For nearly a quarter of the Florida legislative session, education took center stage. Angry teachers protested a Republican plan to radically revamp their contracts, evaluations and pay scales so loudly that they persuaded Gov. Charlie Crist to reject the measure. But Senate Bill 6 was far from the sole piece of education legislation:
Class size SB 2, sponsored by Rep. Will Weatherford of Wesley Chapel
Ever since voters adopted class size rules in 2002, a growing number of GOP lawmakers have said implementation would be too costly. Facing another multibillion-dollar shortfall, the usually reluctant Senate joined the House in seeking to reduce the impact and approved putting a new question to voters. This amendment calls for class size averages with a cap rather than classroom counts. WHAT'S NEXT? Voters decide the referendum in November. To pass, 60 percent is required.
Vouchers SB 2126, sponsored by Weatherford
With bipartisan support, lawmakers approved the most aggressive expansion of private school vouchers to date. They expanded eligibility for corporate tax credit scholarships for low-income students, increasing the value of the vouchers and offering more incentives to corporations to fund the program. WHAT'S NEXT? More businesses can claim the tax credits and more low-income students can apply.
High school graduation requirements SB 4, sponsored by Rep. John Legg of Port Richey
With this bill, lawmakers added tougher math and science graduation requirements, while moving away from the high school-level comprehensive tests and toward end-of-course exams. WHAT'S NEXT? The requirements begin taking effect next fall, starting with Algebra I. Full implementation is set for 2015.
Bright Futures scholarships SB 1344
One of Florida's most popular education programs, the Bright Futures scholarships have been criticized as too expensive and too broadly awarded. Lawmakers approved tougher standards, boosting penalties for students who don't maintain academic requirements and reducing the amount of time recipients have to graduate. Students also will receive $1 less per credit hour. On average, recipients receive $2,500 a year. WHAT'S NEXT? The rules are included in the budget, which Gov. Charlie Crist must still sign.
Funding HB 5001
Lawmakers set a pre-K-12 budget of $18.1 billion, essentially the same amount of money as for fiscal 2010. That flat funding rests on some major assumptions, such as local governments collecting a higher percentage of property taxes than in the past. It also does not address rising costs of things such as insurance. WHAT'S NEXT? Most school districts are preparing to make multimillion-dollar spending cuts.
Best of the rest
Locker room supervision (SB 2602): Spurred by allegations of rape in an unsupervised Tampa middle school locker room, Sen. Ronda Storms sought to mandate the rooms be supervised or locked up. The bill never made it through the Senate.
Academic signing day (SB 206): Saying smart kids deserve as much recognition as athletes, Tampa state Rep. Betty Reed called for allowing districts to have academic scholarship signing ceremonies like ones they have when athletes commit to colleges. The bill unanimously passed the House and Senate.
Civics education (HB 105): So, your kids can name more American Idol finalists than U.S. presidents? Florida's middle schools will work to change that with a required civics course and end-of-course exam beginning in 2012. The bill awaits the governor's signature.
Religious freedom (HB 31): A bill allowing "inspirational messages" including prayer at noncompulsory high school events was watered down to simply prevent school districts from entering into agreements that infringe upon employee or student First Amendment rights. It still drew criticism as tying religion and state, but passed both houses.
Blaine Amendment (SJR 2550): Supporters of this resolution say this section of the state constitution condones religious bigotry and they want voters to remove it. Opponents say it's a thinly veiled attempt to legalize state-funded vouchers to religious schools. The opponents successfully kept this referendum from making it to the floor.
Restraint and seclusion (HB 1073): Special education advocates in Florida and elsewhere have tried for several years to ban the restraint and seclusion of students who act violently. Some teachers have argued the ability to control the students is needed. This year, the Legislature voted unanimously to set more stringent standards for the controversial practices, including some prohibitions.