March 23, 2024

Sue Kingery Woltanski: It Could Have Been Worse

Published by

Sue Kingery Woltanski sums up the wins and losses from the last legislative session in Florida. As always, it’s worth watching Florida even if you don’t live there, because it’s where so many bad education policies are spawned. Reposted with permission. 

Florida’s 2024 Legislative Session ended, on time, on Friday, March 8th. It wasn’t the worst year for education policy but, then again, this is Florida so that is not saying much. Here’s what happened with the bills I wrote about this session. Keep in mind, most of the bills that passed have yet to be signed by the governor.

Deregulation: SB7000, SB7002, SB7004, HB7039, HB7025

As promised in 2023’s HB1, deregulation of Florida’s onerous K-12 Education Code was Senate President Kathleen Passidomo’s session priority. What passed was a significantly scaled down version of the original senate proposals but Passidomo vowed to continue the work in her final two years in the Senate.

“My vision for this critical initiative is a multi-year effort. Every year more and more regulations are put on our school districts, and every year we need to be looking at regulations we can remove. With two years left in the Senate after my term as Senate President comes to an end in November, I look forward to joining Senator Simon and Senator Calatayud as we continue to dig in on deregulation in the years to come.”

Press Release March 6, 2024

In the end, two deregulation bills passed:

  • SB7002, which was amended to included policies in both SB7000 and HB7039, included a watered down version of SB7000 and SB7002. This summary explains the differences between the House and Senate proposals. The final version did not
    • Prohibit the requirement that VAM be used as the sole determinate in recruiting instructional personnel in turnaround schools or
    • Eliminate the annual contract for experienced high quality teachers or
    • Eliminate cost per student station limitations on school board construction projects completely, but it did extend the pause offered in HB1 until 7/1/2028.
  • SB7004, which originally included language to allow parental input into 3rd grade retention decisions and eliminating the use of high school exit exams, was gutted by the House, whose Speaker vowed to set himself on fire if such proposals passed. The House bill, HB7025, stayed clear of the “accountability 3rd rail.” This summary explains the differences between the two bills. HB7025 originally included language charging a fee for frivolous book challenges (refunded if the book was ultimately removed). That language was amended out of the deregulation bills and a watered down version, limiting the number of challenges non-parents could file, was passed in HB1285.

Favoritism for Classical Charter Schools: HB1285, SB996

HB1285 (Canady)/SB996 (Burgess) which, among other things, gave special privileges to Classical Charter Schools, including requiring the FLDOE to create professional teaching certificate expressly for those teaching in Classical Charter Schools, passed. The bills were amended to address the so-called “Book Ban Hoax” and limit residents without children in a district to one book challenge a month. School board members from multiple districts doubted the language would solve the “excessive book challenge problem,” saying that Florida’s laws, and accompanying state guidance, about book challenges remain excessively vague.

Patriotic Organization: HB1317, SB1016

HB1317 (Duggan)/SB1016 (Wright): These bills require that, when requested, public schools must set aside time, during the school day, for certain “Patriotic Organizations” to speak to students. The bills also stipulated that these groups can use school buildings after school, and stipulated that other groups don’t have the legal right to “equal time.” Most of the back and forth between the House and Senate focused on which groups would be identified. The final list included federally designated patriotic and national organizations that serve young people under the age of 21 and include the following organizations:

  • Big Brothers—Big Sisters of America
  • Boy Scouts of America
  • Boys & Girls Clubs of America
  • Civil Air Patrol
  • Future Farmers of America
  • Girl Scouts of the United States of America

Rolling back Child Labor Laws: HB49, SB1596

HB49 initially eliminated essentially all work restrictions for 16- and 17-year-olds, who bill sponsor, Rep. Linda Chaney repeatedly insisted were “not children,” calling them “youth workers that are driving automobiles.” Democrats offered 28 amendments, which primarily failed or were withdrawn. There was significant pushback by the community as well, with scores of public commenters questioning the wisdom of repealing child labor protections for children who should be focused on their education. The final version retained most existing protections, including restrictions on teenagers working earlier than 6:30 a.m. or later than 11 p.m. when school is scheduled the next day. In the end, the bill primarily affects homeschooled or virtual schooled 16- and 17-year-olds by exempting them from all regulations on when teenagers can work. This was apparently the main appeal for senate sponsor, Danny Burgess (SB1596), whose children are homeschooled and finish their school work earlier than those in traditional schools. Rep. Robin Bartleman expressed concern that homeschool families might “exploit” their children to work full-time adult hours and hoped the legislature could come back and tweak the language about homeschooled kids. Perhaps something for next year…

Bills that did not pass (look for these to come back in the future):

Conversion Charter Schools HB109, SB246

HB109 (Andrade)/SB246 (Harrell) were bills which would have allowed a municipality to apply to convert any or all of the public schools within its jurisdictional boundary to a charter school. Jacksonville columnist, Nate Monroe, called it “the state sponsored pilfering of public schools.” The bills, also, removed the requirement that at least 50% of the teachers employed at a public school agreed to such a conversion, regardless of who submitted the conversion application. The House bill made it through committees but was never heard on the Floor. The Senate bill was never heard in a committee.

Stripping School Board Authority HB735, SB734

HB735 (Andrade) and SB734 (Ingoglia) died in committee. Among other things, they would have required an unanimous vote of a school board before they renewed or extended their superintendent or general counsel during the 8 months prior to a general election.

Equating Property Tax to Slavery HB1371

HB1371, Freshman Rep. Ryan Chamberlin’s bill which proposed an OPPAGA study to the impact of eliminating property tax, went nowhere. And, yes, he actually said “This is not a tax, it is slavery.” After passing its first committee stop (Ways and Means where Rep. Anna Eskamani gave a clinic on tax policy), the bill, thankfully, stalled. It never had a Senate companion.

Not Discussed: Chronic Absenteeism

Despite pre-session presentations on Chronic Absenteeism in the Education Quality subcommittee and statements by Chair Dana Trabulsy telling her committee members they had “not heard the last of chronic absenteeism in this committee,” we never saw a bill addressing the issue. Dealing with chronic absenteeism is also a priority of the Biden Administration, after reports identified increases in chronic absenteeism as a substantial contributor to declines (so-called “learning loss”) in post-pandemic test scores.

It Could Have Been Worse

All in all, it could have been worse. In November, Floridians will have the chance to elect all new state representatives and half of the senators. If we want a change in education policies negatively affecting our public schools, we need to vote for individuals that will oppose such policies. If we don’t, next session will be more of the same…

Share this:

Readers wishing to comment on the content are encouraged to do so via the link to the original post.

Find the original post here:

View original post