Florida House approves massive education bill

Photo credit: MGN Online

The Florida House of Representatives passed an education bill Thursday that would, among other things, make it easier for families to use public monies to send their children to private and charter schools.

The House voted 66-43 in favor of HB7055, which contained nearly 200 pages, summarizes a few bills and skates over a horde of issues like grants, harassment, testing, class administration, and instructors' associations. It additionally, makes the state's per-student funding of public schools, or $21.1 billion, dependent upon HB7055 or similar enactment clearing the House and Senate and getting signed by Gov. Scott.

The Senate has not passed a companion bill.

Up to this point, Senate Republicans have stayed quiet in light of the opposition from Democrats that the bill's monstrous volume injects confusion into public schools and even that the spending tie-in could be unlawful.

Yet, on Wednesday, the Republican senator who controls the purse strings in the Senate said the House's gamesmanship was wrong. It’s unclear if the two chambers will be able to find a common ground on education spending.

"When you do it that way you don't send it through the normal process of the committees and have the debate, the testimony you receive that you do in the committee process," said Republican Sen. Rob Bradley. “You lose the ability to amend because it's an up or down vote on what is in front of the senator.”

The bill would also require school board members to get approval for out-of-state travel; ban designated directors from lobbying their districts for up to two years in the wake of leaving their post; and approve the state Office of Inspector General to examine any claims of misrepresentation or misconduct by a school district made by a Cabinet officer, certain legislators, in addition to other things.

Rep. Manny Diaz, Jr., has said that bits and pieces of HB 7055 have been heard independently and that the spending measure was suitable on the grounds that parts of the bill would essentially change the equation for the way per-student funding is figured.

"This is something that will go into conference negotiations so that's something that can be talked about," he said. "I think it's early to be having those conversations.”

Once the Senate agreed on its budget and approved education measures, the two chambers met to negotiate the differences. Union leaders were afraid of enduring a repeat of a year ago's HB 7069, another monstrous bill that is still being tested in court.

“This monstrosity is a clear attempt to destroy our public schools,” said Joanne McCall, president of the state’s largest teachers union, the Florida Education Association, in a statement.

Democrats filed more than a dozen amendments, all of which were voted down or withdrawn.

One amendment would have required a school’s principal to investigate and verify bullying allegations before informing parents about the program.