Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

School choice bills find support in Florida House

TALLAHASSEE — House Republicans made good on their promise to expand school choice Thursday, passing two choice-in-education bills out of the lower chamber.

The first would allow home- and virtual-school students to participate in sports and extra-curricular activities at the traditional public school of their choice.

The second would require single-gender public schools to have open enrollment.

House Speaker Will Weatherford called Thursday's votes "the beginning of our school choice agenda."

"There are still more bills to come," the Wesley Chapel Republican said.

The caucus is hoping for larger victories on the school-choice front: namely, expanding the school voucher program, creating savings accounts for special-needs children, and fostering charter school growth.

But even if they succeed, the Senate may stand in the way.

The upper chamber has pursued a far less aggressive school choice agenda this year.

On Monday, the Senate Education Committee gutted the proposal aimed at creating a more favorable environment for new charter schools. Days earlier, Sen. Bill Galvano withdrew his bill to expand the school voucher program.

Senate Education Committee chairman John Legg said the upper chamber is not opposed to school choice. But he and other senators want to take a "rational approach to education policy," he said.

The charter school proposal, for instance, was "an overreach," he said.

"It is not something that all charter schools want," Legg said of a provision requiring school districts and charter schools to use a standardized contract.

Both of the school-choice bills that passed in the House on Thursday were sponsored by Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah.

One (HB 533) drew strong opposition from Democrats.

Under current law, students enrolled in virtual- and home-school programs can play sports at their neighborhood public schools.

The new language would allow those students to play sports at any school in the district. It would also apply to extra-curricular activities like marching band and theater.

What's more, the option would be extended to students at charter schools and district-operated magnets and alternative schools — but only if their school did not offer the activity.

Some Democrats said the measure would lead to free agency and recruiting in high school athletics.

"This will allow for abuse and misuse of the system," said Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, predicting that students would skirt the eligibility rules.

Other Democrats raised concerns about funding.

"The bill is unfair to public schools because it unfairly places the burden of offering extra-curricular activities on the public schools," said Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton.

Slosberg said the bill was also unfair to public school students, who are not permitted to "shop around" for sports programs and extra-curricular activities.

But Republican Rep. Neil Combee had a four-word retort: "Let the kids play."

Republican Reps. Eddy Gonzalez, Cary Pigman, David Santiago and Ross Spano repeated the maxim.

The bill passed by an 82-34 vote.

The single-gender pilot program (HB 313) passed 110-4.

Single-gender schools are already permitted under Florida law. The bill would require those schools to be open to all students within the district. It would also require school administrators and teachers to undergo special training.

Contact Kathleen McGrory at

School choice bills find support in Florida House 03/27/14 [Last modified: Thursday, March 27, 2014 11:40pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Gators rally past Kentucky, streak hits 31


    LEXINGTON, Ky. — For the second week in a row, Florida found itself storming the field in a game that came down to the last second. A 57-yard field-goal attempt by Kentucky kicker Austin MacGinnis came just a few feet short of making history and snapping a 30-year losing streak, as the No. 20 Gators escaped a …

    Florida wide receiver Brandon Powell (4) scores a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Kentucky, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in Lexington, Ky.
  2. Pen makes it way too interesting as Rays hang on for 9-6 win


    A couple of home runs provided the news pegs of the night for the Rays, but it was more topical to talk about what nearly happened as they hung on for a 9-6 win over the Orioles.

    Lucas Duda's three-run homer in the third inning was the Rays' record-breaking 217th of the season, as well as his …

  3. An attempt to project what Rays will look like in 2018

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — We know what the Rays look like this year: a team that had enough talent but too many flaws, in construction and performance, and in the next few days will be officially eliminated from a wild-card race it had a chance to win but let slip away.

    Adeiny Hechavarria, high-fiving Lucas Duda, seems likely to be brought back.
  4. Trump fallout: Bucs' DeSean Jackson to make 'statement' Sunday


    Bucs receiver DeSean Jackson said Saturday that he will make a "statement" before today's game against the Vikings in response to President Donald Trump's comment that owners should "fire" players who kneel in protest during the national anthem.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver DeSean Jackson (11) makes a catch during the first half of an NFL game between the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017.
  5. Kriseman invites Steph Curry to St. Pete on Twitter


    Mayor Rick Kriseman is no stranger to tweaking President Donald Trump on social media.

    Mayor Rick Kriseman took to Twitter Saturday evening to wade into President Donald Trump's latest social media scuffle