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  1. Gradebook

House Education Committee ends its deliberations for 2019 session

One of the final bills it approves would create alternate charter school authorizers.

Chairwoman Rep. Jennifer Sullivan opened Tuesday’s Florida House Education Committee meeting with the announcement that the panel would not meet again during the 2019 session.

That left the committee to dispatch with its final four bills in just over an hour of the three it had set aside for discussion. When it concluded, Sullivan signaled that the legislation assigned to Education but not yet heard was all but dead.

“There is still much to be done on the floor to move the bills to fruition” that already came through the panel during its pre-session deliberations and its seven weeks of session, Sullivan said.

Some of the major bills she referred to include measures relating to school security, vouchers and charter schools.

On Tuesday, the committee added to the list. It approved HB 7055, a career and technical education-focused measure that would, among other things, allow high school students to replace some current graduation course requirements with others that are more career and industry oriented. Gov. Ron DeSantis campaigned on some of the issues in this bill on his way to winning his November election.

It also agreed to a proposal (HB 7115) that would create a public records exemption for university and college president searches, a bill that had not gained traction in past years. Sponsor Rep. Chris Latvala said he would consider adding a provision to leave in-house candidate records public, so interested parties can know who from inside a school applies even as the outside candidates remain unknown until finalists are revealed 30 days before a selection can be made.

The committee accepted a bill (HB 1061) to add funding weight for students who complete the Advanced Placement Capstone program, similar to the amount schools get for students in International Baccalaureate and similar other models.

And it advanced a proposal (HB 1197) to allow public colleges and universities to serve as alternate charter school authorizers, a role currently dedicated to public school districts. Supporters said the idea would pave the way for added competition among schools, and remove the main competitor as the sole agency to decide who gets a charter.

Charter school backers have tried for years to create a separate authorizer. One effort was found unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court. A second effort by the Constitution Revision Commission was removed from the 2018 ballot. Rep. Jason Fischer suggested this idea should be more palatable, as well trusted public institutions would be the alternative, as opposed to some unknown entity.

He pledged to work with opponents to address their concerns, which largely centered around whether school districts would be held responsible if college-sponsored charter schools perform poorly. Still, the House effort might prove fruitless, as its Senate companion (SB 1668) has not been heard by any committee.

With its adjournment, the committee left unheard more than half of the bills it had been assigned. Among those were some anticipated ideas, including the creation of a financial literacy graduation requirement (HB 73), and the refinement of the district cost differential funding formula that many smaller districts had fought (HB 1031).

Just over two weeks remain before the Legislature closes, and attention is swinging away from committees to the chamber floors and conference meetings, as lawmakers try to complete their work and send some legislation to DeSantis.