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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

What's included in those Florida Senate education train bills?



By now you've heard that the Florida Senate Appropriations Committee this week strung together a variety of education proposals that were struggling to get to the finish line, and put them into two previously tiny and barely related bills that had to be renamed to encompass their new, broader scope.

Some of the issues have received a great deal of attention in the new SB 524 (state university system performance based funding), and the revamped SB 1166 (education funding).

The Best and Brightest teacher bonus, for one, dropped into SB 524 after facing must criticism in other forms when heard in other Senate committees. Even after landing in the new bill, that measure has an uncertain fate, with some key Republican senators still questioning the program's value.

A bill to mandate elementary school recess, already adopted by the House, came and went as an amendment without a vote but also could resurface on the floor.

What else got looped into these two pieces of legislation, which still must win approval in the full Senate and agreement in the House? Here's a rundown.

- A principal autonomy pilot project, giving more direct authority to principals running selected schools. A concept originated in the House, which already passed its version (HB 287), this bill first appeared as SB 434 and had been approved by three committees. 

- A competency based education pilot program for several counties. Its original version (SB 1714) had already sailed through three committees, while the House companion (HB 1365) had already passed the floor and been sent to the Senate.

- A proposal to change the state's online course requirement, which appeared in a larger bill (SB 1360) that would allow students to take alternative tests to the Florida Standards Assessments. The rest of SB 1360 continues to move in the Senate, but has no House companion.

- A formula for charter school capital outlay funding, which the Senate and House have agreed needs fixing but have yet to reach consensus on the details. See also HB 873, which awaits a floor vote. The bills also aim to deal with controlling the costs of traditional school construction. SB 1064, relating to construction funding and heard by just one committee so far, is tied in, too.

- A proposal to allow families to attend schools with available space anywhere in the state using open enrollment. Nearly adopted a year ago, both the Senate (SB 886) and House (HB 669) versions have been sailing smoothly.

- Permission to let high school student athletes transfer schools and participate in sports more easily. An issue that had been gaining steam for years, but has yet to pass, it's done better than usual this session in SB 684 and HB 7039, both on second reading.

- Charter school governance issues, as outlined in SB 830, which had not gone through all its committees. Provisions include automatic closure of charters receiving two consecutive F grades from the state, and rules relating to virtual charter schools.

- Changes in definitions relating to per-student funding.

- Required teacher training on suicide prevention and awareness, as found in SB 884. which had been heard in two committees. An identical House bill (HB 907) had not made it through its third committee of reference.

They're complicated bills with plenty to debate and potentially disagree about. Some lawmakers have said they will support such trains because they include good ideas that make the less palatable ones acceptable. Others have taken the "one bad apple spoils the bunch" approach. Session is set to end March 11. Stay tuned.

[Last modified: Friday, February 26, 2016 2:53pm]


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