Florida Legislature approves massive education bill 

Nearly 200 of Florida’s lowest-performing public schools would have to make dramatic changes, or could soon see more of their students leaving for “Schools of Hope” run by national charter school operators, under a bill headed to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk.

The wide-ranging education policy overhaul would affect everything from charters and recess to teacher contracts and virtual schooling.

After passing the House earlier in the afternoon, HB 7069 cleared the Senate 20-18, meaning one more no-vote would have killed it.

Three Republicans joined Democrats in opposition, including state David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, who presented the bill in a tense debate on the Senate floor.

Simmons and his House counterpart, Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, brokered a compromise that would speed up the timetable for public school turnarounds, while spending setting aside nearly $140 million in grants for proven charter school operators that come to Florida and expand wraparound services in persistently low-performing public schools.

But Simmons said the bill would only supply those grants to 25 district-run schools — or about an eighth of those that might qualify. And he said struggling schools would only have two years to shake their D and F state letter grades before they would face closures or charter conversions. He questioned whether that would be enough time.

At one point, he said, luring new charter schools to open in the vicinity of district schools that could eventually close would “lead to the potential of significant waste.”

As a result, he told fellow Senators: “Vote your conscience.” And he predicted there would be cleanup work to do when lawmakers resume committee hearings in September.

“We’re going to have to be back to fix it,” he said during a debate that marked the final day of an extended legislative session.

Supporters, all of them Republicans, said there were worthwhile changes in the bill, which combined most of the high-profile education issues lawmakers had discussed during their spring lawmaking session.

Simmons noted the bill includes $30 million to fund roughly 2,700 Gardiner scholarships for children with special needs*. And Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, said it would advance goals she’d campaigned on, like cutting back standardized testing.

Other measures that got less attention, like expanding virtual education eligibility and freeing the highest-performing traditional public schools from state regulations, had won support in both chambers from members of both parties.

Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, mounted some of the most forceful opposition to the package, which he called a “piece of junk” and a “monstrosity” that was “utterly offensive and repugnant.”

The more-aggressive timetable for school districts to either turn low-performing schools around, close them or convert them to charters would “hasten the privatization of public education,” he argued, and the Legislature itself was to blame for the academic performance of schools it had “under-funded.” He tried unsuccessfully to get 278 pages of revisions to the bill ruled out of order.

The bill faced smoother sailing earlier in the day in the House, where leaders had championed the proposal and Speaker Richard Corcoran spent months calling on colleagues to “end failure factories.” It passed 73-36, roughly along party lines, with little debate and a Democrat (Roy Hardemon of Miami) in support.

In the Senate, as Simmons raised concerns about the specifics of the proposal, he noted the importance of wraparound services for children who might otherwise come to school hungry or without medical care. And he pointed to the success of KIPP charter schools and the SEED School of Miami, which extend their school days to help disadvantaged children succeed academically.

“The concept here of helping these children and doing this, I applaud and continue to applaud,” he said.

*Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer Gardiner scholarships.


  1. Calvino Chodio

    Great, a bill that decimates poor public schools leaving the door open for profiteers to come in and clean up financially, and then become the defacto option once the public schools inevitably fail to meet the deadlines. Then we can finance them with property taxes once the public schools close.

    I always love when legislatures pass things that are so obviously flawed because they just want to get it done, which means that they have to come back in and attempt to fix the broken thing they created in the first place, which leaves everyone confused about what will happen next and conflicted with how to deal with the current legislation.

    If I was a public school teacher in a poor under performing area, I would be looking to get out of the profession ASAP, because obviously the state and those who govern it want me to be out of a job and don’t care about my work.

    Abhorrent. Disgraceful, Pathetic.

    The only “Failure Factory” is the Republican lead legislature that continuously disappoint, only to be elected in greater numbers by the people they disrespect.

  2. I applaud and am very grateful to all the teachers out there who do they job and have a real heart for wanting and needing to make a difference for our children in the world and I would hate to see them lose their jobs. I believe the intent of the scholarship should be soley based on assisting those whom are really in need, the low income individuals whose children need special assistance, one on one teaching. Slow developmental children, autistic, cerebral palsy, and many others that have disabilities like my own son and aren’t able to cope or be accommodated in regular public schools.
    Nothing harms a mother, father or saddens them more than seeing their child being mistreated, refused, held back due to funding or lack of accommodation in public schools. Every child deserves the right to gain assistance to get an education, whether privately, chartered or not, let parents choose what they know first hand that no one who isn’t living their lives or in their situation can understand, what school, facility, programme or otherwise necessary to place, send their child to.
    Everyone isn’t the same. No two people are alike and shouldn’t be treated as such.
    Every situation is different, only the parent living with the hassles, bustles, lack of support, funding knows what is beneficial to their children. Allow them that chance to help their children, do not hold them back.

    No child should be discriminated, forced into a harmful, unhelpful, discouraging situations. We are all God’s children.

    Do not speak ill of the scholarship as it has helped so many whom had no choices, no assistance, help before and had to sit and watch their children in frustration,anger suffer with the poorly created system given,provided to them. I am personally very grateful for the scholarship being created. My son is now in a great place, with great advantage as appose to a disadvantage as before it was implemented.

    Thanks to Step Up, Gardiner and McKay, many are able to helped, they have created success instead of failure for many.

    • I could not have said it better myself!! I feel so blessed that my child with Autism has this scholarship because public school at the age of seven caused a lot of self injury!!!

  3. Great!

    • Nancy Martinez

      I am thankful for the Principal and Staff at The Conrad Academy. They are understanding and extremely helpful. My daughter is very happy at this school. She stated “I want to be in this school forever”. That is a clear statement that she is happy and receiving the help that she needs. Staff deserve to be compensated and supported. They do not have a easy task. They teach with all of their hearts. They need tools and resources to be able to teach our Children. Too much red tape when in reality the focus needs to be about the children’s EDUCATION. My daughter is being taught by a great team and she is doing the best that she can to the best of her ability. My daughter has ADHD and I am pleased to say that I have a good support team on my side. I am well informed.

  4. I am so thankful

  5. Nancy Martinez

    I am happy that the bill passed…

  6. Thank you very much for the scholarships. I can now send all my children to a Christian school where they will have freedom to pray to God, talk about God and learn about God at school without being discriminated against.

  7. Thank you very much for the scholarships, to send my sons to a Chistar school. And Learn more, thank you

  8. ♡☆♡☆♡☆ that’s you,

  9. Gracias por la oportunidad brindada y de tener el priblejio de poder llevar a mis hijos a una escuela capacitada para educar y respeto mutuo y valores como es la escuela Christina, y tratan a todos por igual no importa el inpedimento que tenga el menor y nivel de aprendizaje, somo bendecidos por tener este programa y a todos los que hayudan, gracias por todo

  10. awesome

  11. awesome

  12. Pingback: School Choice bill that passed in 2017