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Putting Education Reform To The Test

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Education should play a lesser role this year, but there's still plenty of bills before lawmakers.

The Ultimate Guide to Education for the 2012 Florida Legislative Session

Background

The Department of Management Services

Lawmakers will return to the capitol in Tallahassee in early January.

Lawmakers will get an early start in Tallahassee on Jan.10 this year.

The biggest issues affecting the education debate will likely have nothing to do with the classroom: Redistricting and insurance reform could dominate debate and squeeze out time for other topics. A third major issue — South Florida casinos — may or may not involve schools.

After approving a sweeping education overhaul bill last year, most lawmakers expect education to be a lower-profile issue this year. But there’s still plenty going on. Here’s a rundown:

The Issues

  • The budget — Always a key issue with schools, the debate will be on two fronts: How much money should schools receive and which schools should be funded? Lawmakers are facing a projected $2 billion shortfall between how much money the state will collect and the cost of maintaining current services.
  • Gov. Rick Scott has asked lawmakers to add $1 billion to K-12 education. But that money would come at the expense of the state-run health insurance plan for the poor and disabled. Lawmakers say they feel they might have to choose between life-saving health services and schools.
  • Charter school advocates are pushing a bill that requires equal funding for charter school and district school students. A 2009 Ball State University study found Florida district schools receive $2,700 more per student than charter schools. A second study from a House committee is due soon.
  • The Student Success Act, or SB 736 –This is the sweeping school overhaul bill approved last year. The law requires teacher evaluations and performance-based pay and eliminates long-term teacher contracts. Lawmakers and education officials say they want to revisit the law for several reason, including making sure schools are implementing it properly.
  • The “parent trigger” — Parents of students in schools the federal government considers failing would have the ability to vote on how to reform the school. This could include converting to a charter or replacing the principal, staff or other changes. This bill is a key priority of the Foundation for Florida’s Future, which was founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush.
  • In-state tuition –Children of undocumented immigrants are not eligible for in-state college tuition, even if they are U.S. citizens and graduate from a Florida high school. This bill has been voted down in the past.
  • Charter school and private school scholarship oversight — A series of bills would require charter schools and private schools accepting publicly funded scholarships to report more information to the state. Private schools would have to report student performance information, while charter schools could be asked to maintain a website disclosing school leadership and any business ties to the school.
  • Gaming — Lawmakers are debating whether to allow South Florida casinos. The political opposition is stiff, but some lawmakers have said gambling could be a way to add money for schools. Gov. Rick Scott has also proposed selling more lottery tickets to boost school budgets.

Following the Debate

  • The Florida Channel — Florida’s version of C-SPAN, the Florida Channel streams gavel-to-gavel coverage of the House and Senate sessions on the Web. The Florida Channel also broadcasts key committee hearings and other public bodies, such as the state Board of Education.
  • House legislation — This tools allows you to search for all bills that have been referred to a specific committee, such as education. Just click the “referred to” drop down menu and choose your committee.
  • House legislative bill tracker — This tool lets you flag bills and will send you an update each time the House takes action on the bill.
  • Senate legislation — You can search for bills based on who introduced the legislation. The Senate does not allow you to see all bills referred to a committee.
  • Senate Legislative tracker — You can track bills or committee meetings with this tool.

Getting Involved in the Debate

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