Two votes made all the difference for a state bill that passed both legislative houses May 8 – the last day of Florida’s legislative session.
The $419 million education bill, known as House Bill 7069, was one of the few left after an array of related bills with similar provisions failed to pass in one house or the other. After several amendments and additions, HB7069 grew into what one senator termed a “monstrosity” — a 278-page document that was essentially the product of several bills and provisions thrown together, some of which that had previously died in a committee.
The bill, which passed the House 73-36, incited nearly three hours of debate in the Senate but finally passed 20-18. Although packed with provisions involving 25 topics, the main provisions included the modification of eligibility requirements for teacher bonuses under the Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program, the establishment of a program titled Schools of Hope, the requirement of free-play recess, a revision of standard assessment test procedures, and distribution of Title I funding.
Provisions relating to testing reform were of particular interest to many parents and organized groups that had lobbied against the undue pressure and focus on the Florida Standard Assessment.
And although several bills — such as HB549 and SB926 — failed to pass — Sandy Stenoff, of the Opt Out Florida Network coalition, maintained none of the bills, including HB7069, would have truly made any difference.
Regarding tests, HB7069 eliminates the Algebra II end-of-course assessment requirement, personal fitness competency exam, and calls for an independent study to be conducted in order to determine whether the ACT or SAT could adequately replace the 10th-grade ELA assessment and Algebra II end of course assessment.
However, Karen Effrem, the executive director of the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition said she believes the independent study provision is next to useless.
“Well, to me, the study is unnecessary because the statute already says you can use the scores on the ACT and the SAT for those, so all they would have had to do is just say we’re going to do it in place of it, instead of just after they fail it, Effrem said. "So yes, it would have been a step in the right direction; it would have been helpful but they're basically already doing it – they’re just making kids fail the EOC first.”
The bill’s testing reform provision and call for an independent study were adopted from the now-defunct HB549, which was sponsored by State Rep. Randy Fine. Fine was thrilled to see HB7069 finally pass given the testing reform it included, despite concerns voiced during the Senate meeting that cited the bill’s inclusion of provisions that had died in committee.
“Some people weren’t thrilled about the process, and I understand their concerns but in the real world sometimes you have to take the good with the bad,” Fine said, referring to the debate in the Senate against HB7059.
The Opt Out Florida Network is calling for Florida Gov. Rick Scott to veto the bill. Stenoff argued that the high stakes of FSA testing — funding eligibility, school grading, student retention and remediation, graduation requirements and teacher evaluations — is what ultimately leads the state’s school districts to focus on testing to the detriment of students.
“Unless they remove the high stakes of testing, it doesn’t matter how much they reduce the testing — we will still have this obsession with testing and test prep that will go on even if it’s not mandated because it’s all tied to money,” Stenoff said.
Echoing Stenoff’s sentiments, Effrem firmly denounced the high stakes involved in testing and lamented the early failure of Senate Bill 964, sponsored by State Sen. Bill Montford. Effrem said Montford had collaborated with several school districts and organizations to put together the bill, which would have eliminated four EOC assessments, provided the option to use paper exams for all grades and eliminated the use of VAM scores for teacher evaluations.
“At the beginning of the session, we wanted to go really far and get rid of common core and allow the districts to do what private and home schools do, which is choose one nationally norm-referenced test to make sure that a year’s worth of learning has happened in a year’s worth of time,” Effrem explained. “But not use them for these inappropriate high stakes, like the VAM or teacher evaluation and those sorts of things that depend on district funding.”
Contact Gabby Baquero at [email protected].