Prosperity, Liberty First Network and Foundation for Florida’s Future.
Sen. Lee is vice president of a residential homebuilder and a realtor, Sen. Simpson is president of an environmental restoration and demolition services company, and Sen. Stewart is a former insurance agent. The remaining five Committee members are attorneys.
Getting caught up
A total of 111 Senate bills were referred to the Education Committee for consideration this session. Of these, 110 were “General Bills” (i.e. one of general statewide interest or whose provisions apply to the entire state) and one was a “Joint Resolution” (i.e. a proposed constitutional amendment) to establish a minimum salary for full-time public school teachers.
I reviewed the agendas, meeting materials, and in some cases video recordings of each of the Committee’s eight meetings so far, all of which are available here.
The March 21 meeting included a presentation on the current state requirements for high school graduation, statewide assessments, school grades and personnel evaluations by the Executive Vice Chancellor and an associate, K–12 Public Schools, Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) (slides here). The presentation served to provide background to bills that propose changes to current law.
Similarly, the March 27 meeting included a presentation on the current state of the Florida charter school sector by the Executive Director of the FLDOE Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice (slides here), and a presentation about KIPP public charter schools, by Trisha Coad, National Director, New Site Development, KIPP Foundation (slides here).
In its meetings to-date, the Committee considered 39 bills related to pre-K – 12 education and took the following actions:
- 15 bills – Passed unanimously; now proceeding through their next assigned committee(s)
- 2 bills – Passed with minority dissent; now proceeding through their next assigned committee(s)
- 5 bills – Workshopped/discussed; passed unanimously; now proceeding through their next assigned committee(s)
- 9 bills – Workshopped/discussed or temporarily postponed; not yet scheduled for next hearing
- 8 bills – Workshopped/discussed; scheduled for next hearing
I’ll pay more attention to these 17 bills when and if they are voted out of Committee.
Many bills to which Education was an assigned stop have not yet been (and may never be) scheduled to be heard, including the proposed minimum teacher pay amendment.
For a sense of the bills considered, below are their titles and, for ones of particular interest to me, a brief description; click a bill number for more information.
Passed unanimously; now proceeding through their next assigned committee(s):
- SB 78 Public School Recess – Requiring each district school board to provide students in certain grades with a minimum number of minutes of free-play recess per week and with a minimum number of consecutive minutes of free-play recess per day
- SB 104 Computer Coding Instruction – Authorizing high schools to offer students opportunities to take specified computer coding courses
- CS/SB 148 Students Remaining on School Grounds During School Hours – Requiring schools in certain districts to obtain written parental consent before permitting students to leave school grounds during the lunch period
- SB 256 Florida Center for the Partnerships for Arts Integrated Teaching
- SB 360 Middle School Study – Requiring the Department of Education to conduct a comprehensive study of states with nationally recognized high-performing middle schools in reading and mathematics
- SB 392 High School Graduation Requirements – Revising the requirements for the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards to include financial literacy; revising the required credits for a standard high school diploma to include one-half credit of instruction in personal financial literacy and money management and seven and one-half, rather than eight, credits in electives
- SB 438 Out-of-school Suspension
- SB 642 Public Educational Facilities
- SB 780 Adoption Benefits
- SB 808 Maximum Class Size – Revising requirements for charter school compliance calculating a school district’s class size categorical allocation reduction at the school average when maximum class size requirements are not met
- SB 890 Florida Endowment for Vocational Rehabilitation
- SB 978 High School Graduation Requirements – Authorizing the use of credits earned upon completion of a registered apprenticeship or pre-apprenticeship
- SB 1252 Education
- SB 1290 Career and Technical Education – Requiring each school district to develop at least one CAPE pathway in a specified area by a specified school year
- SB 1458 Blind Services Direct-support Organization
Passed with minority dissent; now proceeding through their next assigned committee(s):
- SB 376 Charter School Funding – Authorizing school boards to levy specified amounts for charter schools; prohibiting a charter school from being eligible for a funding allocation under certain circumstances
- SB 436 Religious Expression in Public Schools – Prohibiting a school district from discriminating against students, parents, or school personnel on the basis of religious viewpoints or expression; prohibiting penalty or reward for a student’s religious expression in coursework, artwork, or other specified assignments
Workshopped/discussed; passed unanimously; now proceeding through their next assigned committee(s):
- SB 604 Education Funding – Revising the amount each school board may levy for certain purposes
- CS/SB 772 Assistive Technology Devices
- SB 782 High School Graduation Requirements – Removing a requirement that a student participating in an interscholastic sport pass a competency test on personal fitness
- SB 1210 Instructional Materials for K–12 Public Education – Requiring each district school board to adopt a process allowing parents or residents of the county to object to the use of specific instructional materials based on specified criteria; revising the requirements for school boards that adopt rules for the implementation of the district’s instructional materials program; revising the standards that an instructional materials reviewer shall use. This bill is being lobbied for by the Florida Citizens Alliance.
