Florida Senate passes scaled-back school ‘deregulation’ plan

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida Senate on Wednesday passed a suite of bills aimed at “deregulation” of public schools, with one measure undergoing a significant change that nixed a provision related to the state’s third-grade literacy policy after it was heavily criticized by former Gov. Jeb Bush.


The legislative package, a priority of Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, is aimed at what she characterized as “cutting red tape” and taking burdensome regulations off the books for schools.

Included in the plan is a proposal (SB 7004) that would make changes related to state assessments and instruction. For example, the bill would remove a requirement that high-school students pass the state’s tenth-grade English-language arts exams to graduate. Instead, the exam would count for 30 percent of the student’s final course grade.

The measure also would do away with a requirement that students pass an Algebra I end-of-course exam to earn a diploma.

Bill sponsor Corey Simon, a Tallahassee Republican, has touted the deregulation effort as a way to let teachers place more focus on classroom instruction, which he has said would benefit students.

“Over the years, our education code has only grown. And there are great ideas from great senators and great House members. But those great ideas have added up over the years, and it’s cost our students,” Simon said just before the Senate unanimously passed the measure.

One part of the proposal received high-profile pushback from former Gov. Jeb Bush, who nearly 25 years ago championed for reforms that the measure sought to — in Bush’s words — water down.

A previous version of the bill proposed to remove a requirement that third-grade students score adequately on an English-language arts exam to advance to fourth grade. Instead, the measure would have changed the policy to allow parents to override decisions about retaining students if the parent “determines retention is not in the best interest of the student and approves a good cause exemption” to advance the student.

“Lawmakers have proposed watering down our third-grade literacy policy, removing the backstop of retention and paving the way to reinstate social promotion,” Bush wrote in an opinion piece that ran in the South Florida Sun Sentinel in November.

That part of the bill was removed through revisions to the bill that were backed by Simon, who told reporters after the measure passed Wednesday that the change was related to a new progress-monitoring system of standardized testing. Under the new testing system, approved by the Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2022, students are given exams at the beginning, middle, and end of the school year, with the final test of the year being used for accountability purposes.

“We’re able to now ascertain at an earlier age for these kids, in kindergarten, first, second grade, if they’re on grade level,” Simon told reporters. “So because we’re able to see those things, we wanted to make sure we weren’t just waiting until the last minute to retain those students in the third grade. If we need to, we can retain them in kindergarten or first or second grade.”

Two other bills linked to the deregulation effort also passed with unanimous support in the Senate on Wednesday, a day after the start of the 2024 legislative session.

One of the measures (SB 7000) would make changes that, in part, would give districts flexibility in setting teacher salaries.

For example, part of the bill would remove a prohibition that prevents school districts from considering advanced degrees when setting salaries for teachers and administrators “unless the advanced degree is held in the individual’s area of certification and is only a salary supplement.”

Sen. Alexis Calatayud, R-Miami, said that change, and others that would give districts more authority in setting salaries, “champions teachers” and could lead to salary increases for some educators.

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“Through this legislation, we are allowing districts the flexibility to utilize an advanced degree to increase an educator’s salary,” Calatayud said.

A third deregulation bill (SB 7002) that passed in the Senate Wednesday would make changes such as allowing school districts to publish their tentative budgets online, instead of being required to publish such notices in newspapers. The measure also would provide flexibility for school districts in using certain federal funds, a Senate staff analysis of the bill said.

Sen. Travis Hutson, a St. Augustine Republican who sponsored the measure, said that negotiations are underway with members of the House as deregulation measures make their way through the chamber.

“I’ve talked to members of the House, the Speaker being one of them, on trying to find common ground on where we are. I know they’re working through their process,” Hutson said.

The House Education Quality Subcommittee gave initial approval to a school deregulation bill (PCB EQS 24-01) Wednesday.

The 53-page proposal includes a provision that would allow school districts to charge a $100 “processing fee” for people who make more than a certain number of challenges to instructional materials or library books. Such objections have been used to remove materials from school media centers and classrooms.

Under the House proposal, people who make objections to more than five instructional materials during a calendar year would be assessed $100 for each additional objection. The proposed fees would apply to “a parent or resident who does not have a student enrolled in the school” where the material is located.

School districts would have to return money to the person who made such an objection if the objection were upheld.

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