Gov. Ron DeSantis issues bills on his key education ideas

The proposals give more details to the announcements he made over the past month.
Gov. Ron DeSantis explains his executive order implementing recommendations from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission during a Feb. 13, 2019, news conference in Brevard County. [Gov. Ron DeSantis press office]
Gov. Ron DeSantis explains his executive order implementing recommendations from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission during a Feb. 13, 2019, news conference in Brevard County. [Gov. Ron DeSantis press office]
Published Feb. 18, 2019|Updated Feb. 18, 2019

While making yet another “major announcement” Friday to change Florida’s education policies, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued state lawmakers a challenge: “Send me a bill,” he said, this time in reference to the creation of a taxpayer-funded scholarship for more children to attend private schools.

By the end of the day, DeSantis and his team had released their own versions of the bills they hope to see on the scholarships, teacher performance pay, graduation requirements and more, attaching added details not included in his press conference version of events. Such an assertive move, which also included measures on the environmental crimes investigations, sales tax holidays and information technology services, was unprecedented to many who have watched the legislative process over the past several governors.

Those state leaders also had made pledges during campaigns. But they largely worked with lawmakers, who have the power to write law, rather than simply releasing a package of fully formed proposals themselves.

State Rep. Chris Latvala, chairman of House PreK-12 Appropriations and vice chair of House Education, acknowledged the governor’s prerogative to put forward a budget and conforming bills that would establish new ideas like the “equal opportunity scholarship” DeSantis pitched a week ago. He suggested some of the approach might be coming from former House speaker Richard Corcoran, now the state’s education commissioner.

“The governor’s proposals certainly were bold. There are things I certainly agree with and support,” such as eliminating the wait list for private school scholarships, Latvala said. “But just because he put it forth doesn’t mean it’s going to be something we automatically do.”

He said the Legislature might approve, rewrite, or outright kill the ideas, depending on the will of the majority. Some observers said they will be watching to see what portions end up exactly as the governor’s team has proposed, and what if anything gets removed.

Among the details in the package:

- The “equal opportunity scholarships” would be paid for within the state’s education funding program, from tax revenue. It would be capped initially at 1/2 percent of the statewide public school enrollment from the prior year, and then allowed to grow by 1 percent annually. Students whose families earn 265 percent or less of the federal poverty level would be eligible, and they would not need to ever attend a public school to receive a scholarship.

- Revisions to the “Best and Brightest” teacher bonus would eliminate the requirement of a certain SAT or ACT score. Instead, teachers earning a “highly effective” evaluation rating, which remains based partly on student test scores, will be eligible for up to $10,000 if their school sees an increase of 1 percent of total points in the state grading system, also based on student test results.

- The “Best and Brightest Talent Pipeline” would set aside loan forgiveness payments up to $25,000 for teachers who spend five years teaching in a critical shortage area in a Florida school.

- The 2017 “Schools of Hope” program, which makes it easier for approved charter schools to open in communities served by perpetually low performing public schools, would be expanded. It would authorize the charters to open in areas near schools that earned a state grade of D or F in three of the past five years, rather than in three consecutive years. It would further open the possibilities for charters in “opportunity zones,” and would make available state capital outlay funding to these charters in their first year. The existing rules do not allow state money to be used for property or construction.

- High school students would be permitted to use computer science credits as a science graduation requirement, to replace any course except biology.

- The state’s funding compression formula, which some districts complained shortchanged them, would be eliminated.

- A new “Last Mile College Completion” program would create a scholarship to cover the costs of in-state tuition and fees to Florida residents who require 12 or fewer credits to complete their degrees. Students would have to complete their programs within three academic terms. The program also would include a “reverse articulation” agreement, allowing certain university students who have not completed their four-year degrees to receive a college associate’s degree.

- A new “Florida Pathways to Career Opportunities” grant program would support high school students in getting industry certifications, 60 hours of college credit or an associate’s degree in a “high demand career pathway” by the time of graduation. The education commissioner would create an application process for schools to follow to win the competitive grant.

None of the recommended legislation has yet become a filed bill. But after stating clearly what he wanted, DeSantis had little to lose by putting forth his preferred language.

Lawmakers are scheduled to begin reviewing specific budget requests this week during committee meetings.