Here comes the train: A closer look at SPB 7070

Over the past two years, public education advocates in Florida have become accustomed to the House ramming through a massive train bill in the final weeks of session.

For those who aren’t familiar with the terminology, a train bill is a bill that combines multiple, unrelated ideas and combines them into one bill, so legislators have to vote the entire bill up or down instead having the ability to judge each component and its merit with an up or down vote.

This year, the Senate is letting the train out of the station early in the form of Senate Proposed Bill 7070 (SPB 7070). This bill contains some ideas FEA has long fought for, including expansion of community schools. But also contain a new voucher program that would further erode funding for public schools; furthermore, the bill does nothing to solve the teacher shortage crisis.

The eight-member Senate Education Committee met on Wednesday to discuss and debate SPB7070. You can watch the committee meeting rebroadcast on the Florida Channel and see the full text of the bill here.

As expected, the bill passed on a party line vote despite the overwhelming amount of public comment being in opposition to the bill. We are especially thankful to the teachers and FEA members from Volusia United Educators and Leon Classroom Teachers Association who testified before the committee today.

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Even though the committee ultimately approved the bill, these educators did a terrific job of explaining to the committee that educators need #RaisesNotBonuses.

One of the main components of SPB 7070 is a retooling of the Best and Brightest program. While the bill does eliminate SAT and ACT scores from consideration to earn the bonus, the program is still discriminatory and does nothing to help raise base pay or solve the teacher shortage.

The other hotly contested portion of the bill deals with the “Family Empowerment” Voucher, which if approved would become Florida’s seventh voucher program. Florida already spends a higher percentage of its combined K-12 expenditures on private school vouchers than any other state. This new voucher would exacerbate the problem.

Proponents of the voucher claim that it is intended to help low-income families; however, Senator Lori Berman pointed out families of four with an income of $65,000 would be eligible for the voucher. That is higher than the median family income in Florida of $62,500.

Senators Bill Montford and Janet Cruz joined with Senator Berman in speaking out against the bill. Ultimately, all three of them voting against SPB 7070. If you live in one of their districts, please reach out to them and thank them for their vote and their great testimony today!

Senator Simmons championed the Community Schools portion of the bill. Securing more funding for Community Schools has long been an FEA priority, and we are thankful for Senator Simmons’s commitment to seeing this become a reality.

Though he did vote in favor of the bill, Senator Simmons noted he is troubled by the FEFP being used to fund vouchers. So, we encourage all of his constituents to contact thank him for his advocacy around Community Schools and to ask him to work with us in order to remove the voucher language.

With today being only the second day of the legislative session, we still have a lot of time to fight, but don’t waste any time in contacting your senator and asking them to oppose this bill.