SB 7070 Supports Teachers, Expands Choice Options and Student Support Services
The Florida Senate today passed SB 7070, K-12 Education. The legislation establishes and modifies several K-12 education programs to support students, families, public schools, and teachers. The bill expands educational choice and opportunity for lower income families, elevates public schools by expanding student support services and reducing regulations, and supports teachers by removing teacher certification barriers and providing recognition awards for teacher and principals.
“Our goal this session was to advance a series of policy enhancements and budget investments that balance our commitment to parent-directed educational choice while elevating the traditional neighborhood public schools that have been the backbone of our education system for decades,” said Senate President Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton). “I am grateful to Senators Diaz and Stargel for their work to shepherd this legislation through the process and to President Pro Tempore David Simmons, Senator Bill Montford, and many other Senators whose ideas and input were incorporated in this comprehensive legislation.”
“With more than 100,000 students receiving a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, the growing demand for this option is outpacing available funding, creating a waitlist that prevents students from attending school in the educational environment their parents believe is best,” said Senator Manny Diaz, Jr. (R-Hialeah Gardens), Chair of the Senate Committee on Education. “The Family Empowerment Scholarship will reduce this waitlist, using funds Florida taxpayers have already dedicated to education to provide school choice options to more low income families.”
“Parents of all children, regardless of income, should be empowered to choose the educational environment that is best for their child, and we are excited to present the Family Empowerment Scholarship as another solution for our lower income families,” said Senator Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland), Chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education. “We also recognize the majority of Florida families choose to educate their children at our neighborhood public schools. As such, this legislation, coupled with investments in our state budget, demonstrate our commitment to elevating our public schools by supporting teachers and principals, expanding student support services, and reducing regulations.”
Family Empowerment Scholarship
The Family Empowerment Scholarship is designed to help low income families attend an eligible private school of choice and reduce the FTC Scholarship waitlist. The legislation establishes the scholarship for up to 18,000 students annually on a first-come, first-served basis, beginning in the 2019-2020 school year. Beginning in the 2020-2021 school year, the number of students participating in the scholarship program may annually increase by 0.25 percent of the state’s total public school student enrollment.
The scholarship is available to low income families (up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level), with priority given to students whose household income level does not exceed 185 percent of the federal poverty level. The legislation requires that a student, to be eligible for a scholarship, must have been enrolled in a public school in the prior school year or be eligible to enroll in kindergarten. The scholarship is funded through the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) at 95 percent of the district average cost per student.
Recruitment, Retention, and Recognition Bonuses for Teachers and Principals
SB 7070 restructures the current Best and Brightest Teachers Program, eliminating SAT/ACT requirements, and instead focusing on recruitment, retention, and recognition of Florida’s top teachers and principals.
Specifically, the legislation creates a new recruitment bonus, a one-time award for newly hired teachers who are content experts in mathematics, science, computer science, reading, or civics. The legislation also creates a retention bonus for effective or highly effective teachers at schools that have demonstrated academic improvement, and a recognition bonus for effective and highly effective instructional personnel selected by the school principal, based on performance criteria and policies adopted by the district school board. Additionally, the legislation retools the principal bonus around performance of schools demonstrating academic improvement. All award amounts for the program will be specified annually in the General Appropriations Act (GAA).
Remove Barriers to the Teacher Certification Process
The legislation expands access to teacher certification exams and increase options for school districts to retain quality teachers. Specifically, to address concerns with the cost of certification exams, legislation requires the State Board of Education to establish examination fees for initial and retake registrations, and specify requirements to reduce retake fees. The legislation also provides flexibility for teachers to meet the requirement to demonstrate mastery of general knowledge.
Reduce Regulations that Impede School Construction and Facility Improvements
Senate Bill 7070 provides school districts with flexibility by no longer requiring an educational plant survey recommendation when only local funds, including ad valorem revenue, are used for facility construction. The legislation also modifies cost per student station requirements to address the needs of school districts.
Enhance Support for Community Wrap-Around Services
The legislation stabilizes state support of neighborhood public schools with unique community needs. Leveraging the successful leadership of the Center for Community Schools, legislation will promote the expansion of, and encourage funding for, new Community Schools. Additionally, the legislation secures Florida’s investment in the success of public schools in, or exiting, district-managed turnaround status through sustained support for wrap-around services such as after-school programs, extended school day or school year, counseling, or other support services.