2015 Florida Legislative mid-session recap

 

TALLAHASSEE

2015 Florida Legislative mid-session recap

 

Fund Education Now: 2015 Florida Legislative mid-session recap

Activity in Tallahassee has slowed considerably.  Many education bills are stalled as the fight over the budget and the impasse over Medicaid expansion grows ever more divisive. Unfortunately, this disagreement may end up having a negative effect on public school funding. The education bills aren’t going away, but they’re taking a back seat since the one thing the legislature must do is pass the budget.  There is talk of a special budget session, so it’s likely that these bills will move at a moment’s notice.

Following is a list of the most concerning issues:

Budget
Both the House and Senate have released initial proposals which differ by more than $4.2 billion dollars centered largely on differences regarding healthcare. Both increase K-12 funding by about 4% or $750 million. The Senate provides an increase of $152 in the Base Student Allocation, which is more than the proposed House budget. While the House provides for digital funding, the Senate does not.

In addition, to the dispute over accepting Federal funding for the Low Income Pool (LIP), other factors that could threaten education funding are $ 690 million in proposed tax cuts and an underestimated enrollment of an additional 10,000 students in Florida public schools. Although Florida has a reserve surplus of $5 billion dollars, the legislature has a history of cutting education funds and passing costs onto districts instead of dipping into reserves to fund schools.

Charter Expansion/Open Enrollment/Transfers millage dollars to charters 
HB 7037/SB 1552/SB 1448/HB 1145  School Choice/Charter Expansion
The massive HB 7037 passed out of the House. It’s been sitting in Senate messages and there’s talk of pulling it back to the house to add amendments.  It builds on the efforts of previous sessions to accelerate the expansion of charters, regardless of need through funding a pseudo-marketing/oversight arm, at Florida State University called the Florida Charter School Innovation Institute.  Erodes the power of local school boards by allowing “open enrollment” across district lines, allows students to transfer to another classroom based on concerns about the teacher, creates a “charter school district” giving principals increased autonomy from local district rule, allows unrestricted replication of high performing charters in high-need areas.  Removes eligibility requirements for enrollment in public K-12 virtual education and allows more charter school systems to act as a Local Education Agency for purposes of administering Federal funding.

In addition, this bill requires districts to give charter school developers a portion of the money raised through millage levies to fund district capital school improvements and new construction.  Charters received $100 M and $50M over the past two years via PECO. The issue is two-fold: PECO dollars must be allocated each year to charters by the legislature and so far this has not happened in 2015. Second, Voter-approved millage increases are the sole source of capital funding for district schools. HB 7037 states that charter chains must be given a percentage of local tax dollars to pay for & improve buildings the public may never own.

This vastly increases the money sent to Charter chains to purchase real estate and develop schools. It represents approximately $137 million dollars. If the legislature does not designate PECO to charters this year or in future years, districts will have to pay millions of dollars that they cannot possibly afford in locally raised tax dollars to support unfettered charter school growth.

Digital Learning
SB 1264 – Digital Classrooms by Legg is scheduled for its last committee stop on 4.21.15.  This bill is significant because the technology was not addressed in the testing bill/HB 7069.   This bill establishes requirements for digital classroom technology infrastructure planning by the Agency for State Technology or a contracted organization; requires the Office of Technology and Information Services of the Department of Education to consult with the Agency for State Technology in developing the 5-year strategic plan for Florida digital classrooms; specifies conditions for a school district to maintain eligibility for Florida digital classrooms allocation funds.

Allocates $10 million to be spent by the Agency for State Technology (AST) on a vendor of their choice. Look for amendments to this bill to address the technology funding deleted from the testing bill.

Testing
HB 7069 was signed into law by Gov. Scott this week.  The bill address some issues raised by districts, teachers and parents, which is good. The fact remains that the law does not go far enough. Most of Florida’s standardized tests and the rules used to punish students, teachers and schools remain intact. That said, public education advocates have made an impact regarding Florida standardized testing and HB 7060 reflects that. Read a full description of what this bill does and does not do here.

 

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