Scott signs several school choice bills into law
In a state where some public schools have received a failing grade and others are so popular they have waiting lists, Florida Gov. Rick Scott promised during the 2010 campaign to give parents more school options for their children.
"I want to offer parents a menu of options for their children, including but not limited to charter schools, private schools, homeschooling and virtual schools. I want to create an educational program that will allow parents to get creative in how to meet the distinctive needs of their children," he said on his campaign website.
The Scott-O-Meter rated Scott's promise as In the Works on March 24, 2011, when we wrote about two bills winding their way through the state Legislature:
• SB 1550, a pro-voucher measure, would create an "education savings account" for parents they could use at public or private schools.
• HB 1331 would broaden the definition of a struggling school in order to increase the number of students eligible to opt out of those schools.
On May 7, SB 1550 was withdrawn from consideration. The Legislature overwhelmingly approved HB 1331, which was signed into law by Scott June 2.
There were some other bills that related to expanding school choices. Here are the summaries of those bills and their outcomes, from a Miami Herald list summarizing the session. We checked Scott's website showing whether the bills had been signed by the morning of June 10.
• CHARTER SCHOOLS (Passed)
Lifts barriers for charter schools to expand, in part by designating certain schools as "high-performing.” (SB 1546/HB 7195) The Senate website indicates that it passed the Legislature on May 4 but hadn't been sent to Scott's office as of June 10.
• SCHOOL VOUCHERS — FLORIDA TAX CREDIT SCHOLARSHIPS (Passed)
Removes a limitation on tax credits for companies that fund private-school vouchers for low-income students. (SB 1388/HB 965) Signed by Scott June 2.
• SCHOOL VOUCHERS — MCKAY SCHOLARSHIPS (Passed)
Allows more children to qualify for private-school vouchers under the McKay Scholarship program for students with disabilities. (SB 1656/HB 1329) Signed by Scott June 2.
• SCHOOL VOUCHERS — OPPORTUNITY SCHOLARSHIPS (Passed)
Allows more students to qualify to move to other public schools by expanding the definition of a "failing” school. (SB 1822/HB 1331) Signed by Scott June 2.
• VIRTUAL SCHOOLS (Passed)
Expands online school offerings by allowing more students to enroll in virtual school and letting private companies participate in online education. Requires incoming high school students to take at least one online course before graduating. (SB 1620/HB 7197) Signed by Scott June 2.
During the campaign, Scott said he supported school choice and vouchers. After the campaign, he called for vouchers for everyone but then backed away from that idea. But the Legislature passed several bills that open up more school choice, including helping charter schools expand, paving the way for more students to get certain vouchers and expanding online offerings. Scott has signed most of them, and is expected to sign the charter schools bill when it is presented to him. We rate this Promise Kept.
PolitiFact, "Florida lawmakers filling bills expanding school options," March 24, 2011
Miami Herald, A Summary of the Session, May 8, 2011
Gov. Rick Scott website, Bill action, accessed June 10, 2011
St. Petersburg Times, "With small victories, Scott calls session a success," May 8, 2011
Florida Senate website, Senate Bill 1550, withdrawn May 7, 2011
Florida House website, House Bill 1331, signed by Gov. Rick Scott June 2, 2011
Interview, Broward school district spokeswoman Marsy Smith, June 10, 2011
Florida lawmakers filing bills to expand schooling options
One of Florida Gov. Rick Scott's education-related campaign pledges was to give parents more options for their children's schooling.
"I want to offer parents a menu of options for their children, including but not limited to charter schools, private schools, homeschooling and virtual schools. I want to create an educational program that will allow parents to get creative in how to meet the distinctive needs of their children," Scott said on his campaign website.
Scott may have his way this legislative session after several lawmakers have proposed bills aimed at expanding the state's school vouchers program, which allow public school students in failing schools to transfer to better-performing school.
Currently, students in failing schools can transfer to better-performing schools under the state's Opportunity Scholarship Program.
The program was created in 1999 during Gov. Jeb Bush's administration, and provided students looking to opt out of their failing schools with state-funded vouchers to attend a different public or private institution. But in 2006, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to allow state money to pay for private school tuition and that element of the program was removed.
One bill recently filed in both chambers seeks to provide a means for public school money to pay for private school.
SB 1550 , a pro-voucher measure, is being pushed in the Senate by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and in the House by Rep. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg.
The bill, would create an "education savings account" for parents -- essentially allowing them to choose whether to pay for enrollment in a public or private school.
It remains to be seen how far SB 1550 will go this session. According to the St. Petersburg Times, House speaker pro tem John Legg, R- Port Richey, told the Pasco County School Board on March 22, 2011: "I don't see that happening."
Still Legg added: "I don't have a crystal ball. Members can file legislation. It's open for discussion."
Another measure that would increase the number of students eligible to opt out of their struggling schools is being proposed by Rep. Michael Bileca, a West Miami Republican. He has filed HB 1331, which would broaden the definition of a struggling school.
Currently, a failing school is one that has received two F's in a four-year period. Under Bileca's plan, a failing school would be one that has received a D for two school years in a four-year period or an F for one school year in a two-year period.
If the changes were approved, the number of "eligible schools" in the state -- those considered failing -- would increase from 24 to approximately 200, according to a March 21 House staff analysis report. That would give many more parents the basis for transferring their children.
Bileca's bill made its way through the Florida House K-20 Innovation subcommittee on March 22 with bipartisan support. It still has several more committee stops left to go, but has earned Scott's personal endorsement.
"Governor Scott supports this bill wholeheartedly," Scott Kittel, the governor's education policy coordinator, said during the subcommittee hearing.
Both bills have a ways to go. As they wind their way through the session, we'll keep tabs on their progress. But for now, we rate Scott's promise as In the Works.
St. Petersburg Times, "Florida lawmakers file bill to give private school vouchers for all,” March 22, 2011
SB1550, "Education Savings Account Program,” filed March 2, 2011
HB1331, "School Choice: Staff Analysis,” March 21, 2011
Sunshine State News, "School choice expansion clears committee,” March 22, 2011
St. Petersburg Times Buzz Blog, "School vouchers bill moves along House,” March 22, 2011