Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Florida Democrats protest all they want, but Republicans are pushing through huge education bill anyway.

The House's new omnibus education package, HB 7055, passed the House Appropriations committee Wednesday along party lines, over bitter protests by Democrats who said the measure unfairly forced a take-it-or-leave-it strategy by the majority party.

The bill had grown by 89 pages since it was last heard in a House committee just last week. Among the items added:

  • new membership requirements for teachers’ unions to stay certified, prompting unions to call this a “union-busting” effort
  • a “Medal of Honor Day”
  • funding for tax credit scholarships for bullied students — a top priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s.

In its original 109 pages, the bill also:

  • scales back computerized testing
  • directs more than $9 million to a scholarship program for third-graders who struggle in reading
  • allows schools to create independent governing boards under the supervision of district school boards
  • expands a program to have excelling principals oversee multiple schools at once.

As an enticement for Democrats, it also adds accountability measures for private schools receiving state voucher funding.

"Once again we have this train," said Rep. Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale, using legislative jargon to describe a bill with a bundle of unrelated items. "The problem is you have one side of the aisle that's crafting all the policy and shoving it one way."

DuBose said the divisiveness of the bill "almost breaks my heart" and "shines a very dark light on who we are and what we're capable of doing."

The bill has been fast-tracked since it was introduced Thursday and is already ready to go to the House floor.

House Republicans have contested the idea that it is "7069 on steroids," as Democrats have said, referring to last year's massive school choice bill that was rammed through in the final days of a special session. School districts have sued the Legislature over that bill, saying it violated the Florida Constitution's requirement that every bill stick to a single subject.

"There's a lot of great policy in there, there's one or two things that those who opposed the bill focused on," said chair of the House Education Committee Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, referencing the bullying vouchers that many of the Democrats opposed.

"But I think what we just did was basically take all the major concepts that are in the conforming bill and put them out for public debate, public discussion and we'll have lots of time left in session for the debate to go on."

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