Both chambers of the Legislature began discussing their individual budget plans on Wednesday, but it’s a nearly 200-page education package tied to the House education budget that is stirring a lot of debate in the state Capitol.
Critics claim the omnibus education bill includes a number of separate issues that have been rolled into one bill tied to the education budget to guarantee their passage. Opponents argue those issues are policy issues that should be voted on individually based on their own merit. They want to avoid a repeat of a similar bill (HB 7069) passed last year which covered a variety of topics and is now being challenged in the courts.
“This is a policy bill. It has never been through a committee. It’s never been through one hearing,” said state Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, said Wednesday afternoon. “The public has been cut-out of any public comment.”
This year’s bill, HB 7055, would cover a variety of education issues. It would provide funding for tax credit scholarships to cover the cost of students who are bullied in public schools and who wish to transfer to a charter school. It would also create a new scholarship for students who struggle in reading. It would also establish a “Medal of Honor Day.”
The Florida Education Association, the state’s teachers union, says also tucked into HB 7055 are measures aimed at trying to undermine the FEA and its members. The bill would require teachers unions to maintain their membership at 50 percent of the total number of teachers or face decertification.
“This monstrosity is a clear attempt to destroy our public schools while telling professional educators they simply are not welcome in Florida,” FEA president Joanne McCall said in a statement earlier this week. “Today we are asking lawmakers to stand up to Speaker Corcoran and for our children, for our teachers and for our public schools. We are asking them to say ‘enough is enough’.”
The FEA launched an attack ad earlier this week targeting HB 7055 and House Speaker Richard Corcoran. The ad can be seen below.
While House Democrats don’t have the votes to substantively change HB 7055, they filed more than 3 dozen amendments to change the bill–amendments that must all be voted on.
“HB 7055 is an outright attack on Florida’s teachers, students, and our entire public education system,” said Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park. “This is an irresponsible approach to public policy which binds the passage of substantive legislation directly to the funding source for our traditional public schools. The ideas in a piece of legislation should be able to stand on their own merit rather than leverage crucial resources for support.