A coalition of groups opposing Florida’s use of new math and language arts standards say they will try to force the Legislature to call a special session to address two bills which would put the standards on hold.
The gambit is a long shot. Twenty percent of the Legislature must call for the special session, and a super majority must vote to approve it.
Activists are unhappy HB 25 and SB 1316 have yet to get a hearing with the 60-day legislative session winding down. The identical bills would halt implementation of the standards until the state completes an analysis of how much the standards will cost, and public hearings are held in every Congressional district. They say House and Senate leadership are blocking the bills.
“We worked so hard just to get that bill; find someone to carry the bill for us,” said Laura Zorc, a co-founder of Florida Parents Against Common Core. “They’re saying our concerns aren’t valid. Why not hear the bill? Why not let it go for a vote? If it was going to fail, then let it fail.”
The standards are based on Common Core, fully adopted by Florida and 44 other states. They outline what students should know at the end of each grade. Students in kindergarten through second grade are using the standards now. Every Florida grade will start using them when classes start this fall.
But activists from across the political spectrum have challenged the standards. Some worry they will mean less local control over classroom content. Others argue the standards aren’t challenging enough in higher grades and too difficult for younger students. And another criticism is teachers and schools should have more time to adjust to the new standards and accompanying test before those test results are used to judge performance.
So how does a special session work?
Gov. Rick Scott could call one. House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz, jointly, could as well. But all three have said they support the modified version of Common Core Florida has adopted.
Florida law also allows for a special session if 20 percent of lawmakers submit a letter to the Secretary of State calling for the session. That means 32 of the House and Senate’s 160 combined members. A dozen House members have sponsored HB 25 and three Senators have sponsored SB 1316.
That’s just the first step. Once the Secretary of State has enough letters, the agency must then poll lawmakers. Three-fifths of the Legislature must vote to approve the special session — a very high hurdle considering the two bills didn’t get a committee hearing.
But Zorc said the effort has united opposition groups which have struggled to maintain a consistent argument against Common Core.
“Even all these groups that disagree, they’re all agreeing on this one,” Zorc said. “It’s like ‘Yeah, that’s a good idea. Let’s do that.'”