The issues of Medicaid expansion, water conservation and land acquisition dominated the 2015 Regular Session and Special Session making them the most contentious Sessions in many years. The complexity of the issues and the lack of cooperation from the federal government made it almost impossible to prepare a budget. During the last week of Session the two Chambers were $4 billion apart on the health care budget, making it difficult to bridge the gap. Negotiations came to a halt. As a result, the House adjourned early leaving the Senate in Session during regular Session. Since most bills have some kind of fiscal impact, legislators struggled to get their bills passed. The early adjournment of the House created much more chaos than normal during the closing days. A few issues of importance to home educators were resolved during the Special Session, but not as many as we had hoped for.
CS/HB 7013 — Adoption and Foster Care
The bill requires the Department of Children and Families to prioritize the educational stability of foster children and include homeschooling as one of several educational options.
SB 874 – Dual Enrollment died on the Calendar
Even though Sen. Stargel was tireless in her effort to clarify that private school students could not be charged for dual enrollment, no change occurred this Session. Her bill would have treated private school students like home education students, requiring the colleges to have an articulation agreement with the student. However, this would not have removed the provision in the law that allows a state college to have an articulation agreement with a private school. Therefore, the House did not believe it would fix the issue. The House wanted specific language which prohibited state colleges from charging private schools and private school students.
HEF believes that neither of these approaches will fix the issue because if state colleges are not allowed to charge private schools or private school students, they will continue to limit the number of courses private school and home education students can take. It is already happening in some colleges.
Private schools and home education parents need to put a full court press on their Representatives and Senators beginning in August to pay the tuition for dual enrollment courses taken by private school and home education students. If our students were enrolled in public schools, the State would have to pay the tuition for non-public school students, which would cost the state a lot less than if the students were enrolled full-time in public schools.
SB 1480 – FHSAA bills died
HEF worked very hard to ensure that this bill and the House Bill 7137 did not have any negative effects on the current representation that private schools have in the FHSAA governance. There were sections that would have removed language that HEF has used numerous times to enforce the rights of home educated students to participate in extra-curricular activities. We were able to get these sections fixed.
HEF is also concerned that if the Legislature can regulate this private, non-profit corporation, which they did not create and have never funded, what will keep them from doing the same to other private . organizations. The bill along with many others died.
HB 747 – Bright Futures passed, then reconsidered and died.
The language in this bill would have equalized the Medallion Bright Futures Scholarship for all students — public, private and home educated students.
This was the strangest political move I have seen in my 30 years at the Capitol. The bill actually passed, but the bill sponsor immediately called it back on reconsideration letting it die on the Special Order Calendar.
HB 7037 / SB 1552 — School Choice (FLVS – Grades 2-5)
This bill would have allowed FLVS to offer grades 2-5 to home educated students. When legislation passed that required school districts to provide virtual education programs to public school students, FLVS was also allowed to offer courses in grades K-5 on a full-time or part-time basis. However the eligibility language was tied to another statute which stated that a student could enter into virtual education in kindergarten or first grade, but had to be enrolled full-time in a public school to enter in grades 2-5. Therefore, FLVS is prohibited from offering part-time enrollment to home education students in grades 2-5.
While some parents are not interested in their younger children participating in FLVS, several home education parents use the program in kindergarten and first grade, then are unable to continue. There are also some courses which home education parents may want to access on a part-time basis, but cannot. HEF is hoping to get that changed and will need your help. Even though at this time home educators may not want to participate, there may be a time when you or someone you know may need or want to participate. HEF wants to ensure that this option will be available to all home educators.
SB 602 – Personal Learning Scholarship Account (PLSA) Died on the Calendar during regular Session but some expansion was included in the Special Session (see below.)
HB 7069 Education Accountability became law on 4-14-15.
It changes the district school start date to no earlier than Aug. 10.
It removes the requirement for public schools to administer the PERT prior to the beginning of grade 12. (This could affect private school and home education students since state colleges may begin charging for administering the PERT. Students can use a concordant score on the SAT and ACT in place of the PERT for dual enrollment and admission now, so that might be the best option. How this plays out remains to be seen.)
It also requires school districts to administer the statewide, standardized and approved EOC assessment in Algebra I and II, Geometry, Biology I, US History and Civics as the final cumulative exam. (It is not clear how this will affect the Transfer of Credit Rule for a private school or home education student who transfers into a public school after 9th grade.)
It requires an independent entity to confirm the validity of the state assessments. The Common Core opponents have worked hard to make sure that students are not assessed on the basis of common core standards. While this provision may not stop the use of a common core assessment, it will certainly delay it and require that the assessment measures the Florida Standards. Some states are beginning to back away from Common Core Standards.
Special Session and the Budget
SB 2502- A Bright Future Scholarship Approved Volunteer Hours were expanded in the Budget Implementing Bill
For the 2015-16 year volunteer service work may include, but is not limited to, a business or government internship, work for a nonprofit community service organization, or activity on behalf of a candidate for public office. This provision will expire July 1, 2016.
The good news here is that if Sen. Lee wants this to be a permanent change, he will have to bring the bill back in the 2016 Session. This will give HEF another opportunity to include the language which equalizes the Medallion test scores for all students, but home education parents will need to help HEF work this bill.
SB 2502-A Personal Learning Scholarship Program (PLSA) was expanded in the Budget Implementing Bill.
The bill expands the list of eligible disabilities to include autism spectrum disorder and muscular dystrophy.
The bill extends the ages to include 3 and 4 year olds.
The bill allows the funds to be used for tuition and fees for part-time tutoring services provided by a person who holds a valid Florida educator’s certificate pursuant to s. 1012.56, a person who holds an adjunct teaching certificate pursuant to s. 1012.57, or a person who has demonstrated a mastery of subject area knowledge pursuant to s.1012.56(5).
Bright Futures Scholarships
BF award per credit hour or credit hour equivalent for the 2015-2016 academic year shall be as follows:
Academic Scholars 4-Year Institutions…………………………………….$103 2-Year Institutions…………………………………….$ 63 Upper-Division Programs at Florida Colleges…….$ 71 Career/Technical Centers…………………………….$ 52
Medallion Scholars 4-Year Institutions………………………………………$ 77 2-Year Institutions………………………………………$ 63 Upper-Division Programs at Florida Colleges………$ 53 Career/Technical Centers………………………………$ 39
Gold Seal Vocational Scholars Career Certificate Program…………………………..$ 39 Applied Technology Diploma Program…………….$ 39 Technical Degree Education Program……………..$ 48
The additional stipend for Top Scholars shall be $44 per credit hour.
Florida Resident Access Grant (FRAG) FRAG is $3000 tuition assistance for the 2015-16 academic year.
Other issues of interest to home educators:
Attendance reform was introduced by the House, but never taken up in the Senate. This bill was pushed by HEF to clarify the way the attendance statutes are written. Although the sections are clear, if read together, taken separately led to the prosecution of parents whose children were enrolled in a non-traditional private school in 2011. HEF has been working to make these statutes crystal clear so this will not happen to other parents who have their children enrolled in a non-traditional private school.
Conservative School Board bill would have allowed conservative school board members who embrace school choice to join an organization other than the one that only recognizes public schools. This is of importance to home education parents because we have to register our home education programs with the school district. Occasionally, some district contacts attempt to add regulation to home education programs because they do not understand their limited administrative role. Since superintendents work for school boards, it would be helpful to have school board members that embrace school choice. Also, school board members often run for higher offices, such as legislative offices, when they complete their term on the school board. It would be helpful to those members for home education parents to get involved in those school board races.