The 2016 Legislative Session
(A Look Back)

The last legislative session will go down in history as one that did little for our students and our schools. Lawmakers didn't fix the testing mess, they didn't listen to parents, educational staff professionals and teachers, and they didn't adequately fund education. 

Now that the primary election is over and numerous candidates claimed that they are the education candidates, it is up to you to set the record straight and tell your friends and family what has happened in Tallahassee. Please let them know it's up to them to vote for people who will fight for our schools and our kids!

PASSED: The Budget
"Historic" just isn't what it used to be!

Throughout most of the session Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders touted the 2016-17 education budget — $7,178 per student which would top the previous high of $7,126 — as "historic."

While some have backed off this hyperbole, the reality remains: If adjusted for inflation, 2016-17 per student funding would need to be $8,145 to equal the historic high of a decade ago. By not making that adjustment for inflation the Legislature is continuing to force schools to do much more with much less.

Some other notables in the 2016-17 budget:

budget final
  • No increase in the amount allocated by the state for Teachers Classroom Supply Assistance Program.
  • No increase in the amount allocated by the state for School Recognition Funds.
  • A 1% increase over the 2015-16 budget per Unweighted FTE (Full Time Equivalent) which is about $71 per UFTE. These monies can and should be negotiated at the bargaining table to be spent on salaries, benefits and materials.
  • An increase in ESE guaranteed funding brings the amount up to about where it was in 2008-09.
  • An additional $61,000 was appropriated for the lowest performing schools — which will be the same as specified for 2015-16.

No changes to the evaluation system and lawmakers didn't address testing mania.

PASSED: The education "train"

After several rewrites and numerous amendments, the Legislature passed an enormous omnibus education bill on the last days of the 2016 legislative session. Legislators call bills that join a series of bills together a "train" — many of these were contentious policies that were priorities of one chamber but not the other. This long and complicated piece of legislation covered numerous issues, here are some of the highlights (or lowlights):

Open Enrollment 
Students now are eligible to enroll in any public or charter school with available space. There are priority provisions. In some districts, these provisions are likely to complicate teacher assignments and planning since the estimated number of students will be more difficult to predict. Districts must also establish a process to allow parents to request a different teacher.

Online Courses
Districts may not require students to fulfill online course requirements during the school day — or in addition to the full school day. Students may pass an online course assessment without taking the course.

Parents have the option of enrolling their child in a VPK program in the school year in which the child becomes eligible or deferring enrollment until the following school year (at the age of five).


PASSED: Competency-Based Education Pilot Program

This is a five-year pilot program that claims that it will "provide an educational environment that allows students to advance to higher levels of learning upon the mastery of concepts and skills." Students would advance academically based on whether they have mastered content rather than on their age or grade.

There are concerns that it may evolve into a computer-as-teacher program. That has been roundly criticized in recent research that found students in virtual classrooms lagging behind their traditional classroom peers in learning growth and achievement.

Those against the bill argued that this was really just a way to educate cheaply without regard to quality education and student learning. Several parent groups were concerned about the use of data that would be collected on each student.

Only four districts and one lab school are eligible to apply to be part of the pilot program: Lake, Palm Beach, Pinellas and Seminole counties and the P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School in Gainesville.

Supporters of the bill claim it will "customize education" for students. The legislation has been a priority of the Foundation for Florida's Future and the national Foundation for Excellence in Education— the organizations founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Students who choose new schools will be immediately eligible to participate in sports. If the change in enrollment occurs during an academic year, there are limits on sports eligibility.

Charter Schools

  • Charter school applicants must disclose the names of board members, education service providers and other schools operated by the provider including those closed and the financial records.
  • Admission or dismissal must not be based on academic performance.
  • Charters are automatically closed (after appeals) when two consecutive 'F' grades are received.
  • Computer coding will not replace a foreign language requirement.
  • The bill to return the commissioner of education to an elected office did not get a hearing in the House.
  • State- mandated recess for elementary school students that was heavily backed by parent groups was never heard in the Senate.
  • Changes to reading instruction that would have expanded early intervention strategies to all students did not pass.
  • Stronger standards for charter schools including a prohibition against "personal financial enrichment by owners, operators, managers and other affiliated parties of charter schools," was killed by the House.