Florida Legislature: What is Happening in Education

legislation1This session the legislature has bills ranging from accountability to discipline and sex, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.  The State LWV Florida sent out a helpful list of education bills that will be heard in committee tomorrow.  The Tallahassee Democrat overview is helpful to understand the legislative priorities.

 The House Joint Resolution and the other education bill that will be heard in committee tomorrow are:

 

HJR 759 that proposes an amendment to the State Constitution to require the State Board of Education to establish a statewide system for approval of charter schools.  If approved by the Legislature, the amendment will appear on the 2016 ballot for approval/disapproval by voters.  This joint resolution will be considered by the K-12 Subcommittee which meets from 9:00 – 11:00 a.m. in Morris Hall, Room 17 of the House Office Building.

HB 669 relating to Educational Choice which requires, rather than permits, school districts to offer controlled open enrollment and requires school districts to expand open enrollment options to include enrollment from outside the school district.  The controlled open enrollment process described in the legislation requires school districts to provide the identify of schools not exceeding capacity and to give preference to children of military families  The proposed legislation also requires school districts to establish a process for transferring students to another classroom upon request by parents.  Finally, amendments to the Credit Acceleration Program, which addresses tests applicable to certain high school graduation courses, extend the program to all required courses and allows home school and any public school student to take end-of-course or Advanced Placement Examinations even if they have not attended the course.

HB 669 will be heard in the Choice and Innovation Subcommittee which meets tomorrow from 12:00 to 2:00 p.m. in Room 306 of the House Office Building.  Amendments proposed by the sponsor (Sprowls) appear to address the information school districts must provide to parents concerning the funds allocated and spent by the school district.

 

Lesson Plan for Lawmakers

In the next two months, lawmakers will grapple with hundreds of education issues, ranging from sex education and charter school reform to overhauling state testing requirements and dispatching more dollars to schools

Thousands of teachers, parents, students and community leaders — bused in from across the state by the Florida Education Association — rallied at the state Capitol on Thursday at noon, primarily to protest the “over-legislation” of teachers and unfunded mandates.

“It’s as if everyone knows how to be a teacher because they’ve been a student,” Stu Greenberg, Leon County Schools Chief Academic Officer, said to local teacher union members during a meeting last month. “Teaching is the only profession that gets picked on by the Legislature.

“Put the money where your mouth is,” he added. Union members were then in the early planning stages of the “Enough is Enough” rally.

Stu Greenberg, Chief Academic Officer for Leon County Schools, calls out legislators for being too prescriptive to districts. 

Gov. Rick Scott is calling for a 2.5 percent increase in money — mostly derived from a proposed increase in property taxes collected through “required local effort” — spent on public schools, which would boost per student spending to a “record” $7,221, an increase of $95 from last year’s budget. Under Scott’s plan, Florida would still rest well below the 2013 national per student spending average of $10,700.

Scott is also recommending that both charter and traditional public schools receive equal funding — $75.2 million each. Much of the debate in school choice has revolved around the amount of taxpayer dollars diverted to construction and capital costs associated with charter schools. Legislators are weighing proposals that would make charter schools easier to form and also hold them more accountable.

Gov. Rick Scott proposed a 2.5 percent increase in funds spent on public schools. (Photo: Joe Rondone/Democrat)

A slew of bills have been filed, many just before the start of the 60-day session that began Monday. The legislation is likely to spur dialogue about retooling education to better serve students and their communities. Other proposals pick up where last year’s failed legislative session left off. Senators are off to a quick start and have already passed a few bills.

A glance at education legislation 

Defending ‘Best and Brightest’

On Wednesday, senators and teachers union representatives barraged Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, with questions about a controversial teacher bonus program that was tacked into the budget last year.

The $44 million program, titled “Best and Brightest,” granted $8,256 individual bonuses — designed to recruit and retain the state’s best educators — to 5,300 teachers, is now tucked in SB 978 by Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, who wants to vote on the proposal next week. A companion bill, HB 7043, which is in the Education Appropriations Subcommittee, will be heard next Monday.

Lawmakers asked Fresen to prove the correlation between teachers’ ACT or SAT scores and their effectiveness in the classroom.

Fresen explained that he wanted to “create a higher level of respect for the teaching profession,” and that students with higher aptitudes could be more likely to pursue careers in teaching if they knew there was better pay.

Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, is the brainchild of the Best and Brightest scholarship program. (Photo: Democrat files)

Eligibility for the bonuses was based on a teacher’s past ACT or SAT scores, which had to land in the top twentieth percentile. Teachers, except those in their first year, also had to earn ratings of “highly effective” on their final evaluations.

The program has been under scrutiny since its inception.

