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Florida Republicans push major school overhaul

TALLAHASSEE — An increasingly conservative Senate pushed forward a series of Republican-led education measures Wednesday that could transform the landscape of Florida's public schools.

Votes fell mostly along party lines.

A measure (CSSB2126) to expand the state's tax credit scholarship program and direct more money toward private schools passed in a 28-10 vote. Sen. J. Alex Villalobos, R-Miami, was the only Republican to vote against the measure. Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, and a few other black members of the minority caucus supported the bill.

A bill (CSCSSB6) pushed by Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, that would link pay increases to student test scores and eliminate teacher tenure passed in a 21-17 vote.

Proponents paint the measures as a sweeping reform movement aimed at better steeling Florida students for the growing global economy.

"It's about our children and the future of our children and what is best for our children," said Thrasher.

But critics claim the measures are more closely rooted in politics than education reform. They point fingers at Thrasher, an influential former House speaker who was elected chairman of the Florida Republican Party last month.

"It's a new dynamic we have. We have a new senator who came in during a special election who is also the party chairman," said Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association. "That does account for some of the increased movement to the right."

Thrasher's response: "That's hogwash."

Read more about the proposed education changes here.