Senate President Joe Negron has announced his Education Committee members. They appear to share a broader spectrum of interests than those in the Florida House. The Senate Education Committee Chair will be Sen. Dorothy Hukill, a Republican from Volusia County. Volusia supports public schools and has relatively few charter schools.
Hukill is an attorney who served four terms in the House before moving to the Senate. She has not been actively involved in education issues The Tampa Bay Times states that she supported a bill to fund public education and authored bills to ban the collection of biometric student data and to teach financial literacy.
The Senate Education Committee co-chair is Sen. Debbie Mayfield from Indian River County. In 2015, Senator Mayfield proposed a constitutional amendment to return the Secretary of Education to an elected position. She also proposed a bill to ban the Common Core and to allow parents to opt their children out of statewide testing.
Senator David Simmons, a Republican from Seminole and Sen. Dana Young from Hillsborough will lead the Education Appropriations committee. Simmons was a strong proponent of funding the extra hour for children with reading deficiencies.
The Senate education leaders could provide a moderating influence to Richard Corcoran, Speaker of the House who has announced a focus on the expansion of charter schools and vouchers. While Senate President Joe Negron did sponsored the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship bill in 2001, he stated that his intention was to give Florida’s poorest students more options. Since that time, however, higher income families now can participate. Given Negron’s assertion that his concern was with low income families, there could a debate between Corcoran and Negron over how much expansion to allow for which income levels. The reality in other states is that higher income families lobby for tax credit scholarships to offset tuition at expensive private schools while children from low income families only have access to private schools with uncertain quality. The stance Sen. Negron takes on voucher expansion will be a test of his veracity.
Since most children from low income families attend small religious schools that are not required to meet public school standards, it is difficult to argue that this is a better option for underserved children. Some argue that allowing children to leave struggling schools at least helps some children. What is now becoming understood is that leaving behind a higher concentration of children with ESE and other challenges creates an even more difficult environment in public schools. It is not just a question of lack of resources, it is also a matter of changing a school culture.
What a quandary we are in. Allowing students to opt into private schools with low standards and by so doing create public schools with even more concentrated numbers of at risk children solves nothing. Real solutions are complex and require communities to work together not split apart.