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School Boards Association looks to new ideas for 2020 legislative platform

Testing, teacher pay and pre-k appear on the preliminary list of the group’s priorities.

A year ago, with school safety still high on Florida’s list of concerns, the state’s school boards association focused much of its legislative platform on increasing campus security with armed officers and hardened facilities.

Having gotten much of what it asked for, the association is looking to new ideas for the 2020 session, for which committee meetings begin in September.

Testing and teacher pay could rise to the top of the heap, as the organization whittles down the ideas up for consideration. Florida School Boards Association leaders have sent out a list of 12 possibilities, scaled back from nearly 100 that members from across the state submitted.

One of them ties into legislation filed last year by Democrats Sen. Annette Taddeo and Rep. Cindy Polo. The lawmakers called for allowing students still learning English to be allowed to take state exams in their native language.

The bill didn’t go anywhere in 2019, and the Department of Education has repeatedly refused to acquiesce on the concept for its federal accountability plan, despite guidance to make “every effort” to accommodate the speakers of the most-spoken other languages.

The FSBA is poised to ask for the change, along with a reduction in the number of state-required tests. It could go even further by calling for the elimination of the requirement that state end-of-course exams count as 30 percent of a student’s course grade. As the Daytona Beach News-Journal reported this weekend, that mandate has led to some confusion and debate over what it means, and how it is applied across the state.

The group also has its eyes on improving teacher pay, something Gov. Ron DeSantis has said must be addressed. On its list is a push for a 3 percent increase in the base student allocation, which districts can spend without any added requirements, with a focus on putting more money into recruiting and retaining teachers.

In that same vein, the FSBA includes on its short list a recommendation for loan-forgiveness programs, streamlined certification requirements and related moves aimed at making it easier for schools to find and keep high quality teachers.

On another subject, the school boards group includes a plank related to improving the funding, teacher qualifications, curriculum and assessment for prekindergarten — another subject the governor recently has addressed as critical.

Generally, the FSBA issues a priority list with only five or six priorities. So some on the preliminary document are likely to be cut.

The group’s legislative steering committee meets in mid September to vote on its platform.