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Does agenda give insight into which Florida education bills might stick?

The Senate Education Committee will tackle some high-profile issues in its final meeting before session.
Florida Senator Tom Lee, R- Thonotosassa. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times] [SCOTT KEELER  |  TAMPA BAY TIMES]
Florida Senator Tom Lee, R- Thonotosassa. [SCOTT KEELER | Times] [SCOTT KEELER | TAMPA BAY TIMES]
Published Dec. 3, 2019

As the Florida Legislature nears the opening of its 2020 session, lawmakers largely have allowed Gov. Ron DeSantis to set many of the priorities for education policy.

Neither the House nor Senate have heard many bills on the topic, instead focusing primarily on proposals such as the budget coming from the governor’s office.

With one week of interim committee meetings scheduled, the House appears poised to remain on that path. The Education Committee has yet to schedule anything, and hasn’t convened since October.

But the Senate counterpart is taking the time to take up a handful of bills from influential members, potentially signaling what subjects it intends to advance beyond the discussions on salaries and choice.

One piece of legislation on the Monday agenda does dovetail with the governor’s game plan. It’s Senate Appropriations chairman Rob Bradley’s bill to eliminate the Best and Brightest bonus plan, which DeSantis has called “confusing.”

If it moves through the process, Bradley’s initiative could free nearly $300 million for the governor’s alternative bonus proposal, which would lose the name and strip some but not all of the criteria that currently exist.

Teachers have remained clear that any bonus is unacceptable, because it does not achieve the goal of retaining top educators while it offers no financial security to anyone seeking to take a loan or rely on a steady source of income. Bradley’s bill would only delete that specific program, without addressing any future bonuses.

Beyond that, the committee expects to take up some frequently discussed topics including career education, school grading, testing and teacher hiring.

Chairman Manny Diaz Jr. has revived his 2019 idea of a “do not hire” list for educators, including substitutes and charter school teachers, who perform bad acts. That idea didn’t survive before, and it’s now back up for discussion as debate continues about how protect children.

Former Senate president Tom Lee will have his bill to exempt English language learners from the 10th-grade language arts FSA exam, currently a graduation requirement. The bill was proposed by students in Lee’s eastern Hillsborough County district, and he has said it makes sense philosophically.

He’s co-sponsoring the bill with Rep. Susan Valdes, a Tampa Democrat.

Sen. Bill Montford, the committee’s ranking Democrat and vice chairman, has proposed legislation to alter the high school state grading formula to include the percentage of students eligible to earn credits for career dual enrollment courses. That bill sticks with the general state accountability system, and also ties into Montford’s long standing effort to make alternate pathways toward graduation more important in the system.

It neatly connects with DeSantis’ ongoing effort to improve workforce education programs in the state.

Another bill by Lee would require creation of a uniform system to award postsecondary credit to military veterans based on the experienced gained in the service. That measure has bipartisan sponsorship in this military friendly body.

The committees do not plan to meet again before the Jan. 14 start of session, when further indication of priorities might emerge.

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