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  1. Gradebook

Should Florida private schools that take state vouchers have degreed teachers?

The issue continues to vex lawmakers as they debate strengthening accountability rules for the schools.
Sen. David Simmons explains his bill on school accountability to the PreK-12 Appropriations Committee on Feb. 8, 2018. [The Florida Channel]

After reading an Orlando Sentinel series on the issue, Florida lawmakers came to the conclusion that they needed to stiffen oversight laws affecting private schools that accept state tax-credit scholarships.

They looked at a variety of areas, ranging from school inspections to owner financial status. In drafting his legislation on the subject, Sen. David Simmons also looked at teacher credentials.

He proposed that private school teachers be degreed, differing from the House version. Since then, Simmons said, he has run into pushback.

"There are those who believe there should be certification" for all teachers, Simmons told the PreK-12 Education Committee on Thursday. "There are those on the other end who believe there should be only disclosure [of teacher qualifications] to the parents."

In his effort to get something passed, Simmons has worked to find a compromise. On Thursday, he presented an amendment that he deemed a significant step, but added remains a work in progress.

As currently written, SB 1756 would require a school to report its teachers' qualifications and also to employ teachers who hold a bachelor's degree or higher from a "regionally or nationally accredited college or university in the United States or from a recognized college or university in another country."

That's not certification, he noted, and it takes into account people who have gotten training in many types of environments. He added that the language would apply to teachers hired after July 1, 2018, and who are assigned to grades two or higher.

That way, he said, current teachers at the schools would be "grandfathered, or grandmothered" into the past rules and not lose their positions.

His idea continued to face concerns.

Robyn Rennick of the Dyslexia Research Institute urged lawmakers to allow teachers with different types of backgrounds to work in the schools, because not all kids "fit the mold" and they need different services.

Shirley Brown, a Sarasota County School Board member, cautioned against the idea of allowing teachers without degrees in kindergarten and first grade.

Those levels are "the foundation of everything else [children] know," Brown said. "I would like to see it go even further, to kindergarten."

Bridget Dickinson of the Florida Council of Independent Schools, meanwhile, said her group had some concerns about the bill, but praised Simmons for his willingness to keep working with everyone.

"We just want to achieve enough accountability … and not get too much accountability so as to damage the schools or the programs," she said.

The bill still has two more committee stops to work out the details, and then would have to be aligned with the House version if it were to head to the governor's desk.