News from Tallahassee: Week of April 6-10, 2015

News from Tallahassee – Week of April 6-10, 2015

FLORIDA – April 10, 2015 -
Going into the week 6 of the 2015 Legislative Session, the Legislature seems to be progressing relatively slowly, compared with other years. Of the more than 1,400 general bills that have been filed only 14 have cleared both chambers. The governor has signed five of those. None of the bill passed so far deal with major, wide ranging state issues. Some of the very biggest issues such as the budget, health care, and student testing are moving very slowly due to philosophical difference between the two chambers. 

Senate Charter/Choice Bill Passes Another Subcommittee

No boundaries
A bill that would allow children to attend any district or charter school that has open seats, even in other counties, won unanimous support from the Florida House Education Committee this week. The Open Enrollment Choice Bill (HB 1145) is now headed to the chamber floor. The Senate’s parental choice and charter school bill (SB1552), passed 5-2 in its second committee stop (three are required) in the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education last Thursday.

SB1552 modifies charter school accountability provisions to require:

• Each charter school to disclose in the application the name of each applicant, governing board member, and proposed management company, if any; the name and sponsor of any charter school currently or previously operated by such parties; and the academic and financial history of such charter schools. 
 • A sponsor to consider the past history in deciding to approve or deny the application. 
 • A charter school governing board to be independent of any management company. 
 • A charter school to submit quarterly financial statements for the first year of operation and include a full accounting of the costs of operation and sources of income that will enable the sponsor to begin monitoring the school’s financial health earlier in time. 
 • A charter school to prepare and submit a plan with the specific actions the school will take if the school’s financial statement indicates that the school is not financially viable. 
 • Background screening for a person, or an officer of an entity who submits a charter school application. A person may not receive approval of a charter application until the person’s screening is completed and the results have been submitted to the sponsor. 
 • A charter school to have a certificate of occupancy or a temporary certificate of occupancy for such a facility no later than 30 calendar days before the first day of school. 
 • A sponsor to automatically renew a high-performing charter contract for the same terms and length of the current term if the charter school governing board and sponsor have not executed the renewal before the term of the charter agreement is scheduled to expire. 
 • The charter school’s reading curriculum be specified in the charter contract to be eligible to receive the research-based reading instruction allocation. 

 The bill establishes that an individual may not serve as a member of a governing board of a charter school or charter school cooperative organization if he or she or an immediate family member receives a pension or any compensation from the charter school, or if the individual’s partner is an owner or principal with an entity or independent contractor with whom the charter school does business or contracts, for professional services, goods, or facilities. 

It also creates the Florida Institute for Charter School Innovation at Florida State University and renames the Charter School District Pilot Program as the Principal Autonomy Pilot Program Initiative.

Perhaps the most dramatic change is that it eliminates the provision allowing an entity that successfully operates a system of charter schools outside the state to apply to the State Board of Education for status as a high-performing charter school system.

Accountability and Testing Bill Passes Senate

 Last Thursday, the Florida Senate passed HB7069, by amending the House bill to includes some of its own student accountability requirements as originally included in SB0616.

The measure will scale back testing in public schools. Senator Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland), chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, agreed that testing had "gotten out of control," but stressed the importance of having some assessments.

Among other things, the proposal:

• Eliminates the 11th grade English Language Arts assessment, prohibits districts from giving finals in courses where statewide standardized exams already exist and limits the amount of time for test administration to no more than 5 percent of total school hours per student, per year. 
 • Requires the new statewide, standardized assessment to be independently verified before school grades can be released. 
 • Clarifies that third grade students will also not be required to pass the third-grade English Language Arts assessment to be promoted to the fourth grade until the test is independently validated.

 The overall bill passed the Senate by 32 to 4 vote.

News from Washington, DC

Senate Unveils Bipartisan Compromise to Rewrite ESEA

Nearly 50 years, to the day (April 11, 1965) after President Johnson signed the original ESEA bill into law, Senators Lamar Alexander, (R-TN) and Patty Murray, (D-WA) unveiled a bipartisan bill to overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (currently known as No Child Left Behind) that the two have been negotiating for more than two months. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee is slated to mark up the bill Tuesday, April 14 at 10 a.m., when lawmakers in both chambers will be back in Washington after a two-week legislative recess. During the mark up, committee members will be able to offer amendments to the measure to alter it more to their liking. The bill is being called “The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015.”

According to Education Week:

• The proposal would not allow Title I dollars for low-income students to follow them to the school of their choice, a Republican-backed policy known as "Title I portability."

• The law would maintain the annual federal testing schedule.

• States would also still be responsible for reporting disaggregated data for subgroups of students, including minorities, low-income students, English-learners, and those with disabilities.

• States would also be required to include graduation rates in their accountability systems, one measure of postsecondary education or workforce readiness and English proficiency rates for English-learners. 

• States would still have to identify low-performing schools, but the bill isn't specific about just how many schools would need to be targeted. 

• States could still direct federal money to low-performing schools (up to 4 percent), but the School Improvement Grant (SIG) models would be eliminated. Instead, school districts would be in charge of designing evidence-based interventions.

Charter School Program Provisions

 The bill would create three competitive grants for the charters to fund states to start new charter schools and replicate, or expand existing high-quality charter schools; fund public or private nonprofit entities that use creative methods of enhancing credit to finance the acquisition, construction, or renovation of facilities for charter schools; and fund charter-management organizations to replicate or expand high-quality charter schools.

The measure would also provide incentives for states to adopt stronger charter school authorizing practices, increase charter school transparency, and improve community engagement in the implementation and operation of each charter school.

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Some of the biggest issues -- such as the budget, health care, and student testing -- are moving very slowly due to philosophical difference between the two chambers.