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The Florida House and Senate have different ideas on what school regulations to get rid of

A black backpack hanging on the door to red lockers with books inside.
Sandra Manske
A black backpack hanging on the door to red lockers with books inside.

Florida lawmakers are following through on a promise to address the myriad regulations on public schools. A major proposal slashing rules on everything from how teachers are certified, hired and paid, to rolling back some of the state’s standardized testing system, has cleared a major hurdle, but the House and Senate differ on how far they should go.

The Senate's plan de-emphasizes some of the state’s standardized tests and gives districts more flexibility when determining teacher pay—like how advanced degrees and years of experience count toward compensation. While public school officials have lauded the bills, the praise hasn’t been universal. Former Gov. Jeb Bush, the architect of the state's modern school accountability system, has come out publicly against one idea that would have allowed parents, instead of a test, to decide whether their child should be held back in the third grade. The Senate has since stripped that language from the bill. Speaking with reporters shortly after the bills cleared the chamber, Tallahassee Republican Sen. Corey Simon explained his reasoning behind the original language giving parents a say on third grade retention.

“We wanted to make sure we weren’t just waiting until the last minute to retain those students in the third grade. If we need to, we can retain them in kindergarten or first or second grade," said Simon, explaining that recent changes that now track student progress earlier meant there could be more leeway on the third grade retention rules.

The proposal still drops Algebra 1 and the 10th grade reading and language arts assessments as must-pass exams for students to graduate high school. Other parts of the plan give school districts more flexibility on how to budget for and construct new schools, amend building requirements and compensate their teachers. Still, Palm Coast Republican Sen. Travis Hutson noted the two chambers are a ways apart on many of those issues.

“I’ve talked to members of the House, the Speaker [Paul Renner] being one of them, on trying to find common ground on where we are," Hutson said.

Meanwhile, Miami Republican Senator Alexis Calatyud’s bill deals with the teacher compensation and retention issues, another possible sticking point between the chambers.

“Teacher recruitment and retention is a national problem…some of those items we will have to discuss—some have moved through the legislature for years, some are rewinding in different ways…but we have the same goal: we want wonderful teachers for our kids, and we want them to feel the profession of education is where they belong," she said.

Shortly after the Senate cleared its education deregulation package Wednesday the House has unveiled its own ideas for changes. As of now, those ideas do not include any of the Senate’s moves to scale back the big standardized tests. Fort Pierce Republican Rep. Dana Trabulsy says her proposal is a starting point and she’s promising to work with the Senate to merge the proposals into a final product.

“We did take a very moderate approach in this first stop for the bill and we did that intentionally," she said before the House's Education Quality Subcommittee, Wednesday.

"We’re excited to have deregulation…we can do a lot more, but need to do it thoughtfully and mindfully and not sacrifice deregulation for quality.”

The House package also has one potentially controversial provision. It's a plan to charge a $100 fee to people who challenge multiple school books but don’t have children in the district. Supporters of last year's effort to bring forth challenges to school library books and classroom materials oppose adding a fee. Supporters of the fee say it'll curb frivolous challenges.

Still, the legislature’s overall push toward scaling back regulations on public schools is getting mostly universal praise, and excitement.

Copyright 2024 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Lynn Hatter has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative.
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