Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Education

Lawmakers reach compromise on textbooks

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TALLAHASSEE — Florida school districts won't have to select their own textbooks next year.

Lawmakers had proposed shifting the responsibility from the state Department of Education to local school boards — an idea that came into being after Volusia County parents complained about a textbook they considered pro-Islamic.

But school boards opposed the idea.

"It was going to be extremely expensive and extremely time-consuming," said Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association. "And there were no extra dollars in the plan."

Lawmakers sided with the districts on Thursday.

Florida school districts already have the option to choose their own textbooks under a law passed last year. None do.

This year's bill (SB 846/HB 921) would have eliminated the state process for reviewing and recommending textbooks, and required districts to handle the process themselves.

The sponsors, Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, said local governments were best suited to select instructional materials.

But in a letter to lawmakers, Pasco School Board Chairwoman Alison Crumbley raised concerns that the new system would add politics to the textbook-selection process. She also said the measure would "threaten the constitutional requirement for a uniform system of free public schools."

The Senate approved the measure in a 21-19 vote.

The House, however, made significant changes to its version, which largely maintained the status quo. But it included a new requirement that school districts hold public hearings if parents complain.

House Education Appropriations Chairman Erik Fresen, R-Miami, said the revised bill would "maintain the state's highly rigorous textbook-approval process, but ensure that districts choose the textbooks they want in their schools."

He added that the public hearings would hold districts accountable — and provide assurance that decisions about instructional materials were made locally, not in Tallahassee.

The House passed its language in a 84-33 vote, and sent it back to the Senate for consideration.

While describing the revisions to the upper chamber Thursday, Hays noted that the controversial language had been stripped.

"You can relax and now vote for the bill," Hays said.

The Senate passed the House language in a 31-4 vote.

Blanton, of the Florida School Boards Association, said school districts could "live with" the revised bill.

The Council on American Islamic Relations Florida was also pleased to see the changes.

"It appears that the state legislator is bending over backwards to accommodate the baseless complaints of hate groups, which have been discredited and rejected by the majority of Floridians," chief executive director Hassan Shibly said. "It is a relief that common sense prevailed and the worst portions of the bill have been stricken."

Contact Kathleen McGrory at [email protected]

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