TALLAHASSEE – After lawmakers ignored their calls to vote down a sprawling education bill, opponents of the wide-ranging measure have turned to Gov. Rick Scott as their last hope to stop the proposal from becoming law.
It is not clear when the bill (HB 7069), which covers everything from charter schools and teacher bonuses to school uniforms and sunscreen, will hit Scott’s desk. It could be weeks before the Legislature decides to forward the budget-related bill to the governor.
But within hours of its passage Monday night through the Senate by the narrowest possible margin, 20-18, opponents were already beginning to urge Scott to use his veto pen on the measure.
“Sold as a way to help struggling public schools, the money was earmarked as incentives to lure out-of-state private charter companies with no evidence required of turnaround success,” Senate Minority Leader Perry E. Thurston, Jr. wrote in an op-ed.
“It doesn’t require the charters to service the schools they take over, and allows them to hire non-certified teachers. A provision that would have banned owners and others from personal financial enrichment was conveniently stripped from the measure.”
In addition to complaints about individual policy issues in the bill, critics have seized on the fact that the measure – which includes pieces of roughly a dozen separate bills considered during the legislative session – emerged from budget negotiations Friday afternoon.
“Where’s the government transparency that the leadership promised this session?” Florida Education Association President Joanne McCall asked in a statement issued by the union demanding a veto. “Floridians expect a fair process, not backroom deal-making.”
Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat who also serves as CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, said Monday night it was too early to say what position his group would take. But around the same time, some school superintendents were already calling for a veto.
The bill could prove to be an inviting target for Scott. It was pushed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican who fought Scott over economic development incentives and tourism marketing.
But there are also politically popular parts of the bill that could make it difficult for Scott to veto, particularly as he weighs a bid for the U.S. Senate in 2018.
The most notable parts of the legislation were a proposal known as “schools of hope,” which would encourage charter schools to locate near academically struggling public schools, and an expansion of the “Best and Brightest” teacher bonus program.
It also moves to limit standardized testing of students in an attempt to answer widespread complaints about the practice and would allow districts to ignore a state formula based on those tests when doing teacher evaluations.
Brandon Larrabee of The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.