Are you a public school student in Florida? The Legislature might have just changed your life.

While this year’s legislative session often focused on education issues that mostly affect adults, lawmakers also passed bills that will directly impact students.
Teens fill the walkways between classes at Alonso High School in Tampa. While teacher pay, budgets and other adult-centered issues dominated the legislative session in Tallahassee, lawmakers passed a number of bills that will directly affect students. [Times (2016)]
Teens fill the walkways between classes at Alonso High School in Tampa. While teacher pay, budgets and other adult-centered issues dominated the legislative session in Tallahassee, lawmakers passed a number of bills that will directly affect students. [Times (2016)]
Published May 11

During Florida’s annual legislative session, much of the debate over education policy focused on adults.

Discussions about parent rights, teacher pay and school taxes, for instance, all carried big implications that didn’t directly affect students. Lawmakers did, however, take many steps that will impact children in their public school classes, even if those efforts received less attention.

Here are seven changes that students will actually feel:

Academic planning — To help students set future goals, the Legislature required middle school students to take a career and education planning course. The lessons must result in a “completed personalized academic and career plan,” and also include information about entrepreneurship and employability skills.

RELATED: Gradebook podcast — Vouchers, teachers with guns and other Florida legislative highlights

Bolstering struggling schools — Students in low-performing public schools could see added resources and programs offered as ways to help them improve. At the Senate’s insistence, the Legislature agreed to direct extra funding to those campuses, with special attention to things such as tutoring and nutrition. Lawmakers also established a “community schools” grant program aimed at bringing more social and health services into the schools for children and their families.

Civics education — Gov. Ron DeSantis said early and often that he wanted to return the Constitution to the classroom and bolster students’ civic knowledge. The Legislature adopted a measure that would revamp civics instructional materials and, perhaps, even the underlying standards. As part of the proposal, they also aimed to encourage civic participation by allowing high school students to use their time spent in certain programs toward their Bright Futures volunteer service hours. Those programs include the Florida Debate Initiative, the YMCA Youth and Government Program, and the American Legion Boys or Girls State program.

Dropout prevention — Lawmakers aimed to ensure students at risk of dropping out get additional information about programs that might be more relevant for them, and as a result keep them in classes. They called for added in-person advising about career-technical programs to any student whose GPA has dropped below 2.0, as well as for any student considered likely to drop out.

Exceptions to math and science — To graduate from high school, Florida teens have been expected to complete four credits in math and three in science. In some instances, though, other requirements might be more beneficial. Acknowledging that students’ needs vary, lawmakers said students can replace up one math course (not Algebra I or geometry) or one science course (not Biology I) with a computer science class. The legislation specifically mentions that a student who earns industry certification in 3D rapid prototype printing could replace up to two math courses.

Financial literacy — Many teens say they have no real knowledge about things like using credit, taking a car loan, affording college or paying rent. If there’s one thing they said they’d like to see the Legislature do, they have said, it would be to make such information available in the schools. This spring, lawmakers obliged, requiring high schools to offer a half-credit elective course in financial literacy, starting in the fall.

Graduation pathways — Heeding the mantra that schools aim to prepare students for career as well as college, lawmakers created a career and technical education diploma option. To qualify, students must earn a grade point average of at least 2.0 while completing a minimum of 18 credits. Two credits must be in work-based learning and two in career-technical education that result in completion of a program and receipt of an industry certification.

EDUCATION MATTERS: Check out the Times education page for school news in Tampa Bay and beyond.

One thing the Legislature did not do that students have said they supported was provide native-language testing. Many teens have said it would be fair for students still learning English to take state exams in their first language, so they can demonstrate what they know rather than essentially take an English test.

Democrats in the House and Senate proposed a couple of bills aimed at offering this option. But those never received a committee hearing.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at [email protected] Follow @JeffSolochek.

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