Education train bill passes Florida Legislature in the final hours

The Florida House approved HB 7069, which was filled with its priorities, by a 73-36 vote.
The Florida House approved HB 7069, which was filled with its priorities, by a 73-36 vote.
Published May 8, 2017

As in 2016, the Florida Legislature wound down its final hours of session with a heated debate over education policy.

After lengthy discussion, both chambers approved the 278-page train HB 7069, with its more than 20 separate topics jammed into a bill once focused on the Best and Brightest teacher bonus program (which itself did land in the final version).

Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Broward County, tried to have the measure ruled out of order on the Senate side, suggesting it violated several procedural rules such as the inclusion of subjects already killed in committee. That would be a ban on automatic extensions to teachers' annual contracts.

But Rules chairwoman Sen. Lizbeth Benaquisto found his complaint insufficient and let the vote take place. Its main presenter, PreK-12 Appropriations chairman David Simmons, noted the many shortcomings of the bill, including the problematic implementation and limited funding of the House-proposed "schools of hope" charter school program and related support of low-performing traditional schools.

He urged his colleagues to vote their conscience on the legislation the House already approved 73-36 earlier in the afternoon. Then Simmons opposed the bill, which would have failed the Senate with one more "no" vote. (See the vote tally here.)

Groups that urged lawmakers to kill the legislation despite some of the positive items in it — including a daily recess mandate, the elimination of the Algebra II end-of-course exam and the making optional of value added measures in teacher evaluations — planned to turn their attention to Gov. Rick Scott, who has called for increased PreK-12 funding, in hopes of a veto.

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