Florida legislature: Week 3 wrap-up

There was a flurry of education related activity in both chambers of the Florida legislature this week

Both chambers of the Legislature considered several bills related to education choice during the third week of the session. Here’s a brief recap of the week’s news from Tallahassee.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education voted to advance a bill that would eliminate the waiting list for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship for lower-income families. The bill, SB7070, creates the Family Empowerment Scholarship program, which would allow about 15,000 low-income students to attend the private school of their choice in 2019-20. Nearly 13,000 students are on the waiting list for Florida Tax Credit scholarships.

Senate education leaders released a plan to increase education spending by $1.1 billion in 2019-20, boosting the total to $22.2 billion. The additional funding would raise per-pupil spending to $7,779, a $350 increase per student. The House released a spending plan that would provide more than $500 million less than the Senate with a $167.79 increase in per-pupil funding.

The House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee passed two substantial bills impacting Florida charter schools. HB 1197 would allow state universities and Florida College System institutions to fully sponsor charter schools serving all grade levels, repealing current limitations capping such schools at Grade 8. The bill would require the Department of Education to collaborate with charter school sponsors and operators to develop an evaluation framework and report results annually in their application report.

Another bill, PCB PKI 19-02 ,expands the Schools of Hope program to allow charters to open in “Florida Opportunity Zones”, which were created in 2017 by the federal tax bill revision. The bill would increase the traditional public schools’ Schools of Hope grant program and would allow Schools of Hope funds to be used for capital outlay costs and cover executive and regional director salaries until a school is at full enrollment. The bill also revises the definition of “persistently low-performing schools” to include schools that have a grade below a C for three of five years.

The Senate Education Committee cleared SB 1444, which creates a state “disqualification list.” The list, which would be maintained by the Department of Education, would include individuals whose educator certificates have been permanently revoked by the Education Practices Commission as well as private school owners or operators who have been permanently disqualified from participation in a state scholarship program by the Department.

The House moved forward on HB 1127, a similar but separate bill that would require the Department of Education to create and maintain an electronic employment disqualification list. The list, which would be required of all public schools including charters and those that accept students who participate in a state scholarship program, would expose individuals who may not be subject to extensive criminal background checks. Among those screened for previous misconduct would be potential employees, contract employees, school board members or school owners.

The House Education Committee passed PCB EDC 19-02, a bill that would expand access to school guardians by allowing private schools and charter schools to employ school guardians – directly or by contract – and would allow law enforcement academies and school districts that employ school resource officers, in addition to sheriffs, to offer guardian training adopted by the Criminal Justice Standards Training Commission.