Florida Senate approves scaled-back school ‘deregulation’ plan

The Florida Senate has recently passed a series of bills focused on the “deregulation” of public schools. However, one particular measure underwent a significant change due to criticism from former Governor Jeb Bush regarding the state’s third-grade literacy policy. The legislative package, spearheaded by Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, aims to reduce burdensome regulations and streamline processes for schools.

Included in the plan is Senate Bill 7004, which proposes changes related to state assessments and instruction. For instance, the bill would eliminate the requirement for high-school students to pass the state’s tenth-grade English-language arts exams in order to graduate. Instead, the exam would contribute 30% towards the students’ final course grade. Additionally, the bill would remove the necessity of passing an Algebra I end-of-course exam for diploma attainment.

Corey Simon, a Republican senator from Tallahassee and the sponsor of the bill, believes that this deregulation effort will allow teachers to focus more on classroom instruction, ultimately benefiting students. Simon emphasized that the education code has grown significantly over the years, leading to increased costs for students. With unanimous support from the Senate, the measure has successfully passed.

However, former Governor Jeb Bush expressed strong opposition to a particular provision within the bill. The initial version sought to eliminate the requirement for third-grade students to achieve adequate scores on an English-language arts exam in order to advance to the fourth grade. Instead, the proposed change aimed to grant parents the authority to override decisions about student retention. Bush argued that this alteration would weaken the state’s third-grade literacy policy and potentially reintroduce social promotion.

However, revisions made to the bill, supported by Simon, removed this contentious provision. Simon explained that the change was driven by the implementation of a new progress-monitoring system of standardized testing. The new testing system allows for earlier identification of students’ levels, starting from kindergarten to second grade, reducing the need for retention in the third grade.

Aside from this bill, two other measures linked to the deregulation effort have also gained unanimous support in the Senate. Senate Bill 7000 aims to provide districts with more flexibility in setting teacher salaries. Notably, the bill removes the prohibition on considering advanced degrees when determining salaries, as long as the degree aligns with the individual’s area of certification. Senator Alexis Calatayud believes that these changes will champion teachers and potentially lead to salary increases for educators.

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 7002 focuses on granting school districts additional flexibility. The bill allows districts to publish their tentative budgets online instead of being required to publish notices in newspapers. It also provides districts with more discretion in utilizing certain federal funds. Senator Travis Hutson, who sponsored the measure, expressed ongoing negotiations with House members as these deregulation bills progress.

In the House Education Quality Subcommittee, a school deregulation bill received initial approval. This comprehensive 53-page proposal includes a provision that permits school districts to impose a $100 “processing fee” for individuals who exceed a certain number of challenges to instructional materials or library books. The fees would apply to parents or residents without enrolled students in the school. However, if an objection is upheld, the district must refund the individual.

Representative Mike Beltran, a Riverview Republican, was the sole member to vote against the measure. As these bills continue to advance through the legislature, discussions are ongoing to find common ground and ensure their successful implementation.

In summary, the Florida Senate’s recent passage of a suite of bills focused on deregulating public schools highlights the ongoing efforts to reduce red tape and provide more flexibility for educators. While the proposed changes have garnered support, one provision faced criticism from former Governor Jeb Bush. However, revisions were made to address concerns and align with the implementation of a new testing system. Additionally, related bills addressing teacher salaries and school district flexibility have also gained unanimous support. As the legislative session progresses, negotiations with House members are underway to ensure successful implementation of these deregulation measures.

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