Editor’s Note: Here’s your Florida legislative update!
We try to do our best to make sure you have the most up-to-date information on what’s happening in the Florida Legislature and what pieces of legislation may affect education and, even more specifically, charter schools across the state.
Meetings, Meetings, and More Meetings
Every state legislature has its own unique ways when it comes to conducting its business. And Florida is no different. Meetings, meetings, and more meetings.
Interim Committee Weeks
One of the constants for the Florida Legislature is what is referred to as interim committee weeks. Prior to the official start of the 60-day Regular Legislative Session, House and Senate leadership schedule five to six weeks – over a three-month period – to have legislators and staff travel to Tallahassee and hold committee and subcommittee meetings.
While some bills are actually brought up and debated in the later weeks, the majority of the meetings are centered around who does what, how they do it, and how much it costs each year to do whatever it is they do. These meetings are where lawmakers get a better understanding of how the proverbial sausage gets made.
In education, this is the time for those of us in the process to find out who got promoted and what this year’s BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) will be. Having just completed the final interim committee week, we are now getting a sense of legislative BHAGs for K-12 education.
The Legislative BHAGs
- Family Empowerment Scholarship:
Legislative education leaders rolled out the Family Empowerment Scholarship, a voucher-type scholarship funded with state dollars and designed for children in low-income families to attend an eligible school of choice.
- Florida Tax Credit Scholarship
Legislators want to create this program to help reduce the number of children on the waiting list for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, a program that pays for scholarships using corporate tax credits for contributions to non-profit organizations.
- Addressing Statewide Teacher Shortage
Legislators also want to take steps to address Florida’s teacher shortage by making it easier for school districts to retain their most effective teachers. This policy would allow teachers more time to demonstrate their mastery of general knowledge, allowing for three years instead of the current one year. They also want to direct the State Board of Education to restructure examination fees for certification exams as well as fees for exam retakes to assist in removing financial barriers for teachers wishing to remain in the field.
- School Facilities Regulations
Another major legislative initiative will be a change to regulations regarding school construction and facility improvements when school districts use only local funds, including ad valorem revenue, for facility construction. The legislation would no longer require school districts to file an educational plant survey recommendation before beginning facility construction as well as eliminate cost per student station restrictions for construction.
- Investing in School Safety
Lastly, legislators are looking to improve on efforts regarding school safety and mental illness that were taken last year in response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, FL. Legislation has already been filed that will implement recommendations made by Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission that created last year to review deficiencies in school and student safety statewide. Funding will also be included to give schools greater flexibility to transfer funds for school safety expenditures and to sustain investments made in school security enhancements.
These broad education initiatives will benefit both traditional public schools and public charter schools in Florida who face similar problems in recruiting and retaining quality teachers and dealing with facility costs, particularly those aimed at school safety and school hardening.
No one – not even the Florida Legislature – takes great pleasure in meetings, meetings, and more meetings. But sometimes the results are worth the effort.