House, Senate advance digital learning bills but differences remain

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Key lawmakers have raised questions about the quality of information they have at their disposal on the progress Florida school districts are making toward the state’s digital learning goals.

The situation could soon improve under digital learning proposals that have advanced quickly and with little controversy in both the House and Senate.

Both chambers have proposed bills that would require school districts and state officials to outline clearer plans to use technology in their classrooms, as well as budget proposals that would earmark funding for schools’ technology needs.

The lower chamber’s digital learning bill passed the Education Appropriations panel unanimously this morning, which means both measures are ready for votes on the floor. The competing spending plans, meanwhile, will be debated later this week.

Both the House and Senate have produced proposals that would:

  • Require the state Department of Education to draw up a five-year statewide school technology plan
  • Require school districts to come up with annual technology plans that tie their digital learning initiatives to improving student performance, and report on their technology spending
  • Create a new category of state education funding earmarked for technology
  • Ensure that smaller rural districts district receive at least $250,000 in state technology funding

Some differences remain between the two chamber’s digital learning approaches, in terms of both policy and funding. Among them:

  • The Senate legislation would encourage school districts to offer more computer-science courses, and would allow students to use those courses to meet other graduation requirements.
  • The Senate plan would set an annual funding goal for lawmakers that would equal some $100 million under current spending levels; the House plan would not.
  • The House’s budget would set aside a total of $81.3 million for technology upgrades. The Senate’s would set aside $40 million.
  • A separate House education funding bill would require school districts to boost their bandwidth to one megabit per student by the 2017-18 school year.

The digital learning provisions that have attracted the most controversy are the portions of the Senate bill that would allow students to replace math, science and physical education credits with computer-science courses. Sen. John Legg, R-Lutz, the bill’s sponsor, has offered some compromises, and said he does not want to pile additional graduation requirements onto students’ already-crowded schedules.

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