Fla. Senate panel tweaks wide-ranging education legislation, sends it to floor

Travis Pillow

The Florida Senate’s approach to a wide-ranging education proposal cleared its final committee hurdle this afternoon.

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted to send the measure to the floor during a contentious hearing dominated by the body’s response to a school shooting in Broward County earlier this month.

The panel made several key tweaks to its rewrite of HB 7055.

An amendment by Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, revived a teachers union certification proposal adamantly opposed by labor groups.

Another, by Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, would create a new education savings account program* for public-school students who struggle on reading tests. Parents could use the accounts to pay for books, tutors, summer programs or other approved expenses to help their children.

And an amendment by Sen. Kellie Stargel, R-Naples, would increase the number of times a high-performing charter school can replicate each year from one to two. It would also require school boards to go before the state’s Division of Administrative Hearings before voting to close a charter school they authorize.

Stargel said the proposal would create a clear legal standard where none exists. And she said there need to be clear standards when school boards are considering closing schools that hundreds of parents may have chosen for their children.

School district representatives objected to the change.

“It basically forces us to go to DOAH,” said Joy Frank, with the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. “That is very expensive.”

The changes approved today move the Senate’s proposal closer to the House’s version, setting the stage for final floor debates before the legislative session is scheduled to adjourn on March 9.

*Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, would help administer the reading scholarship accounts if lawmakers create them.

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