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Education bills continue to mount as Florida legislative session nears

Topics range from ‘controversial’ curriculum to teacher evaluations.
SCOTT KEELER | Times New Florida Governor Ron DeSantis addresses members of the Florida Legislature during a luncheon on the fourth floor rotunda of the Capitol, Tuesday, January 8, 2019 in Tallahassee after DeSantis was sworn in.
Published Jan. 15

Every year, Florida lawmakers create their legislative wish list of things they’d like to see happening in the state’s public schools.

Most never get passed. But it doesn’t stop them from trying. (An effort to require a financial literacy graduation requirement, for instance, is on its sixth go-round.)

And this year appears no exception.

With committee meetings already under way, several senators and representatives have filed their bills seeking to do anything from increase the minimum teacher salary to $50,000 (SB 152), to require public schools to offer elective Bible courses (HB 195).

Among the latest submissions:

SB 330, by Sen. Dennis Baxley, would allow school districts to adopt their own academic standards, as long as they are more “rigorous” than the state minimum standards. Among other things, the bill — a return of Baxley’s SB 996 from 2018 — calls for the teaching of “controversial” science theories and concepts in a “factual, objective and balanced manner.” Such language has raised concerns within the Florida Citizens for Science, which sees this measure as a way to challenge climate science and evolution without ever mentioning them by name. The bill also would require U.S. government and civics lessons to “strictly adhere to the founding values and principles of the United States,” which some critics see as code for conservative ideology.

HB 189, by Rep. Ardian Zika, would require the state to provide textbooks to students taking dual enrollment courses through home education and private schools. It also would expand the scope of early college programs to include eleventh graders.

HB 183, by Rep. Evan Jenne, would mandate schools to create response teams and plans to handle situations when students with disabilities wander away from school.

SB 280, by Sen. Ben Albritton, would end the practice of reassigning teachers solely because of their value-added measure evaluation scores. The law currently requires districts to move teachers with low VAM scores out of “turnaround” schools, regardless of when the scores become available, causing disruption for some schools.

SB 336, by Sen. Jeff Brandes, would force school districts and other government entities to hold any taxing referendum during a general election. Special elections and primaries would no longer be allowed. In 2018, Brandes attempted to require off-cycle referenda to meet a higher passing level than those held during a general election.

These are just a handful of the proposals. There’s also bills to revamp the use of capital projects tax funds, to change the rules for gun possession at schools and universities, to limit school board members' terms and to require filters on school drinking water sources, to name a few. And of course, there are the issues we anticipate but haven’t been filed, most notably the pledge to improve school safety laws.

Our tracking spreadsheet is at 40 proposals and counting. What bills are you watching?

Lawmakers return for another round of committee meetings the week of Jan. 21.

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