Senate committee unanimously approves ‘Learn Local’ bills amid widespread public support

by | Dec 12, 2023

  • The Florida Senate Committee on Fiscal Policy unanimously advanced three key education bills as part of the “Learn Local” initiative, focusing on overhauling various elements of the state’s educational system.
  • Proposed reforms include streamlining assessments, enhancing teacher recruitment, and delegating more authority to school superintendents.
  • The bills received strong support from educators and stakeholders.

The Florida Senate Committee on Fiscal Policy unanimously advanced three education bills on Tuesday against the backdrop of widespread support from education officials.

The trio of measures — Senate Bills 7000, 7002, and 7004 — collectively referred to as the “Learn Local” initiative, aim to streamline various aspects of the educational system, including assessments and instructional protocols.

The most comprehensive of the three, SB 7004, addresses the deregulation of public school assessment and accountability by proposing changes in how schools measure student progress and implement improvement programs. The bill also enhances parental rights in education, eliminates certain high-stakes assessments, and introduces various options for school improvement programs.

SB 7000, meanwhile, focuses on enhancing teacher recruitment and retention and introduces flexibility in setting teacher salaries. The bill also simplifies the teacher certification process and provides incentives for teachers in high-need areas.

Senate Bill 7002 seeks to streamline administrative processes within school board administration. It simplifies school board rulemaking, delegates more authority to superintendents, and provides flexibility for making up days lost due to emergencies. The bill also transitions budget notices from newspapers to websites.

“When I hear this talking point that we are lowering the standards of education in the state of Florida, that is the furthest thing from the truth. There are facts of the matter and there are feelings on the matter,” said Sen. Corey Simon. “The fact of the matter is we will continue to push the envelope and increase the standard of education.”

During the meeting, amendments were proposed for each of the three bills; SB 7000’s amendments include the proposal of multi-year contracts for teachers and the use of federal funds for recruiting teachers in low-income areas. SB 7002’s amendments grant more authority to superintendents and allow the use of school zone infraction funds for hiring essential staff like bus drivers.

Senate Bill 7004’s amendments focus on increasing school districts’ control over student assessments and boosting parental involvement in educational decisions.

Throughout the meeting, educators, school board members, and union representatives voiced strong support for the bills, pointing to the need for practical pathways for student and educator success.

Patrick Strong, a paraprofessional from Okaloosa County, emphasized the necessity of SB 7002 in addressing staffing challenges, particularly in hiring essential school staff such as bus drivers.

“We are struggling in Okaloosa hiring teachers, paraprofessionals, custodians, skilled trades, and bus drivers,” Strong told the committee. “Let me urge support for allowing additional flexibility for the use of funds generated from school zone infractions.”

Hillsborough County School Board member Patty Rendon also expressed her district’s support for all three bills, asserting that deregulation will contribute to the success of public schools in the current educational landscape.

“Deregulation will expand the opportunities for students, teachers, and staff and to have vital public schools to be successful in its current educational landscape,” said Rendon. These bills are a huge step in the right direction.”

Ryan Kennedy from Florida Citizens Alliance told lawmakers that his organization supported the bevy of bills overall but suggested areas for further clarification and amendment, including the need for external annual forensic audits in large school districts.

“Overall, we are a supporter of this bill. We believe that there does need to be increased flexibility,” said Kennedy. “And then … we would encourage an amendment to have an external annual forensic audit and for the large school districts. This would be once a year and then every two or three years for smaller school districts.”

Moving forward, the bills appear poised to receive widespread bipartisan support in the Senate.


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