Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Florida Senate doubles down on HB 7055 with its own version

As promised, the Florida Senate plans to give the House's omnibus education bill (HB 7055) its own independent review, starting Tuesday in the Education Committee.

This year, the Senate is more openly challenging some of the House education positions, recrafting HB 7055 to fit its own policy vision.

In advance of the panel meeting, Education chairwoman Sen. Dorothy Hukill has submitted a strike-all amendment that's nearly half the length of the House version.

Her bill would keep some of the underlying priorities that the House has advanced — particularly the Hope Scholarship for students who have been bullied, strengthened oversight of private schools receiving tax credit scholarships and, surprisingly, teacher union decertification if membership drops below 50 percent of eligibility. (The union issue has not had traction in the Senate to this point.)

However, the Senate approaches some of the issues differently.

In the Senate proposal, for instance, the car purchase sales tax credit to support the Hope Scholarship would be $20, rather than the House request for $105. The Senate would also grant scholarships to students with "substantiated" claims of being bullied, language that is not in the House version.

The Senate amendment would strip out House measures to create a reading scholarship for students who did not pass their third-grade state language arts test, to require paper testing for all elementary and middle school students, and to recognize Medal of Honor Day, among other provisions.

Instead, the Senate would add some of its own ideas from other pieces of legislation. Among them:

– Added funding for expanded mental health services (SB 1434)

– Changes to the Schools of Hope public school program, to grant more support to a larger number of struggling schools (SB 1684)

– A financial literacy course graduation requirement (SB 88)

– Permission for lawmakers to visit any public school in their district without advance notice (SB 118)

Many senators complained during the spring 2017 session that they were cut out of the negotiations over HB 7069, the contentious bill that passed in the Legislature's waning hours. The bill nearly failed, with several lawmakers dissatisfied with the process.

This year, they have three weeks to more openly negotiate the hot-button issues that have dominated Tallahassee for years. Stay tuned to see what stays and what goes.

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