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Partisan fight over raising standards

In a nearly three-hour meeting today of the House Full Appropriations Council on Education & Economic Development, nothing took up more time than amendments, questions and debate surrounding HB 1293 sponsored by Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami.

Still, the measure advanced on a 10-7 party line vote.

A reminder, this bill would raise the high school graduation standards in two steps. First, starting with the freshman class of 2014, students would be required to: take algebra I and geometry for two of the four required math courses; and take biology I as one of three required courses. Next, starting with the freshman class of 2016: take algebra I, geometry and algebra II for three of the four required math courses; and take biology I and chemistry for two of the three required courses.In addition, the legislation would increase the required graduation score on the 10th grade FCAT from a 2 to a 3.

It's this last provision that had everyone talking, principally Rep. Marty Kiar, D-Davie. He sponsored an amendment that would have removed that provision and eliminate the 10th grade FCAT as a requirement for graduation.

"I'm trying to do the right thing here," said Kiar, an outspoken critic of the statewide test who took many opportunities this afternoon to call it a "punitive" exam. "Let's stand up for our students. Let's ensure that when they go to school, they're going to actually learn."

Republican members were against taking away accountability.

"To just strip it away, without putting in some replacement is irresponsible," said Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

After much debate, Kiar withdrew his amendment saying he appreciated the discussion and would come back at the issue later in the process.

Then it was back to the bill, and there was still plenty of debate. Most everyone agreed that raising standards is a good thing. But Democrats were concerned about the bill possibly creating an unfunded mandate. Rep. Ron Saunders, D-Tavernier, said the bill had "good intent," but "bad timing." And many were still concerned about the increased FCAT requirement.

Rep. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, missed most of the meeting, but arrived in time to implore the panel with: "How can we be against increasing standards? Unfortunately, this has become a partisan issue.