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House, Senate leaders outline education priorities

Expect debates on vouchers, school grades and charter schools this year. 

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said his priorities for the upcoming legislative session would include "restoring trust and integrity into the school grading system."

Parent groups (as well as some policy experts and superintendents) have called for an overhaul of Florida's A-F school grading system, saying the formula has become overly complicated and essentially meaningless.

Weatherford said he would also push for a "massive expansion of choice for families."

Step one, he said: expanding the Tax Credit Scholarship program, potentially to thousands of students, while considering new accountability measures.

What's more, Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz said they would prioritize expanding access to industry certification programs.

Gaetz, a Niceville Republican, noted that enrollment in industry certification programs had jumped from 954 students in 2008 to 61,730 students in 2013. He said he wants to remove the funding limit on Career and Professional Education classes, so that CAPE funding would be on par with Advanced Placement funding. 

Charter schools may also be on the agenda, especially if Sen. Bill Montford has anything to do with it.

Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat and CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, raised concerns about charter schools involuntarily withdrawing students for poor academic performance and behavioral problems.

"Charter schools are public schools and I believe they should be held to the same standards," he said.