Seeking to put added controls on school board spending, the Florida Legislature overwhelmingly approved a measure placing stricter limits on board member travel.
The same bill, which Gov. Rick Scott signed into law Sunday, also created a new lobbying ban for appointed superintendents who resign their posts.
Some school board members lobbied against the proposals, contending they simply tie the hands of local officials. But lawmakers suggested that the moves were needed after seeing examples of unacceptable behavior in at least one district.
The new law provides that school board members traveling outside their districts must receive prior approval from the entire board if the cost is to exceed $500. For out-of-state travel, they would have to provide in advance an itemized list detailing all anticipated expenses. The public also must be given time to speak about the travel before it occurs.
Additionally, for districts where the general fund reserves have fallen below 3 percent, the law bars a school board from spending any money on out-of-district travel, as well as on any type of smart phone or similar device.
Some critics have questioned the restriction on struggling districts, suggesting that such prohibitions could hinder a turnaround by limiting officials' ability to communicate with others and get new ideas from outside. The phone ban also raised concerns about school safety, because many schools use cell phones to communicate.
For superintendents, the bill — listed as an "accountability" measure — made it so appointed superintendents who resign their position may not lobby the school districts they left for two years. The change adds superintendents to a long list of local officials facing a similar restriction.
The law, which also adds more rules for financial oversight of school districts, has an effective date of July 1, 2019.