Florida lawmakers set to convene 124th regular legislative session

The Florida Legislature’s annual session begins today and runs through March 11.

Unlike last year, when state lawmakers passed the nation’s largest expansion of education choice, this year is expected to be marked by more modest changes aimed mainly at improving efficiency for schools and families.

Here is an overview of education choice-related bills that have been filed so far.

BILL NO: SB 1348

TITLE: Educational Choice Scholarships

SPONSOR: Sen. Manny Diaz – Hialeah Gardens

WHAT IT WOULD DO:

  • Eliminate program caps, and because the increase in income threshold is tied to the program cap, automatically increase the income threshold by 25 percentage points every year.
  • Remove the requirement that the Florida Dept. of Education (“DOE”) cross-check the list of participating students with public school enrollment prior to distributing funds, which will help to eliminate the delay in payments to families that we saw this year. The DOE will distribute funds once scholarship funding organizations submit verified documentation that students are participating in a scholarship program.
  • Align the attendance verification process between FES-EO and FES-UA. Student attendance will be verified by parents approving payments to the school their student(s) attend.

For more information, click here.

BILL NO: SB 1294

TITLE: Individual Education Plan Meetings

SPONSOR: Sen. Joe Gruters, R – Sarasota

WHAT IT WOULD DO:

  • Add to ss. 1002.20 and 1014.04, F.S. the right for parents of public school students who receive individual education plans (“IEPs”) to audio or video record any meeting with their child’s IEP team, provided they give the school district written notice of their intent to do so at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting.
  • These rights would still be subject to the protections provided in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (20 U.S.C. a. 1232g) and ss. 1002.22 and 1002.225, F.S.

For more information, click here.

BILL NO: HB 911

TITLE: Early Learning Scholarship Program

SPONSOR: Rep. Rick Roth, R — Palm Beach Gardens

WHAT IT WOULD DO:

  • Allow children who are or were in foster or out-of-home care who have not yet begun kindergarten or turned 6 years old to receive scholarships to attend early learning programs through eligible providers.
  • The scholarship covers the total cost of the private providers’ pay rate or the difference between a child’s school readiness voucher and the providers pay rate subject to appropriation.

For more information, click here.

BILL NO: SB 980

TITLE: Virtual Instruction Programs

SPONSOR: Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., R — Hialeah Gardens

WHAT IT WOULD DO:

  • Make it easier for out-of-state virtual schools to offer services in Florida by removing requirements that providers must have an administrative office in Florida, that their administrators are Florida residents and that their instructors are Florida-certified teachers.
  • If passed, the bill would take effect in July 2022.

For more information, click here.

BILL NO: SB 956

TITLE: Public Schools

SPONSOR: Sen. Dennis Baxley, R — Lady Lake

WHAT IT WOULD DO:

  • Allow public schools to enroll students part time and would allow the Family Empowerment Scholarship program to pay for contracted services, including classes, with scholarship recipients not being classified as enrolled in a public school for scholarship eligibility purposes.
  • If passed, the bill would take effect in July 2022.

For more information, click here.

BILL NO: HB 225

TITLE: Charter School Charters

SPONSOR: State Rep. Fred Hawkins, R — St. Cloud

WHAT IT WOULD DO:

  • Require charter school sponsors to make decisions on requests for charter school consolidation within 60 days of submission. Sponsors that deny consolidation requests must notify the charter school’s governing board and provide specific reasons for the denial.
  • Require sponsors to notify charter school leaders in writing at least 90 days before the end of the school year of proposed actions to renew, terminate or not renew the charter.
  • A companion bill, SB 892, has been filed and is sponsored by state Sen. Danny Burgess, R — Zephyrhills.

For more information about both bills, click here and here.

BILL NO: HB 487

TITLE: State Scholarship Programs — 2022

SPONSOR: State Rep. James Bush III, D — Opa Locka

WHAT IT WOULD DO: 

  • Rename Florida’s five state K-12 scholarship programs — Opportunity Scholarship, Family Empowerment Scholarship, Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, Reading Scholarship Account and Hope Scholarship — in honor of Mary McLeod Bethune, an educator and civil rights activist who founded what is now called Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida.
  • Keep the original scholarship names but add Bethune’s last name to the beginning of each.

For more information, click here.

BILL NO: SB 622

TITLE: Florida Institute for Charter School Innovation

SPONSOR: Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah

WHAT IT WOULD DO:

  • Establish the Florida Institute for Charter School Innovation to improve charter school authorizations in the state.
  • The institute, based at Miami Dade College, would receive a $1 million appropriation and would be able to apply for federal, state and local grants to conduct research and training and determine best practices for sponsoring charter schools.

For more information, click here.

BILL NO: SB 506

TITLE: Hope Scholarship Program

SPONSOR: Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah

WHAT IT WOULD DO:

  • Expand the state’s Hope Scholarship program, currently for students who experience bullying, to students who attend public school in districts that are subject to ongoing action initiated by the Florida Department of Education.
  • Students who meet the criteria would be allowed to transfer to another public school outside the district or accept a scholarship in the form of an education savings account.
  • Funds could be used for tuition, fees, curriculum, devices and instructional material, or transportation for those students who transfer to other public schools.

For more information click, here.

BILL NO: SB 488

TITLE: Education Recovery Scholarship Accounts

SPONSOR: Sen. Jason Brodeur, R-Lake Mary

WHAT IT WOULD DO:

  • Establish education recovery scholarship accounts to mitigate learning loss by providing options for students who attend a public school that has been closed to in-person instruction because of an emergency.
  • Accounts would be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis to students in grades 3-5 and score below a 3 on the Grade 3 or Grade 5 standardized English Language Arts or math assessment in the current or prior school year or who have been identified as needing extra help by school leadership.

For more information click here.

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