A new Florida House subcommittee devoted to all things school choice does not necessarily signal major reforms in the upcoming legislative session, says incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford. The point, rather, is to keep choice in the debate.
Creating the Choice & Innovation Subcommittee is really more about helping the Education Committee make sure parental empowerment, technology and other school choice issues don’t get lost in the general discussion, he said. Education is “such a huge policy area,’’ Weatherford said. “There are a lot of bills that get filed.’’
Expect those bills to include many that have more to do with overall education policies and red tape than turning classrooms into a “21st learning experience,’’ he said. “There’s a lot of reform and a lot of innovating taking place across the country and across the world,’’ Weatherford said. “I want the Legislature to lead this debate.’’
The subcommittee has sparked interest across party lines.
“I’m very curious to see what that committee does,’’ said Rep. Reggie Fullwood, D-Jacksonville, who hopes to serve on it. “During the last two sessions, we’ve seen more and more choice coming up. I don’t have a big issue with choice … competition is fine, as long as we’re taking a look at traditional public education, too.’’
The subcommittee’s focus on innovation and technology is what Fullwood said interests him most. “We’re seeing first-graders using iPads,’’ he said. “It’s pretty amazing. We have to continue pushing for that technology for our students.’’
In a memo Weatherford released last week, he outlined the subcommittee’s structure as one that “focuses on Pre K-12 issues that encourage regulatory flexibility and foster school choice.’’ The subcommittee will look at:
• Early learning, school readiness and voluntary pre-K
• Home education
• K-12 private schools
• McKay, Florida Tax Credit and Opportunity scholarship programs
• Controlled open enrollment
• Virtual education
• Student athletics
• Charter schools
There is no word yet on who will head the subcommittee. Rep. Marlene O’Toole, R-The Villages, has served as chairwoman of the House Education Committee for the past two years, though “she’s not necessarily the chair of [the choice] committee,’’ Weatherford said.
The House convenes today for its post-election organizational session. Senate committee reorganizations also are underway with Education consolidated from two committees into one on higher education and pre-K-12.