Public school advocates say they are very disappointed that Gov. Rick Scott decided to sign HB 7069, a controversial education reform bill that was written behind closed doors in the final days of the regular session.
The bill is considered to be a benefit for charter schools.
“It’s the largest in a line of bad legislation designated to undermine our Florida public traditional schools,” said Joanne McCall, the president of the Florida Education which represents teachers. “The implementation of HB 7069 will do harm to our schools and our students, our most vulnerable students.”
The legislation was crafted in a series of backroom meetings. When the final version was produced it contained 278 pages that included provisions of 55 other bills.
Critics claim it was intended to include so many different proposals, including a number of popular measures, that it would be difficult for lawmakers to vote against.
For instance, it includes a $30 million expansion of the Gardiner Scholarship program for students with disabilities and mandates a daily recess for all public elementary schools.
In a letter sent earlier this week to Scott urging the governor to veto the bill, Sen Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, called it a “dreadful piece of legislation” that would “dramatically reduce the ability of school districts across the state to devote resources towards improving our public education.”
One aspect of the legislation that has drawn a great deal of criticism is a program called “schools of hope.” The program would allow charter schools with proven track records to open schools in communities where traditional schools have earned consecutive grades of D or F.
Local school districts would have to share tax dollars intended for capital projects with charter schools.
“While there are small pockets of good policy hidden within this bill, it is a monstrosity when coupled with the multitude of bad policies that have been included,” Farmer wrote in his letter to the governor.
HB 7069 was seen as a bargaining tool in last week’s special legislative session to resolve budget issues that were left on the table when lawmakers ended their regular session last month.
The bill was a high priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who was instrumental in slashing funding to a couple of the governor’s top priorities during the regular session–Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida. Last week, Corcoran gave in to restoring funding for those agencies and now he will have the governor’s signature on one of his top priority pieces of legislation.
The state’s teachers believe this is just the beginning of the fight over HB 7069 and the direction of public schools in Florida.
“We’ll just keep at it because I think there will be more to come,” McCall added. “I think there will be possible legal implications that will come from this, not from the FEA, but I understand there are other groups out there that are looking at how they can pursue legal action to this bill.”
Sen. Farmer is one of those who could pursue legal action against the law and the way it was enacted.