Grad standards bill ekes ahead in Senate
The push to raise high school graduation standards in Florida, backed by former Gov. Jeb Bush's Foundation for Florida's Future, got its first committee vote in the Senate this afternoon and it was a close one.
SB 2654, sponsored by Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, would phase in algebra II and geometry as required math classes, and biology I and chemistry as required science classes. In addition, the proposal would increase the required graduation score on the 10th grade FCAT from 2 to 3. The House version, sponsored by Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, is ready for the floor.
The FCAT provision garnered the most discussion with Senate PreK-12 committee chair Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, asking, "How does making it harder to pass the FCAT help" with Florida's very low graduation rates?
"I don't think kids are dropping out because our standards are too low," Detert said.
Altman said the bill is about bringing the standards up to where they need to be and acknowledged there could be a fiscal cost in the later years of implementation, something Republican lawmakers have argued with on the House side.
In making his case, Altman said it was important to have higher FCAT standards because tests are so important in qualifying for many professions, like lawyer, doctor, plumber, even contractor like he is.
Students "need to be proficient in testing if they want to get ahead in this world," Altman said, to some stifled laughter by Sen. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami.
Several people spoke on the bill, from FSU and FAMU students arguing for the higher standards, to educators arguing that the timing is bad with such limited funding.
Discussion and debate was rushed as the lengthy Senate session earlier in the day pushed all committee meetings back, leaving little time.
In the end, the vote was 4-2 to advance the measure to the Senate PreK-12 Appropriations Committee. Detert was one of the nays.