Senate releases education package proposal

Members of the Senate President’s education team — Senator Manny Diaz, Jr. (R-Hialeah Gardens), Chair of the Senate Committee on Education, Senator Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland), Chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, and Senate President Pro Tempore David Simmons (R-Altamonte Springs) — rolled out the Senate’s education plan for consideration during the coming legislative session.

Their proposal was short on specifics but here is what we know:

  • Very similar to the governor’s proposal for another voucher, the “Family Empowerment Scholarship” voucher, available to low income families (up to 260 percent of the federal poverty level), for students who have previously attended a traditional public school or be eligible to enroll in kindergarten. The voucher 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 for the first year. The voucher cap would then grow as the overall public school student population grows.
  • Restructure the current Best and Brightest bonus program, eliminating SAT/ACT requirements, and instead focusing on recruitment, retention, and recognition of Florida’s top teachers and principals. 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; a retention bonus for effective or highly effective teachers at schools that have demonstrated academic improvement; and 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.
  • 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.

Some of these components sound familiar because FEA has championed issues such as community schools and wrap around services for years. The Senate education leadership team made it clear their intent to allow the bill to be vetted through the committee process with time for input along the way. FEA will be monitoring closely and working with legislators when a House version emerges.