A controversial K-12 education bill became law Thursday after Gov. Rick Scott gave the legislation his blessing despite mixed reactions over whether or not the bill would truly help Florida’s public school students.
Scott signed the bill at a Catholic school in Orlando Thursday afternoon, saying HB 7069 would provide the highest quality education possible for Florida students.
"What this legislation does here today is, it helps all students," said Scott. "That's what is important."
The legislation was largely rumored to be part of a “backroom deal” made between Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, who made the bill’s passage one of the House’s top priorities during this year’s legislative session.
Corcoran called "the most transformative pro-parent, pro-student, pro-teacher, and pro-public education bill" in Florida history.
"The bill has components of all [the legislators'] inputs," he said.
HB 7069 stirred up a storm of contention between traditional public school advocates and school choice supporters. The legislation was one of the biggest battles lawmakers duked out during the regular legislative session, just narrowly approved in the Senate by a vote of 20-18.
Supporters argued the bill was a necessary move to increase school-choice options. HB 7069 heavily favors charter schools and school choice for Florida students.
On Thursday, groups in favor of the measure cheered Scott’s signature as a beacon of hope for the future of Florida’s students.
“We celebrate today alongside the parents, students, and families of Florida who believe, as we do, that every child deserves the opportunity to succeed academically. FCSBM collaborated with our friends in the legislature to support and provide input on the groundbreaking reform policies signed into law today, and we look forward to their successful implementation for the benefit of all students,” said Florida Coalition of School Board Members president Shawn Frost.
Pushed into the bill were a variety of proposals from many different education bills.
Among the provisions added to the legislation: a $140 million "Schools of Hope" proposal, which would pump money into turning around failing public schools.
Under HB 7069, there will also be a daily recess mandate for all public school students, except for charter schools which already have a numerical requirement for recess time.
The state’s Algebra II end-of-course exam will also be eliminated under the legislation.
HB 7069 will also expand the Gardiner Scholarship program by $30 million, which will provides more scholarships to children with special needs.
Mostly, the legislation -- and thus the public response -- pitted school choice activists against traditional public school supporters and officials, who worried the bill will funnel important funding away from schools and provide students with subpar classroom instruction as a result.
Critics of the legislation chimed in on the legislation, disappointed with Scott’s decision.
"While there are small pockets of good policy hidden within this bill, it is a monstrosity when coupled with the multitude of bad policies that have been included," wrote Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Parkland, to Gov. Scott this week.
The Florida Education Association fiercely opposed the bill during the legislative session, fearing it would put unqualified teachers in the classroom.
"Our children deserve the highest qualified teachers to prepare them for the complex and rapidly changing world of the 21st century," said FEA president Joanne McCall. "It’s mind-boggling to think that lawmakers would consider educating our children with people who have few qualifications."
The bill’s architects said criticisms were expected but believed the legislation would have an undoubtedly positive impact on school choice options.
“This is truly a transformational bill and any time you make real change and upset the status quo there will be pushback,” Rep. Manny Diaz, Jr., R-Hialeah, told Sunshine State News.. “We should never be satisfied until all students in our great state have the ability to make a school choice that is the right fit.”
Scott is signed the bill after a contentious legislative session between the governor’s office and the Florida House, which sparred repeatedly over Scott’s top priorities, funding Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida.
Corcoran and Scott, once bitter enemies, seemingly buried the hatchet before state legislators came back for a special session. The two reached a compromise to fully fund Visit Florida and to sign HB 7069 behind closed doors.
Scott hasn’t passed all education bills this session. Senate President Joe Negron’s top priority to increase funding for the state’s higher education system received the royal red pen treatment on Wednesday when Scott vetoed a sweeping bill to pump millions of dollars into the state’s college and university system.
School districts are required to implement HB 7069 in their districts by July 1.
This is a breaking story. Check back for updates.
Reach reporter Allison Nielsen by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter: @AllisonNielsen.