A weekend interview with ...
... state Rep. John Legg, a New Port Richey Republican who serves as vice chairman of the House Education Committee and a deputy whip in the House. Legg spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about the education measures that will be discussed in the legislative session.
The legislative session begins Tuesday. I want to know what you see as being the top 5 priorities in education, what bills we're actually going to see happen and what bills we won't.
Well, I'll start off with my bill, of course, because I'm working on it. One of the big bills you will see is taking a look at gifted - how we track gifted, how we screen for gifted, how we fund gifted and some of the best practices models on gifted education. So I know you're going to see a gifted bill move through the House this year and we're optimistic.
Will the Senate be doing something similar?
I believe so. I believe there is some commitment, bipartisan, both chambers as well, working on this. So I think you're going to see some changes, positive, affecting our gifted community.
Bigger issues that you're going to see that aren't specifically mine. One is dealing with the class size amendment. Rep. Simmons is going to put forward a statutory revision. I think it's a very workable solution. It's not a gimmick to get around class size. It's just a very practical addressing of the problem which is, you have 18 students on day one. What happens when that nineteenth student moves in around Christmas time? Do you separate your classes? How do you work that?
Is this something that will actually make it to the floor and get a vote? Or is this just something that will knock around committees for a while?
I hope it comes to the floor. I see it coming to the floor. I think Simmons has worked hard. Teacher unions, school board associations and superintendent associations all acknowledge that there is a logistical issue here of the nineteenth student. And I think you are going to see something come out that we are able to pass out of the House. I don't have much sense of the Senate or what they'll do. I think they're working and watching to see the validity of Simmons' proposal.
Talk to me a little bit about the end of course exams and where that is headed.
I think you're going to see us take a step forward with end of course exams this year. I don't know if it's going to be a bill or just some appropriations put forth in the budget to have DOE develop the model. One of the big things that Chairman Pickens and myself are fans of is ensuring that we get district buy-in on this thing. This is a big change. What we were hoping was to allocate some funds in the budget for DOE to develop a plan, develop a program, and get comments and feedback from the districts on how to go to an end of course model like New York, Virginia and Texas. It's a multi-year approach. That's for sure. And what we're looking for this year is to develop the outline. ...
Are there other big things coming? I don't know if you want to talk about the world-class standards, just because it was something that was in the speaker's top four priorities.
Sure. What I am hearing from the speaker's office is what you're going to see is not really world-class standards but more of an enhanced Sunshine State Standards. One of the things you see in Florida is the way we do grouping of these standards. They're grouped together by multi-level grades. ... What all the research has shown ... is it needs to be more grade specific standards so we know exactly what is going on, superintendents, principals, the DOE, what's going on in third, fourth, fifth grade and it builds on itself. As a school administrator, we use that exact model. We call it Core Knowledge. It's a program that builds on itself. We know what the whole framework is, K-8, at our school. What every grade level should be teaching, when they should be teaching it, why they should be teaching it. What I anticipate is perhaps that coming forth out of the standards.
I think you're going to see some social studies, issues dealing with the FCAT on social studies. One of the things you might see come forth eventually, and I don't know when or how, is this concept of teaching to the FCAT. Broward County has already suspended that concept. I think that's a very good approach. The Legislature does not want people teaching to the test. They want people teaching the curriculum, and the test measures it. All these months and months and months and months of prep work really, of FCAT prep, shouldn't exist. The only time a student should hear 'FCAT' is on test day. That's it. That's all it's designed for. Weeks ahead of time, it's not intended for that.
I'm sure there are a lot of parents who will praise you for saying that. Do you see any other bills ... that you're trying to steer straight to the floor, that they really need to be heard?
One of those is my bill. I would really like to see single-gender classes. I believe that's a viable option for students, allowing parents more choices where to send their kids. We're not forcing it on districts, but we believe it's a tool in the tool kit that school districts and superintendents can use.
Rep. McBurney has a bill dealing with social studies and civics that kind of deals with the enhanced standards....
What about money? Because obviously money is going to be critical here, and there's not a lot. Sen. Wise has already warned teachers not to look for raises. Where do you see things going?
What our goal is, is to ensure that we put as much resources as we can into education. The key is that we have a very bad economic year coming up. It's our intent to hold education harmless as best as we can. But can we hold it harmless, as Rep. Pickens says, from the economy? That's going to be difficult. What our goal is, is to see that we don't cut education any more than what it was funded last year. It may not be an increase in education this year, but we're going to try and see that it's not a cut to education. ...
Do you see some of these optional programs, things like A-Plus funding and the MAP, maybe taking a back seat because they're things that you don't have to pay for and they're extras?
No. I don't think they're extras. We don't want to say when bad economic times hit, we're going to take money away from our best teachers out there. Those aren't extras. Those are real programs for teachers. How they're funded, how it's divvied up, that's always open for discussion. We could always improve the dissemination of those funds. But to say well that's an extra program - it's not an extra program. It's part of the core education program.
What about some of these hot button issues - evolution, Bright Futures, just to name two. Are those going to continue to be political hot potatoes?
You know, on evolution, from the members I've talked to, most members are comfortable with what the State Board has come up with. Evolution is a theory. And I believe it's a theory. But there's other theories out there. And I think you should teach them all, or teach the appropriate ones out there. I think that issue is probably dying down. But you never know. A member may file a bill on that one. I don't know of a member that is. The State Board has addressed it.
There was some talk of reforming the education commissioner and the Board of Governors. Sen. Carlton filed a bill. Do you see those things moving in the House?
I think you're going to see movement on that this year. I know I would be supportive of the election of a commissioner of education. The more opportunities the voters have to vote on an elected official, I think the better off the state is. The Board of Governors issue may get resolved or may get addressed this year. I think those issues are high priority for the House.