The Florida Senate on Friday took a big step toward eliminating the state's role in adopting school textbooks, instead granting that authority to local school districts.
Sponsor Sen. Alan Hays has argued that such decisions belong closest to the public, so they can better access the people choosing the materials. He introduced the measure after seeing textbook battles in Volusia County.
The Senate bill could hit hurdles in the House, where a related measure doesn't go nearly as far. The House bill at one time did exactly what Hays proposed. But it was significantly scaled back in committees, amid representatives' concerns that small districts couldn't handle the workload of textbook adoption.
Bill sponsor Rep. Matt Gaetz instead gave districts the option of using a state selection process or doing the work themselves, something he pointed out several times during debate Thursday in the House Education Committee.
Committee members from both parties sought assurances from Gaetz that districts would have a choice, and not be forced into added responsibilities. Gaetz stressed that his bill would not change the rules adopted a year ago, but added that it would establish more criteria for districts that want to adopt their own materials.
"The Senate version is far more different," he said. "It eliminates the state altogether. The House bill does not do that."
Rep. Carl Zimmerman questioned the need to add language indicating that each school board is "responsible" for the content of all instructional material used in the classroom. He wondered if that was intended to relieve the state of its responsibility. Gaetz explained that districts always have had the final say in instructional material choices, yet often would blame the state when parents raised objections. The goal, he said, is to clarify in statute the district's role.
Democrats on the panel supported the revised bill. But they warned that a shift back to the Senate version could lead them to change their votes.
Gaetz made no promises. "I do predict it will continue to evolve," he said.