The school choice bills to watch during Florida’s 2018 legislative session

As usual, school choice is high on the education agenda as the Florida Legislature convenes its 60-day legislative session.

This is not an exhaustive list of all the school choice-related bills that have been filed. But it’s a rundown of measures that could make an impact before lawmakers adjourn in March. They’re the ones we’ll be watching closely.

Hope Scholarships. HB 1/SB 1172 would create a new school choice program for violence victims.

Home education. HB 731/SB 732 would limit the requirements school districts can place on homeschoolers. And they would increase homeschoolers’ access to dual enrollment and career education courses.

Reading scholarships. SB 1820 would create mini-education savings accounts. Parents whose children struggled on the third-grade reading assessment could use the accounts to pay for books, tutoring, summer programs or after-school instruction.

Mastery-based learning. SB 968/HB 1035 would expand a personalized learning pilot program statewide. They would give public schools a chance to allow students to advance based on their mastery of a subject, rather than the amount of time they spend in class. 

Virtual education. HB 949/SB 1198 would retool funding and accountability for virtual schools. Among other changes, online learning providers would be barred from offering publicly funded courses if they earn two straight F’s from the state’s A-F accountability system. The state would no longer bar them for earning multiple D’s.

Scholarship oversightSB 1756SB 1736 and SB 1614 are among the Senate proposals that would increase oversight of private school choice programs. Among other things, they would bar school leaders with a history of bankruptcy from receiving scholarship funds, and lift the cap on school site visits by Department of Education staff. The House has also held a hearing on these issues.

Revisiting HB 7069. A slew of bills would revisit contentious issues from the major education law passed last year. Senate Republicans filed three that could be especially notable. SB 1434 revives a Senate proposal from last year that did not make it into the law. Charter schools that benefit from increased capital funding would have to use publicly owned buildings or swear that their buildings would return to public hands if the charter school ever closed. SB 1152 would increase the number of central-office services school districts can pay for with federal Title I funding. That would soften parts of the new law that shift resources from the district level to the school level.  SB 1684 would give districts more options to turn around persistently struggling schools without converting them to charters or bringing in outside operators.

More McKay access. HB 829/SB 1030 would ease public-school attendance requirements for special needs students who want to start using McKay Scholarships in fifth grade or below.

Special needs evaluations for voucher recipients. SB 564/HB 399 would allow parents to request new evaluations for students who receive McKay Scholarships. School districts conduct the evaluations, which determine the value of the vouchers for children with special needs.

Early learning. HB 951/SB 1192 would allow families to apply for a second year of Voluntary Prekindergarten scholarships for students at risk of being unprepared for kindergarten. SB 1546 would require early learning coalitions to offer at-home, technology-based early learning programs to disadvantaged students.

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