After some convoluted procedural maneuvers, a Florida Senate panel approved its version of the biggest education measure of this year’s legislative session.
But the debate over House bill 7055, and efforts to revise it, is far from over.
The Senate Education Committee unanimously backed a rewrite of the legislation proposed by Chairwoman Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange.
The committee also approved new changes, including, most consequentially, amendments by Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, to remove contentious collective-bargaining changes vehemently opposed by teachers unions and beef up school security in the wake of last week’s mass shooting in Broward County.
None of this is finally settled. The Senate’s changes now head the Appropriations Committee. And because they’re dealing with a House bill, the amendment has not been incorporated into the legislation. It will need to be reviewed and voted on again. Even once the Senate approves its changes, the House would have to sign off before it goes to Gov. Rick Scott.
Right now, the Senate’s plan would largely stick to its approach to Hope Scholarships and oversight of private school choice programs.
James Herzog, representing the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, told the committee that he hoped the state Department of Education would get some extra resources to carry out its responsibilities, which would include tracking educator qualifications in private schools that receive scholarships and, potentially, conducting more oversight visits of those schools.
“You’re putting a lot more duties on them,” Herzog said.
The revised bill would also require charter schools to use facilities that would return to public hands, rather than to investors, if they ever close. In addition, it would revamp the Schools of Hope program, give districts more money-saving construction flexibility and create a new funding mechanism for student mental health services.