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Senate Education Leaders Announce 2019 Priorities

February 22, 2019 - 9:15am

Sen. Manny Diaz, Jr.-R-Hialeah Gardens, chair of the Senate Committee on Education, Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, and Sen. President Pro Tempore David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, announced Thursday key components of legislation the Senate will consider during the 2019 legislative session.

“With more than 100,000 students receiving a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, the growing demand for this option is outpacing available funding, creating a waitlist that prevents students from attending school in the educational environment their parents believe is best,” said Chair Diaz. “Legislation establishing a new Family Empowerment Scholarship will reduce this waitlist, using funds Florida taxpayers have already dedicated to education to provide school choice options to more low income families. Additionally, policy and budget enhancements moving through the Senate this session will elevate our traditional public schools and strengthen their ability to keep our students safe and secure.”

"Parents of all children, regardless of income, should be empowered to choose the educational environment that is best for their child, and we are excited to present the Family Empowerment Scholarship as another solution for our lower income families,” said Chair Stargel. “We recognize the majority of Florida families choose to educate their children at neighborhood public schools. As such, we will also pursue legislation that demonstrates our commitment to elevating our public schools by supporting teachers and principals, expanding student support services, and reducing regulations. To facilitate success, it is my goal to support our education policy initiatives with funding investments in the Senate’s education budget.”

Family Empowerment Scholarship

Joined by families whose students are benefiting from school choice options available through the Florida Tax Credit (FTC) Scholarship, senators announced plans to file legislation creating a new scholarship program, the Family Empowerment Scholarship, designed to help our low income families attend an eligible private school of choice and reduce the FTC Scholarship waitlist.

The Family Empowerment Scholarship will be available to low income families (up to 260 percent of the federal poverty level), and will require that the student have previously attended a traditional public school or be eligible to enroll in kindergarten. The scholarship will be funded through the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) at 95 percent of the district average cost per student and capped at 15,000 students statewide, with the ability to grow as the overall public school student population grows.

Recruitment, Retention, and Recognition Bonuses for Teachers and Principals

Senators also announced plans to file legislation to restructure the current Best and Brightest Teacher’s Program, eliminating SAT/ACT requirements, and instead focusing on recruitment, retention, and recognition of Florida’s top teachers and principals.

Specifically, the legislation will create a new recruitment bonus, a one-time award for newly hired teachers who are content expert in mathematics, science, computer science, reading, or civics. Legislation will also create a retention bonus for effective or highly effective teachers at schools that have demonstrated academic improvement, as well as a recognition bonus for highly effective teachers selected by the school principal, based on performance criteria and policies adopted by the district school board. The legislation will also retool the principal bonus around performance of schools demonstrating academic improvement.

Remove Barriers to the Teacher Certification Process

Senate legislation will expand access to teacher certification exams and increase options for school districts to retain quality teachers. Specifically, to address concerns with the cost of certification exams, legislation will require the State Board of Education to establish examination fees for initial and retake registrations, and specify requirements to reduce retake fees. The legislation will also provide flexibility for teachers to meet the requirement to demonstrate mastery of general knowledge.

Reduce Regulations that Impede School Construction and Facility Improvements

Senate legislation will also provide school districts with flexibility by no longer requiring an educational plant survey recommendation when only local funds, including ad valorem revenue, are used for facility construction. The legislation will also remove cost per student station restrictions when the school district uses only local funds for construction.

Enhance Support for Community Wrap-Around Services

The legislation will also stabilize state support of neighborhood public schools with unique community needs.  Leveraging the successful leadership of the Center for Community Schools, legislation will promote the expansion of, and encourage funding for, new Community Schools. Additionally, the legislation will secure Florida’s investment in the success of public schools in, or exiting, district-managed turnaround status through sustained support for wrap-around services such as after-school programs, extended school day or school year, counseling, or other support services.

Improve Safety and Security for Students and Schools

The Senators also discussed ongoing efforts to implement recommendations of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission. Last week the Committee on Education passed Senate Bill 7030 to implement the Commission’s recommendations in the areas of school safety and security with key improvements to school security measures, enhancements to student safety, and by providing greater flexibility for school districts to transfer funds towards school safety expenditures. Additional legislation will address recommendations related to 911 Emergency Services, and duty to warn in threat situations (SB 7048), while the Senate’s education budget will include funding to support and sustain school district investments in school safety and security enhancements.

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