Tallahassee rolls into full session tomorrow, and education remains near the top of the agenda. So we turned to a couple of different sources - a lawmaker, the teachers union and a school district - to see what they think the priorities will, or should, be.
First, the lawmaker. Rep. Joe Pickens, R-Palatka, heads the House Schools and Learning Council. He says many of the ideas floating around are pipe dreams because the financial picture doesn't look too promising. Per-student funding for K-12 schools should rise modestly, Pickens said, but to keep universities on par, lawmakers "certainly will be considering a modest tuition increase" despite the governor's recommendation to keep the rate as-is. Money will, in fact, drive the key issues, Pickens said. The top priority is to deal with property tax reform, he suggested, which will impact the way schools get paid for. Issue No. 2, he said, will be setting a workable budget. He expected little more than a "continuation budget" with few new initiatives gaining support if they cost much. "Some very good ideas are going to be constrained by our budgetary constraints," Pickens said. On the policy front, Pickens said crafting a workable plan for teacher and site-based administrator performance pay will get attention first. Next will be tackling the state's woeful dropout rate, focusing on ideas like career and technical education.
The Florida Education Association has many of the same issues on its plate. Asked for its legislative priorities, spokesman Mark Pudlow listed performance-based compensation first and tax policy second. Perhaps not surprisingly, the union doesn't see eye to eye with the GOP leadership pushing for performance pay. "Florida must resist the temptation of quick fix 'bonus' schemes and instead make a firm long-term commitment to increase base salary," Pudlow said in an e-mail to the Gradebook. If performance pay moves ahead, he added, it must be developed mutually and not imposed, and it must rely on more measures than test results. On tax policy, the union calls for the state to fund schools so that local taxpayers are not footing the majority share of the bill. The union's other priorities center on more efforts to recruit and retain teachers, to use reduce the high-stakes nature of the FCAT, and to reform Florida's teacher retirement system.
The Pasco County School Board set forth 10 priorities in its legislative agenda. They include changing the permitting process for schools, especially with water districts, so school construction can occur more rapidly; making it easier for teachers from out-of-state to gain certification in Florida; and reconsidering the FCAT requirement for high school graduation.
That's what some of the players are talking about as lawmakers convene. What do you think the Legislature should spend its time doing for (or to) education this session?