Monday, May 22, 2017

Recapping Florida’s 2017 Legislative Session - Part 2

As promised in my last post, here's a look at the major education policies contained in bills awaiting the Governor signature.

Testing - The many people who wanted fewer state-mandated tests, a later “testing window” (calendar) in which to give them, and a return to paper-based assessments got much less than they asked for. Just one end-of-course exam (Algebra II) and phys ed for student-athletes who don’t take a PE course were eliminated. The testing window was pushed back to start May 1 and reduced to two weeks, gaining one to three weeks of instructional time. Paper-based testing will be required for grades three through six in English language arts (ELA) and math starting in the 2017-18 year, and for all ELA and math exams no later than 2018-19. Test results will have to be provided more quickly and with clearer explanations. Exceptions are for third-grade reading and paper-based tests in grades three through six, which take longer to grade. These provisions are included in the massive HB 7069, which has not yet been received by the Governor but could well be vetoed.

Teacher Pay - The Legislature again this year favored bonuses for “effective” teachers over across-the-board pay increases for all teachers. They expanded the 2015 “Best and Brightest Scholarship” program to more teachers in that for the next three years, those who earn a "highly effective" rating would get a $1,200 bonus while those with "effective" ratings would get $800. After that time, new criteria would kick in for a higher payout. They also added an award for principals in schools with the highest percentage of Best and Brightest teachers, and eliminated the bonus cap for teachers whose students successfully complete AP, AICE and similar tests. Responding to teacher complaints, they  removed the requirement for districts to evaluate teachers using the controversial "value-added model," which relies on test scores. But they took away the ability of school boards to offer guaranteed employment extensions to teachers on annual contract, something many districts have done since 2011. All these provisions are included in HB 7069.

Mandatory Recess - Florida's self-designated "recess moms" wanted 20 minutes of daily elementary school recess. They found quick support in the Senate, but the House was slow to respond. The idea resurfaced in the final days of horse-trading and was included in the massive HB 7069, but with an unrequested exemption for charter schools.

Instructional Materials Review - Rep. Byron Donalds and local supporters including the Florida Citizens Alliance and Better Collier County Schools wanted non-parent community members to be able to challenge curriculum and library materials. Opponents, including Florida Citizens for Science, strongly opposed the controversial HB 989, citing supporters’ “vociferous opposition to established, accurate science concepts” including evolution and climate change. Following a massive lobbying effort by both sides, lawmakers adopted most of Donalds’ original bill. And districts will have to bring in an "unbiased and qualified hearing officer" to hear complaints and issue recommendations. Next stop: the Governor’s Office.

Religious Expression in Public Schools - Further testing the line between church and state, the Legislature passed SB 436, the "Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act.” Students may use religious content during lessons, wear clothing and jewelry with religious symbols at school, and participate in religious activities including prayer at school during “appropriate" times. Districts must adopt policies allowing "limited public forums" for students to pray at school events, and school employees may participate in student-led religious activities on school grounds, as long as the activities are voluntary and do not interfere with the employees' responsibilities. Next stop: the Governor’s Office.

Improve middle school study performance - The Legislature was shown data sourced to an email from the Foundation for Florida’s Future showing that Florida students in grade 8 have performed below the national average on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Mathematics test since 1990, and below or most recently at the national average on the NAEP Reading test since 1998. It was told that NAEP is “the largest nationally representative assessment of students’ knowledge and performance in a variety of subject areas, including but not limited to mathematics, reading, and writing.” In response, the Legislature passed HB 293 directing the state Department of Education to solicit competitive bids to “conduct a comprehensive study of states with high-performing students in grades 6 through 8 in reading and mathematics, based on the states’ performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress,” and submit recommendations to improve middle school study performance by the end of this year. The bill is pending in the Governor’s Office; he has until June 2 to act.

It’s not too late to weigh in

Do you oppose the lack of transparency with which so many education policy issues were decided and shoe-horned into a 274-page bill? Do you think there’s still too much state-mandated testing? Do you object to the charter-school exemption from the mandated recess time? Do you think the "Best and Brightest Teacher and Principal Scholarship" program is the best way to attract and keep the best teachers in Florida? Are you okay with the “Religious Expression in Public Schools” bill? Are you concerned about the education budget or any of the other policy changes included in HB 7069? If so, it’s not too late to let Governor Scott know!

And given the many press reports that he’s listening, I urge you to do so. (PoliticoFlorida)

It’s easy to call the Governor’s office — (850) 488-7146 or (850) 717-9337 — and leave a message with your name, your city and zip code, the bill number you’re calling about, and whether you want him to sign or veto it. It would be nice, but not necessary, for you to include a one-sentence reason why. Or email Rick.Scott@eog.myflorida.com.

Let your voice be heard now!


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