Busy afternoon for the preK-12 policy committees in the House and Senate. And with so many teachers, students and others in town for today's rally, the rooms were packed. Rich debate from all sides before some close party-line votes. The highlights:
HB1411, sponsored by Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, raised the ire of many teachers in the room. It calls for extending the number of years before a teacher can earn tenure, expanding performance pay options and other related changes. (Read Stargel's guest post on the bill.) Most notable was the reaction of Rep. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, a history teacher. "This bill spits in the face of the career I chose," said Bullard, saying the issue was very emotional for him. He challenged his fellow committee members to "walk a day in the shoes of a teacher before you vote on any legislation likes this." Marshall Ogletree, lobbying for the Florida Education Association, asked the panel to table the bill and look at it later, after they deal with the current budget crisis. On the other side, Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, said the bill would level the playing field for teachers. "Those that perform, retain their job. Those that don't," don't, he said. The measure passed on a 9-4 party-line vote.
Finally, SB2254 sponsored by Senate preK-12 policy committee chair Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, made it through on a 7-0 vote. This bill would give school districts more flexibility with funding. Specifically, a board could transfer funds allocated to safe schools, supplemental academic instruction, supplemental reading instruction, the Teachers Lead Program, and the Florida School Recognition Program, from the operating budget to an account for expenditures. Schools have long sought more flexibility on these so-called "categoricals" and Detert said this bill is "part of the help that we're offering in lieu of new dollars."
- HB1293, sponsored by Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, which raises the high school graduation standards by requiring certain math and science courses, made its first stop at the House preK-12 policy committee. The public comments fell into students saying it's good, to school board representatives saying it's not. Vincent Evans, a junior at FAMU: "It ensures that people like my little brother and little sister will have a better education. ... It ensures that we raise the standards." And Vicki Drake, school board member in Duval: "This is not a good idea. ... The timing on this is not going to work." Democrats who argued against the bill cited concerns over costs, timing and what the bill does in raising standards for the 10th grade FCAT. The measure advanced on a 7-4 party-line vote.
On tap Thursday? Appropriations committee fun.
Amy Hollyfield, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau