School board members coalition sets its legislative agenda

Sarasota School Board member Bridget Ziegler is president of the Florida Coalition of School Board Members.
Sarasota School Board member Bridget Ziegler is president of the Florida Coalition of School Board Members.
Published Oct. 26, 2017

As the Florida School Boards Association convenes to debate its legislative priorities, the more conservative breakaway Florida Coalition of School Board Members has released its own agenda for the 2018 session.

The two groups have in the past differed on key issues, particularly relating to school choice. The coalition sprouted to life after the FSBA sued the state to challenge tax credit scholarships, a program that the coalition members supported.

Though small, the coalition has wielded influence through connections. One of its members is Martin School Board member Rebecca Negron, wife of Senate President Joe Negron. Another is Collier School Board member Erika Donalds, wife of state Rep. Byron Donalds, a rising star in House Republican ranks.

This year, the coalition's goals include the expansion of choice options through the Hope Scholarship proposal put forth by Rep. Donalds and the House leadership. The idea is to grant private school scholarships to students who say they are bullied and feel unsafe in their schools.

It further wants to study transportation costs for universal school choice, and to require notification to families for school choice options.

The coalition also seeks to expand paper-pencil testing through the eighth grade in all schools, and to allow the use of SAT or ACT concordant scores to meet high school graduation requirements. It wants to clarify that school board members may add items to board meeting agendas without the permission of the superintendent, board chair or a board majority, and to allow two board members to meet privately for "fact finding missions or excursions."

Last session, the group pushed a measure granting board members unrestricted access to all schools in their districts.

In the area of finances, the coalition calls for districts to conduct best financial practices assessments and publicly accept the results, and to require a supermajority vote for any tax referendum not held during a general election.