Florida lawmakers considering several education-related bills

One of the measures would create a year-round school pilot program By Andrew Powell | The Center Square Contributor
Winston Academy of Engineering students work on a project in Lakeland, Florida.
Winston Academy of Engineering students work on a project in Lakeland, Florida. Facebook / Polk County Public Schools

(The Center Square) — Education in the Sunshine State has gone through a flurry of changes this session and several more education-related bills could be headed to the governor’s desk once lawmakers return from Easter break.

House Bill 633 is sponsored by state Rep. Michelle Salzman, R-Cantonment, and removes penalties for schools who exceed allowed class sizes, a requirement that had to be met in order to receive funding from the Florida Education Finance Program. The bill is due to make its way onto the Senate floor, after the House passed it 110-3.

HB 679 contains penalties for state colleges and universities who accept gifts, grants, or have agreements with any college, university or entity that has a connection to a foreign country of concern and the bill is up for its second reading on the House calendar. Sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Canady, R-Lakeland, the bill identifies several countries of concern such as China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Syria and Venezuela.

Senate Bill 780 is sponsored by state Sen. Alexis Calatayud, R-Miami, and is designed to better integrate computer science into the elementary school curriculum and is currently with the Senate Appropriations Committee on Education. The bill additionally offers bonuses to qualifying instruction personnel who teach elementary computer science classes, where previously bonuses were only available for middle and high school teachers.

SB 926 provides flexibility for specified school assessments for full-time students in Florida Virtual School, who are part of active duty military families that reside outside of Florida. Now in the Senate Appropriations committee and sponsored by state Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-Doral, the bill allows children of active military members to undertake their school exams at a later date if they are prevented by doing so due to their parent’s absence.

SB 1328 is currently with the Senate Appropriations committee and is sponsored by state Sen. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton. The bill outlines a proposed sharing of a surtax between eligible charter schools and school districts. To be eligible, charter schools must have been in operation for at least two years, be governed by a governing board established in the state for the same time period, have been accredited by a regional accrediting association defined by the State Board of Education and have acceptable student achievement rates.

SB 1564 has been introduced by state Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, and is a pilot program that, if enacted, will be implemented in five school districts in Florida to will study the impacts, benefits and scheduling options of a year-round school program. School districts apply to the Department of Education to be part of the program and must include in their application the number of students enrolled, achievement rates, absenteeism, commitment of instructional personnel, and how they plan to implement a year-round program. The bill is currently in appropriations.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed some of the biggest education reforms in Florida history, including HB 1, which widely expanded school choice in the Sunshine State by eliminating financial requirements and enrollment caps — making every eligible K-12 student able to access scholarships.

The Parental Rights in Education Act was also further reinforced by expanding restrictions on sex education from kindergarten to eighth grade, where it previously went to third grade.

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