Veteran teachers report having difficult digging up decades-old scores. The FEA claims that the program not only is discriminatory to older teachers, but also to minorities, who are more likely to have earned teaching certifications through alternative programs that did not require ACT or SAT exams for entrance. Critics asked legislators to allow districts the autonomy in determining which teachers deserve the bonuses.

“I don’t see this accomplishing that goal,” Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, said to Fresen. “If I knew I could make an extra $8,000, I’m not going to say, ‘To heck with Goldman Sachs, I’m going into teaching.’ It doesn’t work that way.”

Lawmakers are also attempting to address teacher pay through a joint resolution, SB 1516, which proposes a state amendment that would require salaries of full-time public school teachers to at least meet the national average. According to the bill, the state, not the school district, would fund the salary increase and “nothing… shall impair collective bargaining.”

Last year, Tallahassee was rated No. 17 on “The 25 Worst-Paying Cities for High School Teachers.”

Panama City and Lakeland also made the list, at the 22nd and 23rd spots respectively. The list examined 2014 Bureau of Labor statistics and was curated by Start Class, an online site that compiles reviews of salaries, cost of living and school programs.  A companion Start Class article ranking the top-paying cities for high school teachers did not include any Florida cities.

Not déjà vu, the accountability debate ensues

Senators discussed pushing forward legislation that enabled districts to use nationally normed tests, like the ACT or SAT, instead of using the Florida Standards Assessment, which has been controversial after technical “glitches” during its administration wreaked havoc statewide last spring.

Leon County Schools Superintendent Jackie Pons has joined numerous district leaders in calling for this option, now offered in SB 1360.

Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, who also heads the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, issued a vote of no-confidence in the state’s accountability system last fall. He has also voiced his support for SB 1360 and sponsored SB 1124, which would give schools an “I” or “Incomplete” as a 2014-2015 school grade or school improvement rating. The State Board of Education’s approval of the education commissioner’s recommended scores last week leaves nearly 200 schools with an “F.”

Montford, through SB 1172, has proposed giving certain students the opportunity to take a paper and pencil version of the 10th grade English Language Arts FSA and Algebra I end-of-course exam. The bill would also create an alternative pathway, through industry certifications, for students to earn a standard high school diploma.

Sen. Bill Montford proposed a bill that would give schools an “I” grade and another that would allow students to have alternate pathways to high school graduation. (Photo: Joe Rondone/Democrat)

Students and teachers could also be granted reprieve in the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years from the high stakes associated with test results.

Under SB 1450 and HB 903, “standardized assessment results” in English Language Arts and math could not be used to determine student promotion, high school graduation requirements or teacher evaluations, which currently hinge on students’ test scores.

“Our students are not ‘test rats,’” said Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, who sponsors the bill. “Until we figure out our assessment structure, we should stop using the results against them and our teachers.”

‘Restore Recess’ movement gains traction

In the last year, thousands of parents have expressed concern with schools’ inconsistencies in recess time for young children.

According to statutes, and spelled out again in Leon County School Board bylaws, students, from kindergarten through fifth grade, are to be provided 150 minutes a week of physical activities.

But parents have reported — through formal petitions with “Restore Recess,” a grassroots effort, and online message boards — that again and again, this was not happening.

A bill would require elementary schools to have 20 minutes of uninterrupted recess a day. (Photo: Democrat files)

Both general bills, SB 1002 and HB 833, would require 150 minutes of physical education each week so that “on any day during which physical education instruction is conducted there are at least 30 consecutive minutes of physical education per day.” In addition, districts must provide 100 minutes of supervised and “unstructured free-play recess” each week, at least 20 consecutive minutes every day, for students.

The bills also state that recess cannot be withheld for academic or punitive reasons.

Let’s talk about sex

Some lawmakers are attempting to close the disparities in sex education programs in school districts across the state.

SB 1056 and HB 859,  both sponsored by Democrats, create the “Florida Healthy Adolescent Act,” which requires schools to provide students with “developmentally and age appropriate” information about sexually transmitted infections, family planning, teenage pregnancy and sexuality. Parents may request that their children be excused from instruction.

Sex education reform is on the table this legislative session. (Photo: USA Today)

The bills list health concerns in Florida that spurred the act, including: 59 percent of pregnancies are described as unintended; the 29th highest birthrate among women between the ages of 15 to 19 in the country; and the fourth highest number of syphilis cases in the nation and the highest rate of new HIV infections.

Coding bill keeps moving in the Senate

A bill, SB 468, sponsored by Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, which would allow students to take computer coding in lieu of foreign language classes, was passed by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, 7 to 1, on Wednesday. The bill will advance to the full Appropriations Committee, which could send it to the Senate floor. A companion bill, HB 887, was filed last month and sits in the K-12 Education Subcommittee.

