A weekend interview with House Pre-K-12 policy chairman John Legg
State Rep. John Legg, R-New Port Richey, chairs the House Pre-K-12 Policy Committee and sits on the Education Policy Council as well as the House education appropriations committees. He spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about what he expects to see occur in the coming legislative session regarding class size, Bright Futures, graduation standards and other education matters.
Tell me a little bit about the education priorities you see in the House for this year.
Some of the big issues we're looking at are, one, dealing with the differential grading. Making sure that school grading and AYP are aligned. It's very difficult for parents to know that if their school is an A school and yet fails AYP, what does that mean. So one of the big issues is making sure that we address those issues dealing with differential grading. The second issue that's a priority of mine is dealing with college readiness, ensuring that we increase our standards to keep Florida competitive, making sure that our students that are graduating from our high schools in Florida can be competitive in this global market.
And the third issue is, I think you're going to see us addressing the class size amendment. With the current budget crunch I don't know how it's going to be able to be paid for. We want to be sure the voters understand the cost of the implementation of it, and see if the voters do want us to implement the class size amendment, what kind of revenues do we have to find in order to pay for that.
Talk a little bit about the second one, the standards. You just raised the standards last year. What more needs be be done? And why?
In reviewing that we want to make sure that, for example Algebra II. I want to ensure that when our students graduate from high school they're ready for college, that they can do college work. So much remediation takes place right now in the first year of college. If you look at our students now, even the ones on Bright Futures (scholarships), those that are on the partial Bright Futures, the 970 (SAT score). Most of them are unable to do the work because they are just not prepared for the rigors that are involved. So we want to take a look at what our colleges need those students to be ready for matches up with what our high schools are producing and what we expect at high school.
How does that tie into, if at all, the end of course exams that are being worked on?
End of course exams is a concept that we're in year two of now trying to move forward. What happens now is, after the 10th grade FCAT, I have a son and a daughter both in high school and they will joke that everyone tells you, once you pass that 10th grade FCAT you can just check out mentally because there's no more standards. What we want to do is put those end of course exams. I would like to seem them started with the 12th and 11th grade. One of the things that Rep. Mayfield has already filed is to do away with science FCAT and replace it with an end of course exam. Make that meaningful so they have to pass the end of course exam whether it's 11th grade science or 12th grade Algebra II or some sort of other end of course exams in conjunction with the American Diploma Project that makes it meaningful, so their last two years of school doesn't consist of underwater basket weaving. It's real work for real life.
You mentioned Bright Futures also. How much of Bright Futures needs to be changed because, like you said, we've got students going to college with a Bright Futures who need remediation. Do they not deserve a Bright Futures anymore?
I can only speak for myself. I believe Bright Futures needs to be reviewed seriously, in a serious manner. We have to look at, is 970 a sufficient score on the SAT. It might be that it's not. You can't get into a university unless you have 1,000. So we're giving our best and brightest who can't even get into a school a scholarship. We need to ensure that we have incentives for students who do dedicate themselves and excel, but at the same time make sure we have some career academies and workforce programs for those that may not go to college, and make sure we have an avenue for them to get gainful employment.
I don't have a plan for Bright Futures. But I do believe it's time that the Legislature takes a look at Bright Futures and reviews it. Whether we do differential high school diplomas, that says if you get this high school diploma that has rigorous coursework, we'll pay for your college. If you don't do the rigorous coursework, we're not going to pay for your college. Or some other cutoff score. It's time that we look at that.
It sounds like there's a lot of things to be done that could cost money. But there is no money. Or, there is no more money. How do you deal with the issues that come to your committee like end of course exams - they cost around $1 million each to develop. How do you pay for that stuff? Or do you say, 'We're not doing money things this year?'
One of the words that is out is, if your bill or program costs any more dollars, it's already in serious trouble. It's on life support. However, programs that are out there that have a long-term objective, we'll find the money to fund. End of course exams is not a one-year project. It's a multi-year implementation program. For example, if we do away with the science FCAT, there is cost savings right there that could pay for the end of course exam for that specific program. We are in bad economic times, but it will turn around. We can't just look at this year. One of the big problems that we do in Florida is we always look at the problems of today and we don't look five years down the road. Hopefully this session, because of the economic problem, with the policy committee we can look five years down the road and not just focus on the here and now.
If that's the truth that you can find money for five years down the road, or work on long-term solutions, why is the class size amendment something that money can't be found for?
The class size amendment has to be implemented next year. It's not five years down the road. It has to be done next year. The issue with the class size is, while 90 percent plus are in compliance with the (school) level, when you hit that next level, the class size level, I believe you will see the mask come off and it won't be compliant. You will have a lot more schools that are not compliant. I believe that the voters wanted our principals to have the authority to work in the schools, to ensure that the class size average was an average for the school, whether it's 15 in an English class or 23 in a social studies class that works for and gives the principal flexibility. There should be hard numbers that the principal can't exceed, but I think we should stay at the school-wide average.
Then the question is, could you do this without the voters? Is there something you could do like eliminate the penalties or freeze the penalties until there is more money available? Say 'We'll meet it again when the time comes that we have more money,' rather than doing nothing. Or does it really require voters?
I believe it requires voter approval. The voters have spoken. The voters wanted class size. They weren't given how much it would cost. They weren't given the whole story. So I think we need to approach them and let them know how much it costs and see if they want class size or school-wide averages and how much it costs for those two. I am not in favor of waiving penalties, because waiving penalties says, 'Voters, you didn't understand what you were voting for,' in terms of, we're just going to exempt the districts this year. However, the commissioner and other legislators may have a different view on that. I believe we need to enforce it and go back to the voters and ask them if they don't want it. Then we need to figure out how to implement it.
It sounds like you have a lot of substantial things to do. And you still have bills coming forward that are really controversial and highly charged. For instance, intelligent design. Do those have a place in your committee this year?
All bills have a place in our committee. Because if a member files a bill, it has a place to be heard. However, I won't use valuable time in committee to debate bills that really have no chance of moving forward, or for debate for the sake of debating. If there is a movement that it looks as though the body wants to bring it forward, then we'll bring it forward. But just to debate and talk about a bill that is going to die in the House or the Senate, and it won't even get to the floor, well, we have more things that are valuable to spend our time on.
Is anything just completely DOA?
Nothing is DOA until session starts.