Prek-12 Legislative Update 2/09/17
Appropriations focus this week was on a series of presentations on Gov. Scott’s proposed FY18 budget. Both House and Senate full committees had Gov’s staff reviews. Some questions were asked, but there was very little comment and no commitment by committee chairs. Next week, the Senate appropriations subcommittees devote all of Wednesday-Thursday on budget with no substantive committees scheduled to meet during the week.
Meanwhile, House Prek-12 Appropriations met this morning, getting the Governor’s staff presentation, and proceeded to look at potential budget cuts under a 10% “exercise” discussed two weeks ago. Each member was asked by Chair Manny Diaz to list potential reductions. Those getting the most attention were doing away with the $14 million student attire incentive given districts for a uniform dress code; eliminating last year’s “federal connection” funding for counties with large military installations or other federal lands, and reductions at the state Board and department Levels. all were reluctant to cut any basic FEFP funds. Of keen interest, however, was a proposal outlined by Rep. Ralph Massullo and three others to reduce Class Size Reduction expenditures to school average, essentially. He and others have prefiled HB591, which is attached for your information and for staff review. Massullo stated it could save up to $600M-plus which he said could both make up the “exercise” shortfall and provide funds for teacher pay raises.
Other costs mentioned included Best and Brightest teacher scholarship; elimination of the virtual ed contribution, elimination of the technology “digital classrooms” funding, and a proposed mandatory 10% cut in district administrative costs, and reduction or elimination of state contributions to public TV and radio except for The Florida Channel.
Discussion came following a presentation by Education Commissioner Pam Stewart on the Governor’s budget recommendations which calls for no cuts and a 3% per FTE increase. The Governor and House leadership are at odds on whether to use over $400M in projected local tax roll growth from reassessments and new construction. The Governor tax advantage of the same millage rate; the House plans to roll it back so districts will stay with the same actual local dollars as this year. The RLE debate will loom large during the session.
The committee’s deliberations continue next Thursday on recurring earmark programs and community projects requested by legislators and eventually approved in the overall budget.
During this week, some bills were taken up, but education-related committees mostly received reports from FLDOE and discussion panels on various issues. Of note:
Senate Education (back-up packet here) passed SB104 which allows computer coding courses to count in lieu of up to two credits in foreign language and to require state colleges and universities to accept the courses as fulfilling the foreign language requirement. curricular staff should review this bill. It does require districts to notify parents and students that the use of these courses to fulfill foreign language may not be accepted by private institutions or those out of state. The bill is supported as an alternative for students with linguistic difficulties, but who are interested in computer programming as well as those wanting to see incentives to get more students into computer programming.
Committee members also voted out SB374 that would create a state board for community colleges, split out from FLDOE, and providing operational guidelines. While it was approved, half of the committee expressed concerns about specific items within the bill which indicates it will likely face significant amending at its next committee stop in Higher Ed Appropriations.
Senate Prek-12 Appropriations (back-up packet here) members workshopped public school fixed capital outlay issues that focused on testimony from a panel of school superintendents seeking increased funding for maintenance and renovation and charter school representatives on funding for school construction and leases. Chair David Simmons has filed two bills, we noted last week, to increase local school capital millage to 1.7 mills (SB604) and for districts under specific instances to share some of that millage with charter schools (SB376).
House Prek-12 Innovation Subcommittee (back-up packet is here) also held a briefing on the state and local processes for charter school applications and approvals as part of a committee orientation. No actions were taken.
House PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee (back-up packet is here) received an update on the history and status of Florida’s accountability and testing statutes that included how school grades are calculated and changes, in particular, since 2014 passage of SB1642. Questions centered on what constitutes “learning gains,” length of time districts must set aside for state testing, and whether use of school grades has made a difference in student proficiency. PBC Rep. Matt Willhite questioned the value of continuing to have school grades to which DOE Deputy Commissioner Juan Copa replied grades are a “wake-up call” for school districts. A couple of other committee members felt proficiency in subject matter is what’s important, over importance of grades.
Much legislative attention in education this week focused on higher ed, specifically SB2 that revises funding metrics and reinstates a previous 2-plus-2 concept involving state community colleges and universities, beefing up the Bright Futures Scholarships for students, and SB4 that pertains to faculty recruitment and establishes a state University Professional and Graduate Degree Excellence Program. The gist of the Senate programs is to implement Senate President Joe Negron’s priority to improve Bright Futures funding for students, promote the 2-plus-2 articulation between colleges and universities, get students graduated in 4 years for 4-year programs, and improve performance metrics for higher education. The House has not started any actions yet although HB1 and HB3 have been prefiled.
Prefiled Bill of Note this week is HB559(Rep. Nicholas Duran) and SB642 (Sen. Rene Garcia) that gives school districts the option to obtain a waiver from SREF rules except for lfire prevention and Florida building code requirements. The House bill is attached for review. The bill is in response to the recent OPPAGA study that was distributed last week.
Widely reported is the confirmation of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos by an historic 51-50 vote with Vice President Mike Pence breaking the 50-50 tie. DeVos began her new role immediately and started meeting with department of education personnel early Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the House voted along party lines to approve House Joint Resolution 58 that would nullify rules adopted October 31st under the Obama Administration for teacher preparation and HJR57 that would roll back rules on student accountability and state plans, adopted November 29th. If both bills are approved by the Senate, it effectively means no federal rules or guidance are in place for implementation of Every Student Succeeds Act and opens the way for new, replacement rule-making to start under the Trump Administration. During her confirmation hearing, DeVos pledged to follow the intent and letter of ESSA in devolving federal control to the states. However, current rules do remain in place until such time as when or if the Senate approves the House resolutions. Under current rules, states have until September to submit final plans for implementation in 2018-19, two years before ESSA expires.