New House education chairman sets forth his legislative goals
He's only had the job of House Education Policy Council chairman for two weeks, but already state Rep. Will Weatherford is meeting with Senate leaders in hopes of flexing his agenda for the coming year.
If Weatherford, a Wesley Chapel Republican, has an overarching theme for the next session, it's choice. He aims to steer through another expansion of Florida's corporate tax credit scholarship program, for instance, adding more financial and achievement accountability measures along the way.
He expects to see more virtual schooling, charter schools and other forms of choice for students and families. "I want to get away from talking about education as a system," Weatherford told the Gradebook. "It's about the education of a student."
On the higher education front, the chairman's biggest goal is to smooth relations with the State University System Board of Governors, which remains in a lawsuit with the Legislature over who controls the money. As a corollary to that, Weatherford also wants to find a way to have a clear governance for structure for the state's fledgling state college system, so there's more continuity of programs among community colleges, state colleges and universities.
Of course, the big item in the room for financial purposes remains the class-size amendment. Weatherford tried to push through some limitations on the 2002 voter mandate this past spring, and he intends to do it again. Don't look for the House to offer more compromise, such as trading for a 1 percent added sales tax, either.
Weatherford contends the House has moved enough in agreeing to hard caps, just slightly higher than in the amendment language, while allowing schools to use an average of the current required levels in order to give them flexibility.
After meeting with Senate leaders, Weatherford said they "want to get it done. But we need to see that translate into action in the Senate. ... If they can't pass class size, I'm not sure how many (other) reforms we're going to be interested in doing."
Bills are already being filed. Committee work starts soon. Stay tuned.