Financial literacy, Bible class bills in limbo as House education budget committee holds likely final session

The measures are assigned to the panel for their next action.
House PreK-12 Appropriations chairman Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, tells his committee its April 1, 2019, meeting is likely its last of the legislative session. [The Florida Channel]
House PreK-12 Appropriations chairman Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, tells his committee its April 1, 2019, meeting is likely its last of the legislative session. [The Florida Channel]
Published April 1

At the end of a 70-minute meeting Monday, Florida House PreK-12 Appropriations chairman Chris Latvala had a scheduling message for his members.

“We are currently not scheduled to meet in week six,” the Clearwater Republican announced. “This will probably be our last committee meeting.”

If so, that decision places some high profile bills and ideas currently assigned to the panel on life support. Among them:

• HB 73, establishing a financial literacy high school graduation requirement. The bill — a Senate favorite over several years — won a favorable recommendation a week ago from the PreK-12 Quality committee at its final meeting of the 2019 session.

• HB 195, requiring public high schools to offer elective courses studying the Bible. That measure received approval from the PreK-12 Quality committee early in the session, but hasn’t budged since. There isn’t a Senate companion, making the lift on this legislation even more difficult.

HB 123, creating a trust fund for victims and survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High shooting in 2018. PreK-12 Appropriations was the bill’s first point of reference, and it never received a hearing, nor has its identical Senate companion.

• HB 1037, designing a high school civics course that encourages student community projects. Sponsored by Democrat Rep. Ben Diamond, the bill’s Senate counterpart backed by Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes received unanimous support in its first committee two weeks ago.

Others also still in line for the committee’s blessing include HB 1193, relating to voluntary prekindergarten assessments and accountability, and HB 9197, seeking state funding for security at accredited non-public schools.

Recent sessions have demonstrated that lawmakers can revive ailing bills by amending them into other legislation, reassigning them to committees still scheduled to meet, or sending them directly to the floor, among other moves. So nothing is certain on the fate of any of the measures.

Still, the air was knocked out of any bills needing a vote from the House PreK-12 Appropriations committee.

Before ending, the panel did take up and pass five bills on Monday. Most notable among them was HB 7095, which would expand the state’s Schools of Hope charter school program, among other actions.

Bill sponsor Rep. Vance Aloupis, R-Miami, touted the proposal’s effort to expand the number of neighborhoods where a state-approved charter school operator could enter, by including “opportunity zones” established in the recent federal tax bill.

“There is poverty in every corner of Florida,” Aloupis said, “and there is need for economic opportunity in every corner of Florida.”

Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, meanwhile cheered the proposed change to the definition of low-performing school to one that has a D or F grade in three of five most recent years. The current rule states a school would have to earn those grades in three consecutive years to be considered for state accountability and turnaround interventions.

The change, Donalds said, would ensure the schools that have just one positive year amid many poorer ones would get the attention they deserve.

“It’s critically important to the students,” he said.

HB 7095 next goes to the full Education Committee.