We followed a number of school choice issues during the course of Florida’s 60-day legislative session, and most of them were resolved during the last few days. Here’s a look at which choice-related bills and ideas are making their way to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk, and which are not.
Personal learning accounts: Florida could soon become the second state in the nation (after Arizona) to offer students an account-based school choice option. The state budget sets aside $18.4 million for scholarship accounts, which would be aimed at special needs students and administered by scholarship funding organizations like Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog. The accounts could be used to reimburse parents for therapies or other educational needs for their children.
Tax credit scholarships: The same piece of legislation that would create personal learning accounts, SB 850, would expand eligibility for tax credit scholarships by creating new partial scholarships for students with household incomes up to about $62,000 for a family of four. It would also create new accountability requirements for scholarship funding organizations.
Collegiate high schools: SB 850 would also expand collegiate high schools, which allow students to complete up to a year’s worth of college credits though dual enrollment. Community colleges would be required to offer a collegiate high school program through each school district in their service area.
Career education: The same legislation would also do away with the $60 million statewide cap on bonuses for schools where students earn industry certifications, increasing the financial incentive for school districts to expand career academies. It also expands industry-certification opportunities for students in elementary and middle school.
Digital learning: This year’s education funding legislation would overhaul the way the state plans and pays for school technology. It would require school districts and the state to come up with five-year technology plans, which will be tied to student performance and used to guide their spending of a new $40 million “digital classrooms allocation” – an amount that could increase in future years.
Single-gender schools: Lawmakers approved legislation creating requirements for single-gender school programs, and provided some seed money to help them train teachers and prepare for an expansion around the state.
Did not pass
Charter schools: This wasn’t the year for a bill aimed at requiring standard charter-school contracts and bolstering efforts to attract new charter operators from outside the state. It passed the House but not the Senate. The bill foundered in part because some lawmakers in the Senate wanted to give the state more time to implement last year’s charter school bill.
Dual enrollment: Last year’s push to overhaul the way the state funds dual enrollment courses created a financial dilemma for private schools. Efforts to address that issue by exempting private schools from payment requirements did not make their way into law.
Virtual school: A proposed overhaul of Florida Virtual School’s funding model did not make its way into law, and no bill passed this session would address the funding of virtual courses taken by students with McKay scholarships. Virtual schools are expected to receive a slight funding increase in next year’s budget.
Extracurricular activities: A House bill opening more school district extracurricular activities to home-school, private school and virtual school students did not pass the Senate.
Early learning: Legislation creating tighter regulations for early learning providers died in the waning hours of the session after volleying between the House and Senate, despite passing both chambers unanimously at different points. Voluntary prekindergarten – the state’s largest private school choice program – did receive a slight funding increase, its first in nearly six years.