A key player in legislation to expand school choice scholarships in Florida said Monday he will fight to keep scholarship students from having to take the same standardized tests as their public school counterparts.
The comments from state Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, are squarely at odds with calls for a same-test mandate by Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and suggest positions may be hardening over a critical potential piece of the legislation.
“I do want to see any mandates to require the state test,” Diaz, who is shepherding the bill for House Speaker Will Weatherford, said during a live chat with redefinED.
“I plan to fight to keep away from any mandate of state testing that would stymy innovation at these schools,” he continued. “Since there is no current new state test in Florida this would be a mistake. I believe that as we work this (through) the process we will find a solution that will show this program has accountability without placing it in a one-size-fits-all box.”
Diaz’s comments came on the eve of the bill’s hearing Tuesday in the House Choice & Innovation Subcommittee. So far, no testing language has surfaced with the House bill or its Senate counterpart, but Gaetz has indicated that additional testing requirements are a priority. Currently, tax credit scholarship students are required to take state-approved, norm-referenced tests in reading and math, but not the same tests taken by public school students.
Also during the chat, Diaz said he believed the bill will still earn some bipartisan support, as similar legislation has in recent years. No Democrats voted in favor of the bill during its first stop two weeks ago in the House Finance & Taxation Subcommittee.
“I know many members of the Democratic Caucus in the House believe this is a great program,” Diaz said. Asked why that support hadn’t translated into yes votes, he said, “I feel that the Democratic leadership has decided to take a stance against school choice bills this session even though school choice programs like the FTC Scholarship overwhelmingly help minorities from low income families.”
Full disclosure: The scholarship program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.
Diaz also weighed in on other issues, including one bill to help special-needs students through education savings accounts and another to streamline charter school applications. To see his comments in full, check the transcript below.