The bill is criticized by many educators, who view the measure as a way to supplant the study of foreign language. Proponents, however, say the change will increase students’ technology skills and better prepare them for a future economy.

When it was first filed, the bill stated that two credits of coding courses would be “required” for students to be eligible for Bright Futures, the state’s academic scholarship program that funds tuition at public colleges and universities in Florida.

A revised draft of the bill does not list coding as a requirement for Bright Futures, but specifies that state colleges and universities — most have a two-year foreign language requirement — must recognize coding classes as foreign language credits.

More money for students with disabilities

On Wednesday morning, the Senate voted 39-0 on SB 672, which raises funding from $55 million to $73 million for $10,000 annual educational choice scholarships awarded to children, as young as 3 years-old, with developmental and intellectual disabilities, such as autism and Down Syndrome. A companion bill, HB 7011, which has unanimously passed two committees, was expected to be taken up Thursday.

Both HB 317, filed by Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami, and SB 138, filed by Ring, would require school districts to provide disability history and awareness instruction in all public schools, starting in the 2016-2017 school year.

Student discipline and safety

School districts would have to amend zero tolerance policies, currently mandated by the state, under SB 490 and HB 1139Schools would be required to draft policies that encouraged alternatives to expulsion or referrals to law enforcement. The bill also refines which violations would lead to the arrest of a student by a school resource officer.

Swift Creek Middle School school resource officer Mike Peters jokes with a teacher inside the school’s cafeteria during the hectic first day of school. (Photo: Democrat files)

If a student breaks a school rule, zero tolerance policies require a harsh punishment, such as expulsion or suspension, regardless of whether the infraction was an accident or stemmed from extenuating circumstances.

Critics contend that zero tolerance policies disproportionately affect minority students — funneling mostly black and Hispanic kids into what is called the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

DOE records show that in Leon County, for 2013-2014, there were 458 cases of a white student receiving an out-of-school suspension, while there were 1,821 instances a black student was suspended. Last fall, the Leon County School Board began to workshop its discipline policies.

The Legislature is also considering SB 1368 and HB 1215, which would require a resource officer be placed at every school. A few days after SB 1368 was filed, Pons announced “his plan” to recruit auxiliary members from the community, such as retired military and emergency personnel, to augment the school resource program already in place.

Keeping an eye on community school bills

Last year, city commissioners Gil Ziffer and Scott Maddox proposed bringing a community school to south Tallahassee. The educational initiative converts Old Wesson, a closed elementary school, into a hub where students receive quality education and increased access to social services, such as health, dental and behavioral care. The planning stages of their efforts are beginning to fall into place with the support of the district.

Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, who sponsored SB 1246, is looking to implement the community school model at three to five of the state’s most impoverished and under-performing schools.

Sen. Thompson sponsored a bill that would require the state to back the community schools model at select schools. (Photo: AP)

The bill would require DOE to create a four-year community schools program, not to exceed $900,000 in its first year. Participants would have to report best practices, student performance measures, costs and other findings related to the project. A companion bill has been filed in the house, HB 1047.

If passed, the program could be used by other districts to replicate community schools locally, but Ziffer argues the bill “lacks (a) robust, comprehensive approach” to creating a long-term model. Maddox, on the other hand, fully supports the pending legislation, because “state funding can only ensure a faster implementation of our current plan.”

Taking on bullying

Leon County Schools consistently reviews its bullying prevention policies and recently created an initiative to empower students to lead anti-bullying projects.

However, a closer look at local bullying statistics, conducted by the Tallahassee Democrat last fall, showed there were still gaps in reporting at the school level. Several schools in the Big Bend region also failed to report acts of bullying.

SB 268 and HB 229 would require all districts to revise their bullying and harassment policy every three years, to include mandatory reporting procedures and a way for someone to anonymously issue a report, too. Districts must also include explicit bullying and harassment provisions in discipline policies.

Leon High School students are working to end bullying on their campus. (Photo: D.A. Robin/Democrat)

Also, SB 1590 and HB 1323 create the “Social Media Awareness and Responsibility Teaching (SMART) Education Act,” which would require schools to provide students instruction on the responsible use of social media, including an emphasis on “cybersafety, cybersecurity and cyberethics” and the negative consequences of cyberbullying. DOE would provide districts with examples of related learning activities and resources.

Character development 

General bills SB 1462 and HB 1147 would require DOE to develop a separate elective that would teach “certain students” in high school life skills to enable resiliency and self-motivation. Listed focuses include leadership, interpersonal skills, organization and research, employment interviews and managing stress and expectations.

Contact Amanda Claire Curcio by email at acurcio@tallahassee.com or follow @MandaCurcio on Twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Charter School Management, Charter Schools, Florida, Florida House, Florida Senate, Legislation, Public Education.

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