It can be tricky for lawmakers to come home and defend the legislation they helped pass during the session.
Times staff writer Colleen Wright was there Thursday night when Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, attended an event sponsored by the Pinellas County Council of Parent Teacher Associations when the subject of HB 7069 came up.
Latvala told the crowd that he found out “after the fact” that Pinellas would be disproportionately affected by the legislation, which Latvala supported. Although he said he still supports the bill, Latvala said that if there was one thing he could fix, it would be the funding formula that ends up now hurting the schools that are in the district Latvala represents.
Here’s Colleen Wright’s story:
At a public event held Thursday night at Largo High, Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, found himself defending a controversial education bill he helped champion that is now being sued by at least 14 school districts across the state, including Pinellas County.
Of all the questions asked at the “Meet Your Legislator” event, sponsored by the Pinellas County Council of Parent Teacher Associations and featuring Latvala and Sen. Jeff Brandes (R - St. Petersburg), the one about House Bill 7069 was among the first and most discussed topic.
“When I’m faced with one of those kinds of bills, I ask myself, ‘Does the good outweigh the bad?’ And I think with 7069 that was the case,” he said. “I’m proud that I voted for it. It’s one of those I’m proud of explaining my rationale.”
A mandate of 20 minutes of daily recess for elementary school students, increased funding for students with severe disabilities and the “Schools of Hope” provision, which allows charter schools to set up shop in areas with failing schools were all positives, he said. But if there was one thing he could fix, he said it’s a funding formula that hurts his school district.
The Pinellas County School Board voted unanimously last month to contribute $25,000 of non-taxpayer money to the legal fight against HB 7069, arguing that it unfairly favors charter schools. District officials say a new funding formula that allocates dollars to charter schools for construction and maintenance projects is based in part on how much debt a school district has and unfairly punishes districts with little debt, like Pinellas.
Latvala said that like a higher education bill that would’ve hurt the University of South Florida, he said he found out “after the fact” that Pinellas would be disproportionately affected.
After the meeting, Latvala said Pinellas was wasting money on the lawsuit, which he believed would fail. Several districts including Hillsborough, Manatee and Indian River have passed on joining the lawsuit.
“It’s certainly their prerogative,” Latvala said after the meeting. “It’s money in the school system they could be using for other means.”
Latvala, however, said he would try to help Pinellas, though he said no one from the school district has reached out to him.
“There were a lot of parts to 7069 that I believe will do a lot of good,” he said. “We are looking to work on their funding issue.”