Gov. Scott signs mammoth education bill, despite calls for veto

By Christie Zizo, Digital Media Producer
Last Updated: Thursday, June 15, 2017, 5:41 PM EDT

Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed an enormous education bill Thursday in Orlando, despite broad calls for a veto from school superintendents, teachers and parent-student groups.

  • Gov. Scott HB 7069 at private school in Orlando
  • Massive education bill created from almost 3 dozen bills
  • Includes big funds for charter schools

HB 7069, which was a priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Lutz, includes everything from changes to the state's testing system to requiring recess for elementary schools to extending teacher bonuses through a program that utilizes SAT test scores.

It also changes the way schools and school districts allocate funds to schools that help low-income schools, and most controversially, steers more public money to privately-run charter schools.

Scott signed the bill at Morning Star Catholic School in Orlando. 

The bill runs nearly 300 pages and is cobbled together from numerous school-related bills that were introduced throughout the Florida Legislative Session. At least one of them failed to make it through committee.

A major piece of the bill creates the Schools of Hope program, a $200 million fund that provides incentives to charter school operators who take students from chronically failing public schools. It is also supposed to provide funds for student support services for up to 25 failing public schools throughout the state.

It also requires school districts to share capital outlay money, used for school construction and other facilities needs, with charter schools. 

The bill's cost is over $414 million.

The bill was unveiled two days before a final vote and barely passed the Florida Senate. Since its passage, the state's school districts, the teachers union and various parent-school advocacy groups urged Scott to veto the bill.

What's in the education bill?

Here's a look at some of the major items in HB 7069. To get a complete breakdown, read the state's final bill analysis (.PDF).

ON TEACHERS

  • Extends Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship program through 2020. Bill provides a bonus to teachers who are rated as highly effective and achieve a high score on their high school SAT or ACT. 
  • Makes changes to how teachers are trained and continue their education.

SCHOOL ACCOUNTABILITY

  • Changes the school accountability system to require districts to act more quickly on struggling schools. The bill establishes an education emergency if “one of more schools in a school district earns a grade of ‘D’ or ‘F.’”
CHARTER SCHOOLS
  • Establishes the Schools of Hope fund, which provides funds to set up a charter school in communities where the public school has earned three consecutive grades below a “C.” Sets up requirements to get the funds.
    The program must also provide funding to up to 25 traditional schools that have to submit a turnaround plan. Those schools can get up to $2,000 per student for things like after-school programs, student counseling and parent counseling.
  • Allows charter schools to get funding for building needs from the same pot of funds as public schools. 
STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT AND TESTS
  • Expands the Early Warning System used in middle school to identify students who need help to do better in school to the elementary school grades.
  • Eliminates the Algebra II end of course test.
  • Pushes the dates for some of the FSAs to no earlier than May 1, and some of the English FSAs to no earlier than April 1.
  • Requires a statewide study on whether the SAT or ACT can be used instead of an FSA for the tenth grade in English and Algebra I.

LEARNING NEEDS

  • Requires school districts to give students in kindergarten through third grade who have reading problems the highest priority when allocating remedial and supplemental reading resources. It also bans schools from waiting until a student fails at the end of a grading period to be identified as having problems.
  • Designates September “American Founders’ Month,” encouraging schools to coordinate instruction on the founding fathers. It also makes it a priority to prepare students to “become civically engaged and knowledgeable adults who make positive contributions to their community.”
  • Allows all K-12 students, including those in private schools or home school, to be eligible for full-time and part-time virtual instruction programs.
  • Changes high school graduation requirements so that students do not have to take an online course to graduate. They can take a blended learning course instead. 
  • Allows students who spend 2 seasons on a varsity or junior varsity sport to satisfy the physical education requirements. 
  • Requires 20 minutes of consecutive free-play recess per day for K through 5 students; exempts charter schools 

STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES

  • Expands access and funding for the Gardiner scholarship program, which allows parents of disabled students more flexibility in customizing their education.
  • Requires school districts to adopt absence policies for students who need autism spectrum disorder therapy. 

Statements from school groups

School superintendents and other groups voiced their displeasure in Gov. Scott's decision to sign the bill.

Orange County Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Jenkins:

"We are disappointed that Gov. Scott did not veto House Bill 7069 but acknowledge the political process. We are hopeful corrective measures will materialize in the next legislative session. Meanwhile, we remain committed to leading OCPS students to success with the support of our families and community."

Polk County Public Schools:

“Words cannot express our disappointment with the signing of HB 7069. This bill will have detrimental effects on our neediest students and schools.

"Polk County Public Schools will continue to provide the highest quality education possible for our students and communities. We remain steadfast in our commitment to fight on their behalf.”

 

Seminole County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Walt Griffin:

"We are greatly disappointed as I joined the State Superintendents and citizens around the state who worked on a veto of the bill because its content that diverts dollars from our public schools and the process by which it was created."