Several ‘Sweeping Change’ Education Bills Up For A Vote Today
April 8, 2010
Several bills that could usher in sweeping changes to the state’s education landscape are up for a final vote in the House on Thursday, the last stop before the governor’s desk.
Class sizes could grow, more kids could go to private schools on the taxpayers, the FCAT could be phased out at the high school level and teachers could see their pay raises based on their students’ achievement. The bills have been part of a highly politicized, partisan process that has divided the education community.
HB 7189/SB 6
The most controversial measure before the Legislature this year would strip away tenure from public school teachers, instead basing their salary, in part, on student performance.
A measure filed in the Senate on the first day of session would partly base teacher pay raises on the results of their students on standardized exams. But the Department of Education has yet to determine exactly how student learning gains would be measured and will outline those proposals throughout the summer if it becomes law.
The Florida Education Association has come out swinging against the legislation with teachers flooding lawmakers’ offices with emails, letters and phone calls. A House committee also scheduled eight hours to hear the measure earlier this week and 120 people signed up to speak on the legislation. It has also gained national attention with a representative of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce testifying at a committee meeting along with a representative of an education think tank in North Carolina.
Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, stressed that the students aren’t being required to hit a certain mark on exams, they just need to show gains from the previous year.
“The focus is not on the end performance, it focuses on a learning gain,” she said.
Democrats proposed several amendments to the legislation, all of which were knocked down by the Republican majority in a session that went late into the night on Wednesday. The amendments included a measure to remove penalties from schools who reward teachers based on years of service, a proposal to include external factors such as a child’s socioeconomic status in their progress, and an exemption for military personnel from having their teaching certificates revoked.
“This bill is a slap in the face to every teacher out there,” said Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville.
The House gave the bill preliminary approval on Wednesday night setting it up for a vote on Thursday.
HJR 7039/SJR 2
The House will also vote on whether ask the voters to knock down a class size provision in the state constitution.
In 2002, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment that would cap class sizes at 18 students for kindergarten through third grade, 22 in fourth through eighth grade, and 25 in high school. Smaller classes have been phased in since 2002, but at the start of the 2010 school year, every classroom would have to meet those hard caps.
The joint resolution would roll back the requirement so that class size would be calculated at a grade-level average, not an individual classroom cap. Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, the House sponsor, said this was a school flexibility measure. “We are not repealing the class size amendment,” he said on the House floor Wednesday.
The measure requires a three-fifths vote to make it to the November 2010 ballot where it requires 60 percent voter approval to pass.
HB 1009/SB 2126
Included in the package of bills is a measure to massively expand the state’s voucher program, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, so more low income students could choose to attend private school. The program, established in 2001, gives companies a tax credit in exchange for contributing to the program.
The bill would add revenue sources and expand the cap on how much in scholarship money can be awarded from $118 million to $140 million and increase the individual award over time from the current level of $3,950 to 80 percent of the per pupil spending awarded by the state to public schools. Currently, the state spends about $6,900 per public school student.
The FCAT would be phased out at the high school level under HB 7053. The legislation would implement end-of-course exams in algebra, geometry and biology, phasing out the ninth and 10th grade FCAT in mathematics and the high school science FCAT.