The Florida Legislature approved several measures in 2017 affecting students and educators. Unless otherwise specified, all bills were signed by Gov. Rick Scott in June and were effective July 1, 2017.
Perhaps the most important bill passed is an act relating to education (HB 7069), which contains provisions for schools that earn grades below C to implement turnaround procedures, including reassigning students, contracting outside agencies to operate the schools, and reorganizing as charter schools.
HB 7069 creates a Schools of Hope Program to fund improvement programs at persistently low-performing schools. Meanwhile, a Schools of Excellence Program will give high-performing schools flexibility by exempting them from certain state requirements, such as minimum hours of reading instruction. The bill contains many provisions for the operation of charter schools.
According to the governor’s office, the bill “provides nearly $419 million to Florida’s K-12 education system, expands teacher bonuses, increases funding for…students with unique abilities and ensures Florida’s students can get a great education at the school of their choice.”
Opponents of the bill, including the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, argued that the bill results in a net decrease of per-student funding and fails to hold charter schools to the same standards as public schools. In a letter to the governor, the association wrote, “Regardless of where a child goes to school…he or she should expect the same services.”
An act relating to middle grades (HB 293) calls on the FDOE to study practices in states with high levels of student performance in grades 6–8 and provide recommendations about how Florida can improve at these levels. The FDOE’s report is due in December 2017.
The Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act (SB 436) prevents school districts from discriminating “against a student, parent, or school personnel on the basis of a religious viewpoint or religious expression.”
An act relating to instructional materials (HB 989) provides greater transparency and allows greater parent involvement at the district level regarding selection of curriculum.
An act relating to private school student participation in extracurricular activities (HB 1109) allows some private school students to participate in sports at their local public schools.
Students with Special Needs
An act relating to educational options (HB 15) improves opportunities for children with special needs to qualify for scholarships by expanding the definition of disability to include those with rare diseases, brain injuries, and other conditions. It also extends eligibility to students who were diagnosed in other states and who have individual education plans (IEP) written in other states. This bill goes into effect July 1, 2018.
An act relating to assistive technology devices (HB 371) makes it easier for students with disabilities who have been issued an assistive device as part of their IEP to take such devices home.
An act relating to direct-support organizations (SB 890) extends to October 1, 2019, the repeal date of The Able Trust, which provides vocational education to students with disabilities.
An act relating to the blind services direct-support organization (HB 6037) removes the scheduled repeal date of October 1, 2017, for the Blind Services Foundation of Florida Inc.
An act relating to student loan debt (SB 396) requires schools to be more transparent with students about student loans, including disclosure of the total payoff cost of loans.
An act relating to public records and public meetings (HB 501) exempts some information technology department data at state colleges and universities from public record laws. This allows IT departments to maintain the security of any data that could facilitate a security breach. Gov. Scott signed the bill June 14 and it took effect immediately.
An act relating to postsecondary distance education (HB 859) authorizes the FDOE to participate in a multi-state online education program. Gov. Scott signed the bill June 9 and it took effect immediately.
An act relating to the Florida Prepaid College Board (SB 896) amends the statutes to extend the repeal date for the board’s direct-support organization to October 1, 2022, and revises the financial disclosure requirements for board members.
An act relating to the Florida Center for the Partnerships for Arts Integrated Teaching (SB 256) removed the center’s July 1, 2017, expiration date. The bill went into effect June 30.
An act relating to adoption benefits (HB 749) extends the state’s adoption benefit for school employees to those working at charter schools and Florida Virtual School.
The Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act of 2017 (SB 374) would have expanded financial aid for students, including a scholarship program for farmworkers’ children. The bill contained provisions for restructuring community colleges, adding accountability for state universities, and funding faculty development. Gov. Scott vetoed the bill partly on the grounds that it was “unnecessarily increasing red tape.”