A weekend interview with Rep. Bill Proctor, chairman of the Florida House Education Committee
The Florida Legislature convenes for its 2012 session in just over a month. Much of the buzz relating to education issues this year has centered on taking higher education in the same direction that lawmakers took K-12 last year. House Education Committee chairman Bill Proctor, also chancellor of Flagler College, acknowledged there's been much talk about changing the colleges and universities. But he suggested that the talk might not generate action without additional research and conversation. Proctor offered his thoughts on this and other items likely to arise during session in an interview with reporter Jeff Solochek.
As we're approaching the legislative session, I wanted to see what issues you see as being most important for the education world. I know that when I talk to school districts, a lot of concern is still focused on teacher evaluations and maybe tweaking SB 736 a little bit. Have you had any issues with that? Or do you have other issues that are critical this year?
Right now the Education Committee ... we have been listening a lot and questioning a lot just with the DOE to try to monitor the implementation of that bill, particularly the teacher evaluation portion of it. And as far as we can tell, it seems to us the DOE is pretty much on schedule with it. That's been the primary interest at this point.
One of the things I have heard from a couple of teachers unions is their concern that the FCAT results, which are going to be used for a portion of the evaluations this year, won't be available until after the hiring and firing season has begun. So people might not have their full results before they are supposed to find out if they have jobs for the following year. I don't know if that's a technical issue or if it's something that has to be done with law.
I haven't heard that. I can understand why it would be a concern if it's a fact. DOE has not mentioned, as far as I can recall, that possibility to us. I suppose it's possible. But until it emerges, and we have some evidence that that's going to be the case, I don't think we'd be taking any action at this point. If something should surface along that point, we'd like the DOE to give us a recommendation if they believe we should proceed, because we need to meet our commitments on Race to the Top.
Are there other things that are coming up as a result of your conversations with the DOE that will come up related to SB 736? Or are there other things coming up instead?
I haven't heard anything at this point. Of course as you probably already know, they're working with cutoff points, the State Board of Education is. The cutoff points on the school evaluations. And we will be looking at that. We are probably having some appearances on that and some presentations on that to see if there is anything the Legislature needs to do. But right now that seems to be predominantly a State Board of Education issue. ...
The FCAT cutoff scores, there has been dispute over whether they are too high or too low. Have you taken a close look at that yet?
Only to monitor what the SBE is doing. I think it's likely we'll have a report on that to the committee this week.
Are there other things that you would like to have accomplished? School choice issues? I know there are so many other things talked about, and yet, you have done so much over the past couple of years, maybe it's time to take a breath.
The main emphasis right now will be to make sure what we passed last year, to monitor its implementation, to make sure we do it right. Like anything, you are probably going to have to make adjustments as you move along. That's to be expected with any new program. That's where we focus most of our committee meetings through these initial committee weeks. We probably will start looking at some aspects of higher education in the not so distant future, because as you know there are so many plans out there. There's the Texas plan, and the revised Texas plan, and there's the Council of 100 and the Houston System response. So we've been looking at those plans, studying them carefully. I suspect we will start doing some committee work along that line.
The governor has talked a lot about focusing on the STEM programs, and maybe not focusing on liberal arts. All the universities have submitted these huge reports. Is that going to generate anything more than a lot of talk? Do you feel like there is going to be big change?
I think it would be premature to say. We will have some committee meetings on those topics. Obviously we're going to try to do something with STEM. At least make some recommendations, if not some statutory work. But at the same time, if you look at the Council of 100 report, while they put a lot of emphasis on STEM, they also put a lot of emphasis on strong liberal arts programs. That's the business community position. So we'll probably look at both.
Are there other high priority items for the leadership or for you as chairman that you want to see accomplished this year?
I want to see what we passed last year implemented as effectively as possible. That's No. 1. No. 2, I want to screen through all the various higher education plans that have been offered. But also, I don't think any of them necessarily will fit Florida in their entirety. I think we will have to make adjustments. In that case, we'll probably be talking to I imagine most of the university presidents and other educators, probably from the college/state college system. I think the committee will then come out with some recommendations in the area of higher ed. But we are going to move carefully and meticulously through it.
What about some of the lesser issues that seem to come up every year, like this whole thing about invocations at graduations and things of that nature? I know last year the saggy pants bill made its way through, finally. Are there some people's personal priorities that might be able to find their way through this year?
I haven't given a lot of attention to those types of issues right now. I know there are a couple out there brewing, like should we have advertising on school buses and do you need to continue mandatory P.E. at the middle schools. There are some issues. But it's premature to comment on them. Most of them haven't had an initial committee hearing yet. To try and say what is going to gain any traction, it's too early.
Well, do they deserve any traction? Or will the bigger issues take up the most time?
Well, it depends. The big issues are the ones I've just mentioned to you: The implementation of 736, proper implementation of that, and a careful, meticulous study of the higher ed plans. I think those are two of the big issues. Now, will there be a myriad of bills on the smaller issues? Yes. Will any of those gain traction, as I say, and warrant further hearings? I don't know, until you hear them and the committee questions them and we see what kind of importance they have in the overall process. But I think there will be a myriad of smaller issues, as there were last year.
Okay. I didn't know. I saw the one about the prayers. One about grading parents. The one about P.E., and so forth. ... They seem to come up every year, and every once in a while one or two of them makes their way through. I just didn't know if there is something that has already been ...
I don't have any sense at this point of which ones those might be, if any. I don't have any sense of that yet.