The Florida Senate filed a bill Friday to go along with a House proposal that would offer all schoolchildren a voucher or education savings account, an anticipated move on one of this year’s biggest pieces of legislation.
The provisions to expand that school choice option are the same as the House version.
But sponsor Sen. Corey Simon, R-Tallahassee, took his Senate Bill 202 a step further than what the House has proposed. He included sections aimed at giving public school districts relief from what he called “onerous code,” which voucher-receiving private schools do not face.
“We hear the concerns,” said Simon, asserting that public schools must remain a viable choice for families. “We want to make sure we’re providing a clear, even playing field.”
To get there, the bill proposes ideas such as giving teachers five years instead of three to complete their certification. It seeks to streamline student transportation services, allowing schools to use vehicles other than buses.
It also would create more flexibility for school districts in determining how to use state teacher raise money, which previously has been restricted primarily to increasing base salaries.
Most notable, though, is a vague but all-encompassing provision that would require the State Board of Education to review the entire chapter of Florida education statutes and then recommend to the governor and Legislature revisions “to reduce regulation on public schools.”
It would instruct the State Board to take input from teachers, superintendents, administrators, school boards, public and private postsecondary institutions, home educators and others, and deliver its report by Nov. 1.
“Hopefully in 2024 we will be able to strip away some of the onerous codes,” Simon said.
This idea has been discussed in the House, too, although it’s not a part of House Bill 1. As the House Choice and Innovation subcommittee debated the proposal, state Rep. Susan Valdés, a Tampa Democrat, pointed out that all the ideas emerging would create the need to overhaul Florida’s education code.
Former state Sen. Bill Montford, who leads the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, praised Simon and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo for listening to the leaders of traditional school districts, where about 85% of all students attend.
Superintendents by and large embrace choice, change and competition, Montford said. But they can’t compete with private schools that advertise that they don’t require state testing, or with charter schools that don’t have to follow all the red tape that binds the districts.
If the goal is a first class education for all children, he said, then put all the school systems on an equal footing.
“We’re not trying to do away with testing. We’re not trying to lower standards. We’re not trying to take away anything,” said Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat who once led the Leon County school district. “Just give us a fair chance. That’s all we ask.”
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