Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Florida HB 7055 comes under attack in ads and adds

With floor debate just two days off, Florida's teachers union on Monday launched an online campaign blistering House Republicans' nearly 200-page education omnibus bill that's been tied to their education funding plan.

The measure (HB 7055) aims to establish and fund a tax credit scholarship for students who say they are bullied in public schools to use at a private school. It also would create a separate similar scholarship for third-grade students who do not pass their state language arts test, and contains provisions that many state educators see as "union busting."

Fast-tracked to move in the House, the bill — and Speaker Richard Corcoran — received a broadside attack from the FEA, which is trying to win support against the measure in the broader public. Union leaders don't want a repeat of last year's HB 7069, another massive bill filled with a myriad of education proposals that are still being challenged in court.

"This monstrosity is a clear attempt to destroy our public schools while telling professional educators they simply are not welcome in Florida," FEA president Joanne McCall said in a released statement. "Today we are asking lawmakers to stand up to Speaker Corcoran and for our children, for our teachers and for our public schools.  We are asking them to say 'enough is enough'."

See the FEA ad at the bottom of this post.

While the union turned to the court of public opinion, Democratic lawmakers aimed more directly at the bill. They began filing amendments that, although they're unlikely to pass, highlight some of the key concerns that have emerged about the proposals within HB 7055.

Perhaps most notably, Rep. Jared Moskowitz of Coral Springs put forth an amendment to the scholarship for bullied students that addresses the repeated refrain that children who have been victimized should not have to abandon their schools while the bullies remain.

Under Moskowitz's proposal, families eligible to receive a "Hope Scholarship" could instead request that the offender be transferred to a different school within the district.

Rep. Joe Geller of Aventura took aim at another area that critics have often spoken about, the differences between charter and district schools in accountability measures.

In one of Geller's three amendments, he calls for requiring charter schools that earn two consecutive state grades below a C, rather than three, to face turnaround requirements, similar to district schools. In another, he would require charter schools to follow state laws regarding school advisory councils.

In all, nearly two dozen amendments had been filed by 4 p.m. Monday.

The Senate does not have a companion bill that does what HB 7055 would do. Senators have generally stayed away from commenting on the House debate to this point.

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