Schools bills clear Florida House
One after the other, Florida House members approved a slew of education bills on Monday:
- A plan to expand online education, with a 98-19 vote. Opponents said the plan -- particularly a requirement for incoming high schoolers to take at least one class online -- would disproportionately hurt low-income students. "They will struggle to keep up," said Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami. Proponents said it was a good cost-cutting move for the budget and the wave of the future in education. "This is the 21st century way of learning," said Rep. Stephen Precourt, R-Orlando. A companion is pending in the Senate.
- A proposal to change the definition of a failing school for the purposes of a voucher program, with an 84-30 vote. "These schools, we cannot give up on them," said Rep. Joe Gibbons, D-Hallandale, speaking against the measure. "We need to give more support to schools that are having problems." Countered Rep. Michael Bileca, a Miami Republican and the bill's sponsor: "If it was your child, your child stuck in that chronically failing school, how would you vote?" The Senate still has to take up its version of the bill.
- A measure to remove a limitation on tax credits to companies that fund private-school vouchers, with a 96-18 vote. The original bill was amended to no longer give the only company that would be affected, Tampa-based Step Up For Students, access to confidential tax information to make it easy for the nonprofit to fundraise for Florida's Tax Credit Scholarship program. The Senate did not move its companion proposal out of committee, but could take up the House version.
- A catchall bill that, among other things, would limit gifts to school board members and their relatives to $50, with a vote 112-0. Its counterpart is pending in the Senate.