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Florida education might get legislative respite in 2019, House chairman says

The state is still working out the details from two major bills over the past two sessions.
Florida House District 67 incumbent Chris Latvala, a Republican, defeated opponent Dawn Douglas, a teacher and Democrat. CHERIE DIEZ | Times
Florida House District 67 incumbent Chris Latvala, a Republican, defeated opponent Dawn Douglas, a teacher and Democrat. CHERIE DIEZ | Times
Published Jan. 2, 2019

Florida education could get a relative breather in 2019, as lawmakers focus their attention on other key issues including health care.

That could mark a change of pace for the Legislature, which has adopted major education changes in both 2017 and 2018. Passage of the two measures — HB 7069 and HB 7055 — tied the sessions in knots as education advocates from all philosophies battled over the highly contentious language relating to charter schools, tax credit scholarship and other items.

The Legislature's conservative philosophy is unlikely to change, as its membership remained politically similar. And there "certainly will be important bills. But I don't think it will be as voluminous," said state Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, who chairs the PreK-12 Appropriations committee and is vice chairman of Education.

"I don't anticipate the type of bills in the next year that will dramatically change the education system, as we've done the past few years."

Latvala said he expected some proposals from the Senate to tweak the previous omnibus bills, and figured those discussions would take place.

With a multi-million dollar surplus projected, Latvala also said he was hopeful to direct some of that money into education. And though he remains a strong advocate of school choice opportunities, "my intention is to not punish any segment of the education population one way or the other. …

"I certainly don't want to take money out of traditional public schools to give it to other places. But I also think competition is best," said Latvala, who sponsored the "Schools of Hope" legislation in 2017.

He said he had not discussed some key education funding issues — such as whether school districts may keep their tax rates stable to benefit from rising property values — with other House members or leaders. For the past three years, House leadership has insisted on decreased rates over the objections of the Senate and Gov. Rick Scott.

Latvala said he would support the House majority office position. Still, he noted, "it's one of those issues where you can make the argument on both sides."

He said he liked the idea of allowing local voters to tax themselves, as many districts including Hillsborough County have done.

The House PreK-12 Appropriations committee meets at 9 a.m. Jan. 10, where some of these issues could begin to come into focus.


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