The biggest education issues of Florida’s 2017 legislative session will be debated in dramatic fashion this afternoon, when lawmakers are expected to debate a 278-page omnibus bill.
The centerpiece of HB 7069, a product of end-of-session budget negotiations between House and Senate leaders, is a compromise plan to overhaul school improvement in Florida and bring new “Schools of Hope” to academically struggling parts of the state.
The revised school turnaround plan would set aside $140 million for persistently low-performing public schools — or new charter school operators that might enroll their students.
Traditional public schools would be able to receive up to $2,000 per student to offer wraparound services to raise student achievement. New Schools of Hope, which are supposed to be run by nationally respected charter organizations, could receive similar grants, as the House originally intended, open new schools that would serve their areas.
But the bill does not stop there. It would also change the state’s standardized testing laws, mandate daily recess for elementary school students and revive wide-ranging charter school legislation that, most controversially, would overhaul the way Florida’s public schools receive federal funding.
In addition, the bill would create a new requirement that districts share property tax revenue with charter schools they authorize.
Another provision would set aside $30 million in additional funding for Gardiner scholarships* for students with special needs. The main state budget, which lawmakers are expected to vote on this afternoon, would keep funding for the program level at $73.3 million.
One under-the-radar change would also create a new “Schools of Excellence” program that would reduce state regulations for the highest-performing one-fifth of public schools in the state. A second set of changes that hasn’t gotten much attention would create statewide open enrollment for virtual schools and eliminate the state’s last remaining restrictions on student eligibility for virtual courses.
Both the House and Senate are expected to debate and vote on the sweeping package before concluding their extended lawmaking session today.
*Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer the scholarship program.