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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida lawmakers continue to file education-related bills

20

January

It never fails. With every Florida legislative session, lawmakers can't seem to help filing bills on hot-button education issues. They resonate with parents, generating buzz as the Legislature focuses on other drier concerns.

Here are but a few of the latest that more than likely will lead to much conversation, even if they never get anywhere.

Rep. Elizabeth Porter, R-Lake City and a member of the House Education Committee, has reworked 2016's push to designate computer coding as a foreign language. HB 265, which already has an identical Senate companion, has some key differences from past failed ventures, though.

It says schools "may" offer computer coding courses, but don't have to. If they do, then Florida's colleges and universities would be required to recognize the credits as foreign language requirements. Students and parents would have to sign a waiver acknowledging that out-of-state universities might not accept the credits in the same way.

It would be a much smaller ask than the 2014 and 2015 bills, but a step in the direction that proponents have sought. Opponents have been pretty clear, though, in saying that computer coding is an important science and technology skill, but not to be confused as a spoken foreign language.

Rep. Nicholas X. Duran, a Miami Democrat, has taken on the popular but often challenged Bright Futures Scholarship, which faces annual attempts to amend it. In a potential cost saving move for the expensive program, Duran has proposed in HB 253 to add a volunteer requirement for recipients to renew their Bright Futures awards.

The law already sets forth rules on maintaining a certain grade-point average, and includes a standard for restoring or repaying a scholarship lost to bad grades. Duran would add the mandate that, to renew Bright Futures, a student would have to put in at least 30 hours of volunteer service during the academic or summer term. There's no companion to this bill yet.

Rep. Kimberly Daniels, a Jacksonville Democrat, aims to take on religious expression in public schools with HB 303. Her bill would prohibit schools from discriminating against the voluntary expression of religious views, including in coursework.

"A student's homework and classroom assignments shall be evaluated, regardless of their religious content, based on expected academic standards relating to the course curriculum and requirements," the bill states.

It also would permit school employees to participate in student-led religious activities conducted on school grounds; allow students to pray before, during and after classes to the same extent that secular activities occur; and require school districts to adopt policies establishing a "limited public forum" for student speakers at "any school event at which a student is to speak publicly."

Religion and prayer in public schools is a perennial topic, although many of these free speech mandates are already in place in school districts. There has been some dispute over whether employees may take part in student-led religious activities over time, however. And districts declined to adopt an "inspirational messages" policy since being given the opportunity in 2012.

We'll be keeping tabs on these and the other bills as the Legislature moves through its session. Which ones will you be following? The next set of committee meetings takes place next week. Stay tuned.

[Last modified: Friday, January 20, 2017 10:13am]

    

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