Legislature’s education reforms open door to opportunities

Re-posting an op-ed column from the Sun-Sentinel.

By Richard Corcoran

As our children leave behind their summer months and head back to school, we all share a common hope that they will receive a world class education, which will open their minds to new ideas and their future to brighter possibilities. To further that goal, this year the Florida Legislature passed the most comprehensive and transformative set of education reforms in our state’s history.

We know that what happens in school matters. Tests are a means to measure learning not something that should be taught. So we reduced the number of state-mandated tests and pushed the timing of the remaining tests back so teachers have more instructional time. While we want the highest academic standards, we also know that kids learn best in a well-rounded environment. To help our youngest students, Florida’s traditional public elementary schools will guarantee at least 20 minutes of recess a day.

We know that good teachers and good principals matter. So we created the Schools of Excellence program to reduce the paperwork burden on high-performing schools. We expanded the Best and Brightest bonus program to award not only our most academically accomplished teachers but also all teachers who have been rated “highly effective” or “effective” on their performance evaluations. That means well over 150,000 teachers in our state will be recognized for the work they’ve done. We also increased the rewards for principals who recruit and retain high quality teachers by giving an added bonus for those who also choose to recruit and retain those teachers in our toughest schools.

We know that children are not products of an assembly line but are unique individuals who learn in different ways. So we expanded parents’ access to easy-to-read, useful information about their children’s academic progress and gave parents more tools to guarantee that the special needs of their children are being met.

We also know that we are failing in our moral obligation as Americans and Floridians if we leave thousands of children stuck that earn “F” grades year-after-year. We created a first-of-its-kind program to provide options for students in failing schools by recruiting high quality charter schools that have a proven track record in helping the poorest and most disadvantaged students succeed. No child in Florida should be denied a chance at their future because they have the misfortune to end up in the wrong school.

We passed these reforms because we care about the kids who attend our schools. We don’t think public education in Florida is about buildings or unions or bureaucrats. We think public education in this state should be first, last, and always about giving our children the best and brightest future possible.

We want to ensure that every child, whatever their socioeconomic circumstances or special needs, can find the ideal learning environment in which they can thrive. We want to build schools of hope. We want to create futures filled with opportunity. Sadly, some school districts are so terrified of innovation that they are spending your tax dollars to deny your child those choices, that hope, and this opportunity.

During the 2017 session, the Florida Legislature, with the strong support of Gov. Rick Scott, overcame all the rhetoric and the threats to actually get things done. We made real improvements to our public schools. This upcoming year we’ll continue delivering results. We’ll continue fighting because every single child deserves to go to a world-class school, and every child deserves to move forward with dignity into a better tomorrow.

On behalf of all of my colleagues in the Florida House of Representatives, we hope all of our school-age Floridians, and the teachers and parents who make their education possible, have happy, safe, and blessed school year.

Richard Corcoran, R- Land O’ Lakes, is the Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.