News from Tallahassee - Week of April 13, 2015

Testing time reduced, school start date set, and the budget is still a work in progress

FLORIDA – April 17, 2015 - The state Capitol was buzzing with activity with week as the legislators move closer to the end of session on May 3rd. The biggest news from Tallahassee was the signing of HB7069 into law by Governor Rick Scott. 

The 65-page measure is a complex bill and has many elements. Here are just a few:

  • • Prohibits districts from giving final exams in courses where statewide standardized exams already exist;

 • Limits the amount of time for test administration to no more than 5 percent of total school hours per student, per year;

 • Requires outside experts to review the new Florida Standards Assessments and until a review is completed, the test results cannot be used to make high-stakes decisions, such as whether third-grade students can be promoted;

 • Allows school districts to start classes as early as August 10,2015, but some districts have already said they will not start that early in 2015 because many families have already planned their summer vacations;

 • Calls for the new statewide, standardized assessments to be independently verified before school grades can be released;

 • Changes promotion requirements for third graders, who will not need to pass the English Language Arts assessment to be promoted to fourth grade until the test is independently validated;

 • Reduces how much student test-score data counts in teacher evaluations; and • Eliminates the requirement that middle and high school students who do poorly on state tests automatically be enrolled in remedial courses. 

 Governor Scott signed the measure saying the plan was a "great step forward" and promised to continue to work with lawmakers to look at ways to reduce testing.

Little Action on Senate or House Charter/Choice Bills

The House’s charter school bill HB7037 was sent to the Senate in messages on 4/01/15. Passed 75/35 in the House on March 27th, HB7037 revises provisions relating to charter school application, certain appeals, funding for and payments to charter schools, long-term charters, nonrenewal, termination, & closure of charter schools, financial statements, charter school representatives and public meetings, governing board residency requirements, high-performing charter schools, termination of virtual instruction provider contracts, and charter school professional development. The bill would also establish Florida Charter School Innovation Institute at Florida State University. SB1552, the Senate’s parental choice and charter school bill, has one more, yet-to-be-scheduled, stop in the Senate Appropriations Committee. This is a “combination” bill that has all of Senator Benacquisto’s original parental choice provisions, plus all of the charter schools requirements that were added at various committee stops.

As it reads right now, the Bill language includes: the right of a parent to know the average amount of money expended for the education of his or her child; authorizes a parent to enroll his or her child in any public school that has not reached capacity in the state; provides that certain students who are deemed eligible for hospitalized program services are considered students with a disability; establishes the Florida Institute for Charter School Innovation; and creates the Charter School District Pilot Program. The bill does not match up with any measure the House has yet passed but contains language that can be found in two House bills, HB7037 and HB1145.

The Health Care impasse deepens – impact to state budget unclear
Last week, we reported that House and Senate leaders are far apart on how to resolve the huge budget differences between the two chambers due, primarily, to differing views on the Low Income Pool (LIP) and the expansion of the health care program to more Floridians.

How this impasse will impact the passage of the state budget by the Legislature remains to be seen.

The disagreement about LIP became more complicated on Tuesday when a letter from the Federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services was issued linking the payment of LIP funding to the expansion of health care services in Florida.

At issue are two pools of health-care money that have now become intertwined. 

Both the House and the Senate hope that the federal government would at least partially extend the LIP program, which expires on June 30. That $2.2 billion program provides money to hospitals and other health providers that serve large numbers of poor and uninsured patients.

The FCPCS Advocacy Team will continue to follow developments on all bills relating to education, as well as the progress the state budget makes. 
Check back weekly for updates.

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Media contact: Lynn Norman-Teck cell: 305-216-6208