2015 FL Session: Marked by gridlock, greed & fierce squabbles

TALLAHASSEE MOODY

With just days left in the 2015 Florida legislative session, legislators are locked in a messy health care battle that has led to epic gridlock.  Progress has ground to a halt and bills are dying on the vine. Politicians, who were assigned education reform bills, are in a panic.  They know full well that these ideas are hostile to public education and there’s no time to artfully conceal them in other bills, so at least 30 concepts have been heavily amended onto education train bills SB 948 and HB 1145 and charter expansion bill SB 1550.  Stay tuned for further updates.

Budget:

The House sent an offer to the Senate at the end of the week.  The Senate countered to extend through June 30th with the caveat that they will not return to work unless all parties – Governor Scott, the House and Senate and the Federal government – reach an agreement over healthcare.  Given the $4.2 billion difference between the two budget proposals and the Senate’s demand for agreement before they return to work, the budget remains in dire flux. The Florida Legislature is required by the state constitution to pass a budget each year.  Since the house and senate will likely not agree by May 1st, the official last day of the 2015 session, an extension or a special session is likely. The Governor can call a special session where lawmakers will be restricted to resolving the budget, in which case all unresolved bills will be considered dead.  If the legislature extends the session itself, then bills will remain in play in addition to passing a budget.

Choice, charters, mandatory uniforms, student athletes as free agents:

HB 1145- Rep Sprowls 3rd Reading, Passed the House

SB 948 – Sen Gaetz on 2nd Reading calendar

SB 1552 – Sen Benaqusito on 2nd Reading calendar:

These bills contain nearly 30 related concepts that were once individual bills. They don’t match one another as of now but must before they can be passed out of both houses and sent to Gov. Scott for his signature. As we’ve witnessed multiple times, concepts that appear dead have a remarkable way of reappearing in the 11th hour, so it is of little comfort that certain items are missing or included in any of these bills. Here are some of the most concerning issues:

High School Sports: Destroys Florida High School Athletes Association by turning student athletes into free agents, prevents school districts from having their own policies, allows transfers without regulations, creates unfair advantages for a few schools, encourages athlete recruitment by neglecting to provide for transportation. This concept has been cross-pollinated into SB 1480/HB 7137 as well as HB 948.

Open Enrollment: Allowing students to “open enroll” across district lines to any school who is currently under capacity.  Students who transfer are allowed to stay for the next six years, potentially displacing students who actually live in the district. Disrupts district need to plan and build schools based on anticipated growth. HB 945 does include a minor improvement that delays the implementation of this effort. However, this is not the case in the other bills.

Capital outlay to Charters: Requires districts to share voter-approved millage increases with charter chains in order to pay for and improve buildings the public may never own.  NOTE: This is a controversial idea that comes up almost every session.  Given that Florida is at budget impasse and this idea comes with a large fiscal impact, there may be little desire to pass this. Note: At this time HB 1145 does not include any reference to requiring school districts to provide discretionary capital outlay millage revenue to charter schools, however this idea could resurface will little notice as part of a conforming bill.

Principal Autonomy Pilot (originally HB 357/Diaz): Expects districts to voluntarily relinquish control of a public school to a principal who can hire teachers, determine budgets and operate under the oversight of a state-run pilot program for three years. This is an effort to peel schools away from districts, allow charter-like flexibility and encourage competition. As of yet, the program is not fully determined and future rules governing it will be set by the Florida Board of Education at a later date, representing multiple unknowns.

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