News from Tallahassee - March 13, 2015

FLORIDA – March 13, 2015 - The committees of the House and Senate are designated to perform specific functions, and usually those functions relate to either policy or spending. So it is highly unusual when a “spending” committee deals, at length, with “policy” issues as the Senate Appropriations Committee did last week.

On March 5th, the full Senate Appropriations Committee heard a presentation from Adam Miller, Executive Director of the Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice of the Florida Department of Education, and took testimony from a panel of charter school operators and district superintendents.

 You can see FDOE’s presentation here. 

Committee Chair Senator Tom Lee (R-Brandon) began the meeting by explaining how unusual it was for the Senate Appropriation Committee to take testimony on what is basically a policy issue, but he did ask panelists to touch on what is working and not working with charter schools and to include spending issues in their remarks. Several of the charter school operators / advocates mentioned the inequality of basic funding for students in charter schools compared to per student funding in district-run public schools, and all agreed that capital funding for charter schools is a major problem in Florida. The need to identify a recurring source of capital funding for charter schools, other than PECO, was pointed out by several speakers.

Following the testimonies, Committee lawmakers asked questions and discussed some of the issues raised. When one legislator suggested that funds raised by the districts’ 1.5 local millage for capital expenses should be used at any facility where public school children are housed, traditional school or charter school; a few of the superintendents were not supportive. They maintained that capital funds must be used by school districts for debt service on construction and capital improvements already completed and for current needs, but not allocated across-the-board for all facilities in a district.

In concluding the meeting, Chair Lee stated that the Senate would be slow and deliberate in making its final appropriations decisions this year. He indicated that the continuation or termination of funding for the Low Income Pool (LIP) by the Federal Government would have a major impact on Florida’s budget and on appropriations to all state agencies.

Workshop covers ten bills moving through the Senate
The Senate dealt with charter school issues when the Education Pre-K-12 Committee met on March 11. The workshop session (no voting occurred) covered ten school choice/charter school bills: SB 254 (Clemens), SB 692 (Brandes), SB 720 (Ring), SB 906 (Sobel), SB 952 (Garcia), SB1036 (Montford), SB1038 (Montford), SB1336 (Brayon), SB1448 (Legg) and SB1552 (Benacquisto).

House Education Committee Approved Accountability Changes

The House of Representatives Education Committee passed Proposed Committee Bill (PCB) EDC 15-04 relating to Accountability. The PBC has been renamed and filed as HB7069 / Education Accountability. According to the sponsors, the bill changes accountability requirements so parents, students, teachers and taxpayers can have clear and consistent information and provides additional teacher, principal and school district flexibility to successfully implement Florida's accountability system. Some of the changes are:

 • The bill allows districts to set their school start date as early as August 10th each year. 

 • The bill eliminates the statewide standardized 11th grade English Language Arts assessment and the required administration of the Postsecondary Education Readiness Test to high school students. 

 • The bill prohibits the administration of final exams in addition to statewide, standardized end of course assessments. 

 • The bill grants districts greater flexibility in measuring student performance in grades and subjects not associated with the state assessment program. 

 • To enhance transparency, the bill requires the Education Commissioner to publish a uniform calendar by August 1st of each year so districts can clearly communicate to parents when assessments will be administered, the purpose of the assessments, and how assessment results will be used. 

 • The bill also requires results from district assessments, including tests used to monitor student progress, to be provided to teachers and parents in a timely manner.

 • The bill grants districts greater flexibility in evaluating teacher performance by reducing student performance and instructional practice evaluation components to one third each and streamlining evaluation system monitoring provisions. • The bill provides flexibility to districts to monitor the reading proficiency of K-3 students and address the needs of students who struggle in reading and math. 

 • The bill also streamlines provisions relating to 4th grade promotion and district K-12 comprehensive reading plans

Stayed tuned for more updates from FCPCS – your voice in Tallahassee.

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