- SB 1222 School Grades – Providing that a school exhibits a feeder pattern for the purpose of designating school grades if at least a majority of its students are scheduled to be assigned to the graded school
Workshopped/discussed or temporarily postponed; not yet scheduled for next hearing:
- SB 584 Alternative High School Graduation Requirements – Authorizing certain students to be eligible for an alternative pathway to a standard high school diploma; requiring a school district to establish an Alternative Pathway to Graduation Review Committee for certain students; requiring each district school board to ensure certain instruction, to waive certain assessment results, and to administer a hard copy of the grade 10 ELA assessment or the statewide, standardized Algebra I EOC assessment for certain students
- SB 906 Student Assessments – Requiring that the Commissioner of Education periodically publish on the Department of Education’s website any assessment administered or adopted during the previous school year
- SB 964 Education Accountability – Requiring an application and charter for a high school charter school to require the administration of a specified assessment for graduation purposes; revising the requirements for a standard high school diploma; revising the grades in which the statewide, standardized Reading assessment must be administered; providing responsibilities of the commissioner to select and approve a nationally recognized high school assessment to administer in lieu of the Florida Standards Assessment
- SB 1280 Mandatory Retention – Removing the requirement for mandatory retention of a third grade student based on his or her performance on the English Language Arts assessment
- SB 538 Charter Schools – requiring applicants for charter status to demonstrate that they meet certain needs that the local school district does not, or is unable to, meet
- SB 692 Student Eligibility for K–12 Virtual Instruction
- SB 696 Charter Schools – Requiring a sponsor to honor irrevocable instructions by a charter school to deposit certain funds; providing that a charter school that pledges or assigns future payment of its funding is not pledging the credit or taxing power of the state or a school district
- SB 1556 Education – Prohibiting a district school board from requiring any additional information or verification from a home education program parent under certain circumstances; providing an exception for certain children from the age verification requirements for school attendance; requiring a school and school district to comply with specified provisions before instituting criminal prosecution against certain parents relating to compulsory school attendance
- SB 1572 Education Savings Account Program
Workshopped/discussed; scheduled for April 3 meeting:
- SB 796 Charter Schools – Revising charter school contract and funding requirements; authorizing certain entities to apply for designation as a High-Impact Charter Management Organization; requiring the Department of Education to give priority to certain charter schools applying for specified grants
- SB 868 Educational Options and Services – Revising student eligibility requirements for the Florida Virtual School and virtual instruction programs
- SB 902 Gardiner Scholarship Program – Revising program eligibility requirements
- SB 926 K–12 Student Assessments – Requiring the Commissioner of Education to review specified college entrance examinations to determine their alignment with the core curricular content for high school level English Language Arts and mathematics established in state standards; revising provisions relating to achievement levels for certain statewide, standardized assessments; providing requirements for administration of the statewide, standardized English Language Arts and mathematics assessments in specified grades
- SB 1302 Private School Student Participation in Extracurricular Activities – Revising the eligibility requirements for certain private school students to participate in interscholastic or intrascholastic sports at specified public schools
- SB 1314 Educational Options – Specifying the Department of Education’s duty to approve or deny an application for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program within a specified time; requiring an eligible nonprofit scholarship-funding organization to allow certain dependent children to apply for a scholarship at any time
- SB 1362 K–12 Education – Removing a requirement that the Department of Education compare certain charter school student performance data to certain traditional public schools; authorizing certain entities to apply to the State Board of Education for designation as a High-Impact Charter Network; revising the exams each public high school is required to administer to all enrolled 10th grade students to include the preliminary ACT, rather than the ACT Aspire
- SB 1586 Student Eligibility for Interscholastic Athletic Competition – Revising requirements for the bylaws of the Florida High School Athletic Association governing student eligibility to participate in interscholastic athletic competition
The week ahead
The Agenda for the Monday, April 3, Committee meeting is packed. In addition to the eight bills noted above, the following 9 bills related to pre-K – 12 education are scheduled:
- SB 468 Voluntary Prekindergarten Education
- SB 856 – Education – Prohibiting a district school board from awarding an annual contract for instructional personnel under certain circumstances
- SB 868 Education Options and Services – Revising student eligibility requirements for the Florida Virtual School and virtual instruction programs
- SB 984 Shared Use of Public School Playground Facilities
- SB 1330 Concealed Weapons and Firearms on Private School Property – Specifying that concealed weapon and concealed firearm licensees are not prohibited by specified laws from carrying such weapons or firearms on private school property
- SB 1368 Exceptional Student Instruction – Prohibiting certain school districts from declining to provide or contract for certain students’ educational instruction; providing for funding of such students
- SB 1552 Florida Best and Brightest Teacher and Principal Scholar Award Program – Creating the Florida Best and Brightest Teacher and Principal Scholar Award Program to be administered by the Department of Education
- SB 1598 Education – Creating the Schools of Excellence Program; providing additional authority and responsibilities to the principal of a School of Excellence
- SB 1710 Education – Revising the duties of the Just Read, Florida! Office to include developing and providing access to certain resources for elementary schools; requiring postsecondary students to demonstrate civic literacy
So many bills, so little time. Which ones to follow?
I initially planned to end this post by recommending several bills to follow and actions to take in the remaining weeks of the Legislative Session, scheduled to end on May 5. But with so many important bills pending, on what basis would I narrow the list to just a few?
Instead, I urge you to choose one of the bills to follow. Set up a free account on the Florida Senate website here to receive an email notification when something happens with your bill. Then, when your bill is scheduled to be heard, contact the members of the Committee that will hear it through links on the Committee’s web page. Let them know if you want them to support or oppose the bill, and why. A phone call to a senator’s Tallahassee Office is the quickest and easiest way to be heard. If you call after-hours, leave a brief message on their answering machine.
And let me know what bills you choose and how you think it’s going!
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