Florida Legislature passes major homeschooling bill

On the last day of their annual legislative session, Florida lawmakers unanimously passed the most significant legislation to impact homeschool families in years.

House bill 731 would rein in school districts’ inquiries to parents who start home education programs. The legislation came in response to concerns among parents that districts were adding hurdles for homeschool registration. That likely contributed to a decline in homeschooling in some districts, even though state statistics show its popularity is growing statewide.

Home education advocates proposed similar legislation multiple times, but it did not pass until this year. The bill now heads to Gov. Rick Scott.Florida law requires homeschoolers to register with their local school districts. They must send a signed notice of intent to the school district superintendent with the students’ names, birthdates and addresses. The bill would bar districts from requiring other information from parents. It would also clarify that a home education program is not a school district program.

The statute does not require parents to provide proof of residency and a birth certificate. However, the Miami-Dade School Board adopted a policy requiring parents to provide those documents. And parents have complained of similar practices in other counties, including Broward, Hillsborough and St. Lucie.

TJ Schmidt, staff attorney at the Home School Legal Defense Association, said in an email he is hopeful that clarifying the law would stop school districts from making unnecessary demands of parents who choose to teach their children at home.

In previous years the Legislature considered similar bills, but they stalled in the Senate.

The bill initially included an amendment by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, that would have expanded a mastery-based learning program and created a new education savings account program to support struggling readers who attend public schools.

But Baxley took that language out of the bill after other senators began filing amendments that threatened to change the overall focus.

“We decided to clean everything off and do our original bill, and that’s where we are headed,” Baxley said Thursday.

The bill would also allow home education students to sign up for district career and technical education programs. Districts could receive state funding for students who sign up for those courses.

Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, the sponsor of HB 731, said Friday there’s only one difference between the final version of the bill and the version the House passed last month. It would no longer expand homeschoolers’ access to dual enrollment courses. But those measures are included a wide-ranging education bill, HB 7055, which also awaits the governor’s signature.

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