Government

School Choice Expansion Clears House Committee

Redefining 'failed schools' also allows parents to avoid them
By: Kevin Derby | Posted: March 23, 2011 3:55 AM

The House K-20 Innovation Subcommittee met Tuesday and forwarded a school choice measure that increases options and flexibility for parents looking to pull their children out of failing schools under the Opportunity Scholarship Program.

The measure, HB 1331, would allow parents to remove their children from failing schools and place them into better public schools anywhere in the state, as opposed to ones within the same district or in neighboring ones.

The bill also changes the definition of a failed school. Currently under the “Florida School Grades” maintained by the state Department of Education, if a school receives two “F” grades in a four-year period, the school is considered to be failing. Under HB 1331, the definition would change, making failing schools those that receive two “D” grades during the four-year window or one “F” grade in a two-year period.

With the chief sponsor of the measure, freshman Rep. Michael Bileca, R-West Miami, unable to attend due to a family emergency, the chairwoman of the subcommittee, Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, allowed Bileca's aide, Alex Garcia, to present the bill.

Democrats on the committee had various questions regarding transportation costs and the impact of the class-size amendment, but offered no resistance to the bill.

With Bileca absent, Patricia Levesque, executive director of the Foundation for Florida’s Future, spoke at length on the measure. The Opportunity Scholarship Program was established during Gov. Jeb Bush’s first term in office back in 1999. Bush now serves as chairman of the foundation.

“It provides more options for students,” Levesque said as she testified in support for the measure. “It expands choice options for parents.”

Levesque said that transportation costs would be a factor, but said that many of the students who use vouchers are high school students who do not rely on buses.

The bill also earned the backing of Gov. Rick Scott, who supported increased school-choice options during his gubernatorial campaign.

Scott Kittel, the governor’s education policy coordinator, offered a quick word of support.

“Governor Scott supports this bill wholeheartedly,” Kittel said. 

The Democrats on the committee said they had questions but they would take those up later in the process.

“I have a number of questions that have arisen,” said Kiar, who told Garcia that he would meet with Bileca at a later date.

Leaders of the various education committees in the House weighed in on the matter later in the day.

“Access to a quality education is a fundamental right of every child in Florida,” said Stargel.  “And I thank Representative Bileca for sponsoring this important legislation that recognizes that right and empowers parents to take their child out of a low-performing school and place that child in a higher-performing public school in Florida.”

“Expanding school choice is paramount to ensuring that our children attend schools that have a proven track record of delivering a quality education, regardless of whether that school falls within a given district,” added Stargel.


“I applaud the members of the House K-20 Innovation Subcommittee today for passing this noteworthy legislation,” said Representative Bill Proctor, R-St. Augustine, the chairman of the full House Education Committee.  “Parents play an integral role in their children’s education and school choice is an important tool for parents to use when making decisions that could dramatically improve their child’s education.”  

“It is encouraging to see this measure pass, and I look forward to seeing this bill continue to move through the committee process,” added Proctor.


The Senate version of the bill, sponsored by freshman Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Wellington, will face a committee hearing on Wednesday.

Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.


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