Have you ever been in a maze and had trouble finding the exit? Tracking bills through the legislative process is like that. Well, it is even worse because some bills get lost and others change their identity. I tried to check on the Best and Brightest bills. SB 1552 is no longer just about teacher recruitment bonuses. It is also about school improvement. But, school improvement used to be about Schools of Hope. Forget all the old bill numbers; it is time to start anew. Here’s what happened:
Senator Simmons filed an amendment to his Best and Brightest teacher recruitment bill SB 1552. The bill incorporates many of the provisions in House bill 796 and broadens eligibility for scholarships. It adds college level tests and grade point averages etc. to those high school SAT and ACT scores that seemed such a bizarre way to select and reward teachers. The new bills are not perfect but are an improvement. They could help make teaching a more attractive option in this time of teacher shortages. At least the bill provides multiple and diverse ways to qualify for salary bonuses.
Yesterday, SB 1552 changed again. Senator Simmons filed another amendment to insert some School Improvement language from HB 5105. The League was unhappy with HB 5105 last week. It promoted Schools of Hope that took control of struggling schools away from districts. Pulling students out of the district simply weakens all schools.
Senator Simmons’ amendment not only eliminates Schools of Hope funding, it maintains district control. It provides support and flexibility that has long been needed. Schools receiving grades below a “C” will have turn around support that includes:
- An additional hour of instruction.
- Wrap around community support services provided by a non-profit entity that includes health services, after school programs, drug prevention, college and career readiness and food and clothing banks.
- Principal autonomy mostly in the curriculum.
Traditional public schools that fail to improve after three years of intensive support still face a choice to either reassign students, close the school and reopen as a charter, or contract either as a conversion charter school or with an outside agency to run the school.
SB 1552 addresses two crucial needs. The first is to attract more teachers to Florida’s schools who are beginning to feel the teacher shortage. The second is to help districts receive the resources and support to make a difference in schools that are struggling.
We can all wish that more could be done, but this bill is the beginning of a break through. The Senate is addressing the problems that districts face and providing support rather than wresting away control. It does not assume that the private sector can somehow ‘do it better’ when the evidence has repeatedly shown it does not.
Sometimes there simply is not a straight line to the exit. Hopefully, the exit leads to a better place.