TALLAHASSEE — From raising high school graduation standards to expanding a school voucher program, the Florida House on Thursday passed more than a dozen bills to change education policy in the state.
Lawmakers also approved a pharmacy doctorate program at the University of South Florida and resurrected a stalled effort to make civics a required class for middle school students. All of the bills await action by the Senate.
The civics requirement is championed by Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville. It would apply to all middle school students beginning with those entering sixth grade in the 2011-12 school year.
Miami Republican Rep. Erik Fresen's bill to raise curriculum standards for high school students passed on a 75-42 vote after a long debate spurred by Democratic opposition.
Rep. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, made an impassioned plea for his colleagues to vote against the measure, which phases in algebra II and geometry as required math classes, and biology I and chemistry as required science classes.
"I commend in essence the effort," Bullard said, "but what we're doing, whether it's phased in or not, is going to result in a serious domino effect that you are not ready to deal with."
The other contentious bill was Wesley Chapel Republican Will Weatherford's measure to expand participation in the corporate income tax credit scholarship program, which gives low-income students money to attend private schools. The bill renames the program, which serves almost 24,000, and expands corporate participation by allowing companies who contribute to also forgo tax payments on insurance premium taxes.
Several Democrats argued the program takes money away from public schools, but it passed with some Democratic support at 95-23.
Other bills of note:
• HB 885, sponsored by Rep. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, requires state university health centers to become in-network providers for top insurance companies and then recover the costs of medical care from those health plans, thereby making it possible for health fees to be reduced or eliminated. It passed 111-7.
• HB 835, sponsored by Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey, creates a Gifted and Academically Talented Task Force to track gifted students and makes other provisions to improve the development of gifted students. At the beginning of the session, Legg said this bill was a top priority for him. It passed 115-0.