Education was clearly on lawmakers’ minds during Florida’s 2021 legislative session.
While debates over “Critical Race Theory” have sucked up much of the oxygen about schools recently, this year’s session ended with more than 30 bills that could impact classrooms making it through both chambers.
Some have already been signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, while others are awaiting his pen in the coming weeks. On Tuesday, lobbyists Ron LaFace and Megan Fay, with Capital City Consulting, briefed the Sarasota County School Board on the bills that should be on their radar.
Here is a look at some of the pieces of legislation that will or could impact schools in years to come:
School Choice – In May the governor signed House Bill 7045 into law, expanding who is eligible for private school vouchers to include families of four earning less than $100,000. The bill eliminated the Gardiner and McKay scholarships and moved them into the “Family Empowerment Scholarship” program, which is funded from the same pot as public schools, rather than through corporate tax credits.
Transgender athletics – Senate Bill 1028, which the governor signed on June 1, requires student athletes to compete according to their sex documented at birth.
New charter authorizers – The same bill also expanded the right to sponsor charter schools to colleges and universities, if they get approval from the state, without requiring them to do so in partnership with the local school district.
Impact Fees– House Bill 337 was signed by DeSantis on June 4. The law creates new requirements if a school board wants to increase impact fees, the one-time payments developers must pay to offset the cost of new homes.
While the bill had strong support in both chambers, it is retroactive to Jan. 1, which could be unconstitutional and take down the entire piece of legislation, LaFace said. He said he could think of at least five or six counties that had increased their fees as the bill was being considered, and the retroactive piece will likely come under litigation.
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Patriotism– Civics remains at the top of the governor’s educational priorities, and House Bill 5 hits on many of the themes he has been pushing, although he has not yet signed it into law.
The bill revises social studies requirement by requiring government courses to include a half-credit comparative discussion on political ideologies, “such as communism and totalitarianism, that conflict with the principles of freedom and democracy essential to founding principals of the U.S.”
Senate Bill 146, which has already been sent to the governor, would require high school government classes beginning in 2022-23 school year to teach about civics literacy.
Parents Bill of Rights – House Bill 241, which has its roots in Sarasota School Board policy regarding transgender students and pronoun preferences, codifies all of a parent’s pre-existing rights into one place. It has not yet been sent to the governor, and LaFace said he was not sure if DeSantis would sign it because of opposition from some medical groups.
SAT and ACT – Senate Bill 1108, which DeSantis has not yet signed, includes a provision that requires districts to offer the SAT or ACT to all 11th-graders beginning next year. The bill also includes a pilot program that blends in-class and out-of-classroom learning. High performing charter schools and school districts can apply to the DOE if they would like to offer a blended learning model.
Concealed Carry – Although people with concealed carry permits are allowed to carry firearms at religious services, that right does not extend into churches or other institutions when renting space from public schools. House Bill 259, which has not yet been sent to the governor, would allow people with permits to carry, although the school district can forbid it when they sign a lease with the religious entity.
First Aid – House Bill 157, which has not yet been presented to the governor, will encourage districts to provide basic first aid training, which includes CPR, in grades six through eight and then require the training in grades nine through 11.
Boys vs. Girls – House Bill 7033, which has not yet been presented to the governor, creates a task force that is required to find evidence-based strategies to close the achievement gap between males and females.
Seclusion and Restraint – House Bill 149 is a bipartisan bill that prohibits seclusion, and establishes limits on use of restraints in classrooms. It also establishes a new pilot program in Broward County, where a parent can request for a camera to be installed in self-contained classrooms. It has not yet been sent to the governor.
Dual Enrollment – Senate Bill 52, which has not yet been sent to the governor, would allow charter schools to create their own programs directly with colleges, rather than working through school districts, and it would allow private and home school students to take dual enrollment courses at no cost. The law also modifies the structure under which school districts provide dual enrollment courses.
A job or your money back – House Bill 1507, the “Reimagining Education and Career Help” Act (REACH), would create greater accountability to ensure the industry programs being offered by school districts are meeting workforce needs. It creates a grant program that could cover up to two-thirds of the cost for high demand programs. It also creates a “money back guarantee program,” where districts have to repay students for their tuition money if the student can’t find a job six months after completing certain programs. The bill has not yet been sent to the governor.
Ryan McKinnon covers schools for the Herald-Tribune. Connect with him at [email protected] or on Twitter: @JRMcKinnon. Support the Sarasota Herald-Tribune by subscribing today.