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What all was in the Florida Legislature's final "school choice" bill?



In one of their final votes of the 2016 session, Florida lawmakers passed sweeping "school choice" legislation with numerous changes to the state's education policies, affecting schools from pre-K through college and university.

The final, approved version of HB 7029 -- released Thursday, reflecting changes lawmakers made prior to the final vote late last week -- came in at 160 pages. 

We read through it to break down exactly what is in this proposed law, which is still pending Republican Gov. Rick Scott's approval.

There are literally dozens of new policies that would be enacted, so if you want to know every little detail, we suggest reading it for yourself, but here are the major highlights:



-- starting in 2017-18, students (so long as they're not subject to expulsion or suspension orders) could attend any public school in the state that has not reached capacity;

-- "preferential treatment" in open enrollment would be given to: (1) children of active-duty military personnel who move for work; (2) children who move because of foster care placement; (3) children whose parents have died, divorced or changed custody; and (4) students who live in the school district. Students living in the district could not be displaced by another seeking to attend a school under open enrollment. Once a student transfers under open enrollment, the student can stay at that school through graduation;

-- requires districts to set up a transfer process, so that parents can request for their children to be transferred to a different classroom -- although parents don't have the right to choose a specific classroom teacher;



-- allows high school student-athletes to be "immediately" eligible when first enrolling in school or transferring schools;

-- bars students from participating in a sport if they already participated in that same sport at another school during that school year unless they (1) are a child of active-duty military personnel who moved for work, (2) relocated because of foster-care placement, (3) moved because parents died, divorced or changed custody, or (4) are "authorized for good cause in district or charter school policy";

-- defines "eligible to participate" as including participation in try-outs, off-season workouts or in-season practices or contests. It doesn't mean students have to be placed on a team;

-- requires district school boards to establish student eligibility criteria for extracurricular activities and prohibits school districts or charter schools from delaying eligibility of a student;

-- a student's eligibility for extracurricular activities wouldn't be affected by "any alleged recruiting violation until disposition of the allegation";

-- penalizes school district employees or contractors found guilty of recruiting with a $5,000 fine for the first offense; the $5,000 fine and a 12-month suspension from coaching, directing or advertising the extracurricular activity for a second offense; and the $5,000 fine and possible 3-year revocation of an educator's certificate for a third offense;

-- requires schools and teams to forfeit all competitions, including titles and accolades, won using a student who was found to have been recruited;

-- reduces the threshold for proving ineligibility of a student-athlete to a "preponderance of evidence," rather than "clear and convincing evidence";

-- requires the Florida High School Athletic Association to let private schools join the association on a per-sport basis;



-- requires entities applying to open a new charter school to disclose names of the applicant, governing board members and service providers, as well as detailed academic and financial history of any shuttered charter schools they previously operated;

-- allows charter schools to delay opening for up 2 to years to provide time to plan facilities;

-- bars charter schools from admitting or dismissing students based on the students' academic performance;

-- allows charter schools' governing boards to choose to close a school, so long as the decision is made at a public meeting that parents and the school district are notified of in advance. Written notice of the board's decision -- including the reason for closing or remaining open -- must also be relayed to the district, parents and the Florida Department of Education within 24 hours of the meeting;

-- requires districts to review "monthly or quarterly" financial statements for any potential problems;

-- requires a charter school's contract to be "automatically terminated" if the school earns two consecutive "F" grades;

-- adds to list of charter school enrollment preferences: students from failing schools, and the children of municipal employees if the municipality operates the school or allows the school to use land or facilities owned by the municipality;

-- gives charter schools the right to sue in circuit court -- and be awarded attorneys fees and costs, if successful -- if an official or employee with a local municipality doesn't comply with state laws governing the regulation and approval of charter school facilities;



-- requires charter schools to be located in Florida in order to be eligible for capital outlay dollars;

-- allows charter schools to be eligible for capital outlay dollars after having been in operation for two -- instead of three -- years;

-- requires eligible charter schools to have an annual audit that doesn't reveal financial emergencies, in order to receive capital funding;

-- restructures how charter schools receive capital funding -- by giving weight to those who have a student population of 75 percent or more that's eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, or those who serve a population of 25 percent or more being students with disabilities;

-- revises regulations affecting the Special Facility Construction Account, which affects some small, mostly rural school districts;

-- requires school districts to keep accurate records of costs on capital projects so the Auditor General can verify district compliance with state limits on the cost per student station, or the space required for each student;

-- requires a state study by January 2017 to help calculate new "cost per student station" limits, with consideration of costs for classrooms, administrative offices or other core facilities, such as "required media centers, gymnasiums, music rooms, cafeterias" or vocational areas;

-- subjects all of a school district's sources of revenue to the state cap on per-student-station costs, starting July 1. If a district exceeds the cap, the district "shall be subject to sanctions," unless the Auditor General determines the overages are "due to extraordinary circumstances outside the control of the district." The penalties include making the district subject to an oversight committee and making the district ineligible for state capital outlay dollars for the next three years;

-- gives school districts more flexibility in construction projects, such as allowing a super-majority of the school board to approve an exception to educational facilities construction requirements and certain building codes after a favorable cost-benefit analysis;



-- codifies performance funding for Florida's 28 state colleges;

-- creates the "Distinguished Florida College System Program" to recognize and reward high performing colleges with specified funding. The distinction is based on certain metrics, such as job placement and graduation, retention and transfer rates;



-- codifies performance funding for Florida's 12 public universities;

-- adjusts standards for preeminent state research universities;

-- creates "emerging preeminent" designation for up-and-coming research universities, which makes them eligible for specified funding;



-- defines "memberships associations" -- which in this case is meant to refer to those groups representing school board members -- and allows members to direct their dues to whichever association they want to belong to;

-- codifies the power of school board members to visit schools and observe teachers in the classroom;

-- allows a parent of a student with a qualifying disability to apply for a scholarship under the Florida Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts Program toward "individual educational needs";

-- codifies parents' "right" to a report card with information about a school's grade, improvement rating and finances. Parents must be provided the financial report and it, along with the student handbook, must "indicate the average amount of money expended per student in the school";

-- clarifies eligibility for students in the Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Program;

-- allows students to fulfill their online course requirement for high school graduation through earning an industry certification, passing an information technology certification exam, or passing an online content assessment without enrolling in or completing the course itself;

-- allows students to earn high school credit toward graduation by passing end-of-course exams, Advanced Placement exams or a College Level Examination Program;

-- makes permanent the Adults With Disabilities Workforce Education Program in Hardee, DeSoto, Manatee, and Sarasota counties. It was formerly a pilot program that would have expired June 30;

-- renames the Florida National Merit Scholar Incentive Program into the "Benacquisto Scholarship Program" in honor of current state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers;

-- revises and increases available bonuses for teachers whose students earn CAPE industry certifications;

-- creates the federally connected student supplement to give designated state funding to school districts that "support the education of students connected with federally owned military installations, NASA property and Indian lands";

-- directs the Department of Education to develop, starting next school year, a list of approved training materials for youth suicide awareness prevention that K-12 schools will have the option of using;

-- prohibits the Office of Early Learning from adopting a kindergarten readiness rate;

-- allows schools to publish in student handbooks required notices that inform students of their right to not recite the daily "Pledge of Allegiance" in public schools. An excused student also does not have to stand and place their right hand over his or her heart;

-- creates the Florida Seal of Biliteracy Program to recognize qualifying high school graduates who have "attained high competency in listening, speaking, reading and writing" in a language other than English;

-- adds CAPE digital tools and industry certifications and collegiate high school programs to list of "school choice options" in Florida.

 Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times