As Florida’s 2017 Legislative Session comes to a close, lawmakers have passed many student-centered bills that will advance education in the Sunshine State.
I have highlighted several bills below that will improve the lives and educational outcomes of countless Florida students. Highlights include legislation that gives teachers more time to teach, expands access to a customized education for students with special needs and opens additional options for disadvantaged students attending low-performing schools.
During the next few weeks, I hope you will join us in thanking legislative leaders for their bold action during this session to help students.
Thank you to those of you who worked with us to advocate on behalf of Florida’s students and their families. They are truly this session’s winners.
Legislation that gives teachers more time to teach by moving statewide assessments to the end of the school year passed both the Florida House and Florida Senate on May 8.
House Bill 7069, a budget conforming bill, also provides teachers and parents with easy-to-understand and actionable student score reports. It also ensures teachers receive timely results from local assessments to help inform classroom instruction.
In surveys of more than 400 Florida K-12 public educators and 400 Florida parents, respondents overwhelmingly agreed with moving statewide assessments to the last three weeks of the school year and providing parents and teachers with easy-to-understand student score reports.
This important legislation was championed by Sen. Anitere Flores, Sen. Kelli Stargel, Rep. Manny Diaz, Jr. and Rep. Chris Sprowls.
Expanding Opportunities for Students:
Legislation that expands the Gardiner Scholarship Program and strengthens the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program passed the Florida House on April 19, and the Florida Senate on May 5.
House Bill 15, sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan and Rep. Jason Fischer, expands the Gardiner Scholarship program to Florida students with rare diseases, anaphylaxis, a traumatic brain injury, and students who are deaf, visually-impaired, dual-sensory impaired, hospitalized or homebound. The scholarship program, which provides students with access to a customized education, is currently serving more than 7,500 Florida children with unique abilities.
The legislation was also championed by Sen. David Simmons, Sen. Denise Grimsley and Sen. Kelli Stargel.
House Bill 7069 designated an additional $30 million for the Gardiner Scholarship program, protecting all current scholarship students and the nearly 1,500 students who have already started and/or completed applications for next school year.
The legislation also increases the scholarship amount for low-income middle and high school students in the Tax Credit Scholarship Program to accommodate the higher cost of tuition in those grades. More than 98,000 Florida students currently participate in this program which has a proven track record of educational gains for students and fiscal savings for Florida’s taxpayers.
Creating New Opportunities for Disadvantaged Students:
Leaders passed legislation this session to help thousands of Florida’s students attending low-performing schools gain access to a quality education by creating a supportive environment for high-performing charter management organizations.
The legislation sets aside $140 million to recruit high-performing nonprofit charter management organizations to provide Florida students living in areas of persistently low-performing schools with high-quality education options. The legislation also allows for public school districts to access funding to turn around consistently failing schools by offering wrap around services.
A high-performing charter management organization is one that has demonstrated success in serving disadvantaged students and helping those students make significant academic progress.
The legislation was championed by Sen. Aaron Bean, Speaker Richard Corcoran, Rep. Manny Diaz, Jr., and Rep. Michael Bileca.
Removing Barriers to Virtual Education:
Florida leaders passed legislation removing barriers so that all Florida students can participate in virtual instruction. House Bill 7069 eliminates the requirement that a student must have attended a public school the previous year.
More than 900 Florida Virtual School students were not able to continue their education during the 2016-2017 school year because of arbitrary prior-year enrollment rules currently in place.
This legislation was championed by Sen. Bill Galvano, Sen. Dennis Baxley and Rep. Jennifer Sullivan. Kate Baxley, Sen. Baxley’s granddaughter, recently shared her story on why this legislation is needed.
Eliminating Caps on Teacher Bonuses:
Leaders passed legislation that would eliminate caps on financial awards available to Florida teachers who teach advanced courses. Currently, Florida teachers are capped on the bonuses they can receive when their students successfully earn college credit in Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB) and Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) or industry certifications or digital certificates. This legislation removes those caps.
The legislation was championed by Sen. Travis Hutson in the Florida Senate and by Rep. Elizabeth Porter in the Florida House.
Raising Student Achievement in Middle School:
Legislation to examine what other states are doing to beat the “Middle School Slump” passed the full Senate on May 5.
HB 293, which was sponsored by Rep. Colleen Burton in the Florida House and by Sen. Kelli Stargel in the Florida Senate, directs the Florida Department of Education to conduct a study examining practices in states with high-performing middle schools.