Florida lawmakers will have a lot on their plates during this year’s legislative session, but education issues will be some of the hottest topics hitting the chambers’ floor over the next 60 days.
From K-12 schools to state universities, here are the top education issues to watch during the 2017 legislative session.
Vouchers, Vouchers Everywhere
House Speaker Richard Corcoran laid out his plan to promote and expand school choice in the Sunshine State. The Land O’Lakes Republican famously trashed the state teachers’ union for its support of a lawsuit against Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which provides scholarships for nearly 100,000 students to attend private schools in the Sunshine State.
Corcoran’s desire to expand school choice coincides with many Republican lawmakers, including President Donald Trump, who visited St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando last week to promote school choice.
Too Much Testing “Too Much of a Bad Thing”
Three Republican state lawmakers will make the push to cut back on standardized testing in Florida’s public schools during this year’s legislative session.
Reps. Manny Diaz, Jr., R-Hialeah, and Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor filed legislation to swap SAT and ACT tests in place of Florida’s standardized tests, eliminating a layer of testing many have criticized in recent years.
The two bills -- SB 926/HB 773 -- would move English language arts and math testing to the end of the school year and shorten the Florida Standards Assessment testing window from nine weeks to three weeks.
All Work, No Play Makes Florida Kids Very Dull Boys and Girls
A new proposal moving through the Florida Legislature would require elementary schools to get 20 minutes of recess a day, every day.
Groups of parents, dubbed “recess moms” pushed for the bill since they said would give kids a break from academics and allowed them to socialize.
State lawmakers agreed.
"Research suggests that children need recess in their lives," said bill cosponsor Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. "Our public schools need to find the time to allow kids to run around and be kids. Recess improves physical fitness of our children and may help them focus in class."
Rep. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, a cosponsor of the House version of the bill, visited with a group of second graders last week, all of whom said they loved the idea of having recess every day.
“This class is in favor of it unanimously,” said Gruters. “Kids need time to play and burn off excess energy. [Recess] is part of growing up and is as important as other classes these kids take every day. My favorite time every day was playing during recess, and I hope that we can give these kids a chance to have the same experiences we all had growing up.”
Charter Schools Try to Cash in on Local Money
A new set of bills would give charter schools a dedicated source of funding for their capital projects.
The bills, proposed by Sen. David Simmons, R-Longwood, is proposing dual legislation to address school funding for charter schools and provide a dedicated source of funding for charter schools. Under the proposals, SB 604/SB 376, would allow district school boards and charter schools to raise their “millage rate” and would dedicate some of that money to charter schools to meet their capital needs.
SB 376 would dedicate local funding for Florida’s charter school population.
“We are in a crisis situation regarding capital expenditures of our school districts,” Simmons said on the proposal. “We need to come up with a system that is a fair methodology; this seems to be the best.”
Hold the Line -- on College Tuition
Both Gov. Rick Scott and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, are backing proposals to freeze college tuition rates at their current levels.
Under the proposal, SB 2 -- called the “Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act of 2017” -- state universities would be required to block tuition rates for in-state and out-of-state full time students by 2018.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, would require all 12 state universities to offer students a flat tuition rate, regardless of how many credit hours they take.
“President Negron’s priority is to elevate the national reputation of Florida’s university system, the overall goal being flexibility for the students,” Negron spokesperson Katie Betta said.
The Future is Bright -- and So Are the Scholarships
Senate President Joe Negron’s top priority in 2017 will be promoting the state’s higher education system. The Stuart Republican plans to set aside an additional $1 billion for Florida’s 12 public universities and for scholarships for college students, with a key focus on the state’s Bright Futures scholarship program.
The program, which once provided a full ride to high-performing teens heading off to college, suffered massive cuts as a result of the 2008 economic recession. Negron is aiming to restore the top tier of the scholarship program, which at one point offered 100 percent of tuition plus an additional $300 per semester for textbooks.
Negron has found an ally to expand the scholarship program in Gov. Rick Scott, who also supports expanding Bright Futures.
The legislative session begins Tuesday.