The most wide-ranging education bill of this year’s session in the Florida Legislature is headed to Gov. Rick Scott.
One Democrat and 19 Republicans backed HB 7055 in a contentious 20-17 Senate vote, with four Republicans joining 13 Democrats in opposition.
The House gave the bill final approval hours later.
Opponents put up resistance. They tried unsuccessfully to remove a contentious teachers union certification proposal.
The bill also provoked the usual debates about charter schools and private school choice. Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana, attempted to strip a provision that would allow companies to receive up to $57.5 million in tax credits on corporate leases. The tax credits would encourage contributions to two state scholarship programs*.
“We shouldn’t continue to chip away at general revenue and give it to scholarship programs,” Berman said.
But House Republicans made expanding school choice an election-year priority. They rebuffed Berman’s proposal and approved the bill on a 74-39 vote.
The bill includes the Hope Scholarship proposal, championed by Speaker Richard Corcoran. It would offer new private school scholarship and public school transfer options to victims of bullying and violence. A standalone version of that legislation won bipartisan support in the House earlier in the day.
In the Senate, Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples and leader of the education budget committee, said it can be impossible for victims to learn when they dread coming to school and they worry about their reputations.
“Why not let them move?” she said. “Why not give them a fresh start, to another school?”
Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, said he had heartburn about some parts of the bill. In addition to expanding private school choice programs, it would place new legal guardrails on school districts’ efforts to close charter schools.
But Montford, who also heads the state school superintendents’ association, noted the proposal would revise parts of HB 7069, a contentious law passed last year.
It would restore some of school boards’ flexibility to pay for district-wide programs with federal Title I funding. It would eliminate, at least for now, the requirement for school districts to share local capital outlay funding for charters. And it would give school districts more of the construction flexibility charters enjoy.
Those changes weren’t enough for other Democrats. Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, argued the bill would further “privatize, corporatize and re-segregate our public school system.”
*Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer Florida’s tax credit and Gardiner Scholarship programs.
Note: This post has been updated to report both chambers passed the final bill.