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  • Sarah Mueller, Florida Politics

Several education bills fail to cross the finish line this Session

Several pieces of legislation related to education failed to make it across the finish line this session.

Some of those bills included school safety recommendations, parental rights specifications and a school board term limits question for the November ballot. The measures that did pass would detail how hundreds of millions in teacher pay raises will be distributed and would expand two school voucher programs.

HB 7065 was the third piece of school safety legislation introduced since the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, but the first that didn’t pass. Some of the aspects would have included beefing up training requirements for dealing with mental health issues and having sheriff’s offices sign off on applicants’ psychological evaluation before accepting them into the school guardian program. The budget does include $42 million for school hardening.

The failed bill also included changes to the membership of the MSD High School Public Safety Commission and would have allowed law enforcement to investigate false tips to the reporting tool, FortifyFL.

It also included an amendment that would have barred the arrest of minors under 7 years old, unless the offense constituted a violent felony. That measure was in response to a viral video of an Orlando police officer arresting 6-year-old Kaia Rolle for throwing a tantrum at school.

“I’m wondering a little bit about what happened. (Senate) President (Bill) Galvano and I ran the Marjory Stoneman Douglas bill (in 2018),” House Speaker José Oliva said after Session adjourned Friday night. “This is an area that is very important to him, and it’s very important to me.”

Several hours of down time that spanned Friday afternoon was largely dedicated to hashing out the tax package. So that left limited time to come to agreement on school safety and some of the other education measures.

Rep. Erin Grall’s legislation (HB 1013) revamping the Voluntary Pre-kindergarten Program also didn’t survive last Friday. The House passed it Monday, but the Senate didn’t take it up. It would have made significant changes to School Readiness and the Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Program, which is offered for free to all 4-year-olds for three hours a day.

“I don’t understand what the problem was with the preschool bill,” Sen. Tom Lee said. “I really don’t. My sense of that piece of legislation was that it was in pretty good shape.”

The budget, which will be voted on Thursday, includes $412.2 million in general revenue for VPK, including a $1.7 million increase for 659 additional students and $8.1 million to raise the Base Student Allocation. It also gives $895.8 million, of which $144 million is general revenue, for school readiness.

The VPK bill would have also implemented stricter statewide standards on providers, which are mostly private pre-K centers. It would have created a new assessment test to measure student progress from kindergarten through third grade and for those with identified learning disabilities. It would have also established a rating system, from “unsatisfactory” to “excellent,” for parents.

Grall’s controversial legislation (HB 1059), which would have established a parental bill of rights also didn’t survive. It would have allowed parents to object to material based on moral or religious beliefs, including on sex education. It also created exceptions for parents to send their children to school without vaccinating them.

HB 7079, which would have helped the state achieve the goal of reducing student testing and fulfill Gov. DeSantis’ priority of adding more civics education to the curriculum, also died last week. It also would have included an accelerated process for turnaround schools that began improvement plans but then received another low-performing test score.

The Senate also declined to take up legislation that would have put term limits for school board members on November’s ballot. The House passed HJR 157 and sent it to the Senate. The Senate version (SJR 1216) was not moved from second reading. Senate Democrats had taken a position against the bills and were confident they had the votes to kill it.

Lee characterized some of the school choice ideas proposed this Session as “aggressive” and he praised Galvano’s handling of education legislation.

“I think it was a pretty good Session,” he said. “In fact I think it was probably the best Session I can remember in a very long time for traditional public schools because it’s like if it’s the NBA championship and you’re playing Lebron James and you fight to a draw, you had a pretty good night.”

Public schools will get $22 billion in the budget including $13 billion in general revenue. Lawmakers are setting aside another $500 million for teacher pay raises, with $400 million going to increase starting teacher pay to $47,500 and $100 million going to veteran teachers and other instructional staff.


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