The week in Tallahassee - February 13, 2015

News from Tallahassee – Week of February 9, 2015
Committee meetings, bill filings, and class size formula discussion

FLORIDA – February 13, 2015 – A couple of interesting workshops were held this week. The House Choice & Innovation Subcommittee discussed school choice, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education focused on developing the education budget, and the K-12 Subcommittee heard from the Florida Department of Education on School Climate, which entails providing safe and supportive learning environments for Florida's students.

Last week, we reported that Senate Education Pre-K-12 Committee Chairman, Senator John Legg (R-Lutz), introduced his accountability bills (SB 616). Now Senator Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee) has filed his own accountability bill, SB 774. 

Legg’s and Montford’s bills are dissimilar and neither has a House companion bill yet, but we continue to monitor the bills to see if language from either bill gets added to the other.

The Montford’s bill (SB774):

 • Lowers the percentage amount that student scores count toward teacher evaluations from 50 percent to 30 percent. Legg would reduce it to 40 percent. 

 • Would be eliminated the grade 11 statewide, standardized English Language Arts assessment, including writing, since the grade 10 assessment is the high school graduation requirement.

 • Would hold school grades and school improvement ratings in abeyance for the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years. 

 • Would have the Education Commissioner recommend minimum technology requirements to school districts and provide a “non-electronic” testing option until the 2016-17 school year.

Choice & Innovation Subcommittee Discusses Charter Changes

 At the Choice and Innovation Subcommittee meeting, legislators began the early stages of authorizing a bill that will address many charter school issues. Representative Robert Cortes (R-Maitland) presented the discussion draft to the Subcommittee. (To view the archived video of the meeting, click here and select the video archive for February 10, 2015.)

It had long been expected that a bill addressing accountability would be introduced in light of the press coverage of recent charter schools closures. The draft, however, focuses on much more than accountability measures.

The draft document proposes several changes to Florida’s charter school law. Most notably, the legislation would:

 • Require charter applicants to list past affiliations with charter schools, and give school districts explicit authority to deny an application based on prior academic or financial failures

 • Create a state-funded institute, to be housed at Florida State University, that would conduct research on charter accountability, instruction and performance, and help screen out poorly crafted charter applications

 • Specify that the reading and instructional strategies specified in the charter satisfy the requirement of eligibility for the research-based reading allocation and establishes that charter schools are eligible for the research-based reading allocation

 • Allow charter schools to form cooperatives with other charter schools or educational institutions to further educational, operational and administration initiatives of common interest

 • Clarify that district school boards may not delay payment to a charter school of any portion of the funds it is entitled to based on the timing of receipt of local funds by the school district

 • Remove restrictions (cap) on the number of charter schools that may be established by high-performing charter schools in an attendance zone for a school identified as in need of intervention and support

 • Require the Commissioner of Education to annually compile and report charter school application submissions, approvals, denials, withdrawals, terminations, non-renewals, voluntary closures, appeals and corrective actions for academic or financial deficiencies for each school districts

 • If the information indicates a sponsor is not adequately performing its authorizing and oversight functions, the State Board of Education may require a 50% reduction in the administrative fees collected and require other corrective actions by the sponsor.

The proposals are in the early stages, far from gaining approval of the Legislature and Governor Scott, but representatives have indicated they intend to introduce legislation from the subcommittee based on the draft. The draft legislation will likely be altered in the coming weeks, with several issues still to be addressed.

Representative Diaz has been quoted as saying: “As far as the House is concerned, I do view this as the main charter reform piece of this year. Right now, the atmosphere that we’re sensing here in Florida is that there’s a genuine attempt to cooperate and collaborate between the authorizers, the applicants and the operators,” Diaz said. “Everybody is on the same page that they don’t want these schools to fail.”

Meanwhile, Governor Scott expressed concern about the time students spend on testing and asked the Legislature to address, and correct, this durint their upcoming session. Other hot issues this week included class size. Florida lawmakers will attempt to change the formula district schools use to comply with the Class Size constitutional amendment. House Bill 665 would use a school average – similar to the formula public charter schools use - rather than counting each class.

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