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Florida Gov. Rick Scott signs what Duval superintendent calls 'devastating' education bill into law

by: Larry Spruill, Action News Jax Updated:

Going against the wishes of local school districts, Florida Gov. Rick Scott has signed a controversial education bill. It steers state money toward privately funded charter schools and puts lower-performing schools on the chopping block.

“The bill is signed, we can’t turn that back,” Monique Tookes said.

Tookes said she can continue to voice her concerns for the future of Duval County Public Schools. She said that concern is now amplified, since Scott signed the controversial House Bill 7069 into law on Thursday.

“I’m very disappointed; however, it was anticipated,” Tookes said.

Critics say the bill will target schools that receive a grade of a ‘D’ or ‘F’ in consecutive school years. Those schools will be forced to shut down and turn into charter schools. Three local schools -- Matthew Gilbert Middle, Ribault Middle and Northwestern Middle -- in jeopardy.

School board member Becki Couch said there is hope for these schools.

“We think the prognosis is good. We think, they’re all going to go up to a 'C,' based off the data that we seen,” Couch said.

Supporters argue the bill will provide more funding for charter school students and students in poverty-stricken areas, but Couch said that’s not the case.

”In this bill there are also measures, where we’re going to have to share our capital funding, which is property tax revenue, with charter schools,” Couch said.

Duval County Schools Superintendent Pat Willis sent this statement: “I was hopeful our governor would veto HB 7069 due to the devastating effects anticipated for all students in Florida. I am disappointed this has now been signed into law. This signature is truly a signal to families that inequities between traditional public schools and charter schools are acceptable, and restricting local control has outweighed the educational needs of our community. To remain proactive, my leadership team has been looking at possible scenarios and strategies due to expected shifts in funding, enrollment projections, operations, and transportation. There are far too many questions right now, but we will remain steadfast in our planning for the upcoming school year.”

The Charter Schools Governing Board applauded the move: “Today is a huge win for all students in the state of Florida,” said Ken Haiko, chairman of Renaissance Charter School, Inc., a not-for-profit governing board that is responsible for 30 charter schools in Florida. “Not only do students with severe disabilities gain a chance at the education to which they are entitled, so do economically disadvantaged charter school students who now will receive the benefits of funding more equitably.

“Governor Rick Scott and the State Legislature should be commended for putting students first by enacting HB 7069. It is so gratifying to me as a not-for-profit governing board member to see dollars actually following the student. So many of our most vulnerable students will benefit from this.”