This Video Update features FSBA Executive Director Andrea Messina providing an overview of the week’s activities and a discussion of several bills that were considered last week including HJR 759 – Charter Schools, SB 434 – Principal Autonomy Pilot Program, SB 978 – Public School Teachers, and HB 1021 – Award of Attorney Fees / Public Records. (Please scroll down below the video to access additional information about these bills.)
HJR 759 – Charter Schools by Diaz (Similar to SJR 976 by Stargel)
HJR 759 proposes an amendment to the Florida Constitution that directs the State Board of Education (SBE)to establish a statewide charter school authorizer to authorize, operate, control and supervise charter schools and provides that the school board shall operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the school district, except charter schools under the control and supervision of the statewide charter school authorizer.
The bill gives rise to several concerns:
- It appears to create a two tiered system of PUBLIC schools – one operated by the elected school board and one operated by an entity established by the SBE — which seems to be at odds with constitutional requirement for a uniform system of free public schools.
- It raises questions as to whether the new authorizing entity would be held to the same or similar public financial, ethical, and accountability standards as the elected school board.
- It places distance between parents and citizens in the school district where the charter school is located and the authorizing entity, making public accountability more difficult.
- Given that Florida is a national leader in the number of charter schools and the percentage of students enrolled in charter schools, there is little evidence that a second authorizer is needed.
It is important to note that a proposed constitutional amendment must be approved by a 3/5 vote in each chamber of the Legislature in order to be placed on the ballot. The proposed amendment must then be approved by 60% of voters.
HB 287 – Principal Autonomy Pilot Program by Diaz (Similar to SB 434 by Garcia)
This bill establishes the Principal Autonomy Pilot Program Initiative (PAPPI) within the Department of Education. Participation in PAPPI is voluntary. Districts seeking to participate must submit a proposal to the State Board of Education (SBE) for approval. The proposal must identify three middle or high schools that received at least two school grades of “D” or “F” during the previous three school years, describe the areas in which increased autonomy will be granted, and state measurable goals regarding student achievement and operational efficiency.
The SBE may select up to three school districts for participation for an initial term of three years. Principals of participating schools are granted greater authority regarding staffing decisions, allocation of financial resources, and budgeting. To prepare for these additional responsibilities, the principals of participating schools and specified personnel are required to participate in a professional development program focused on successful turnaround strategies offered by the University of Virginia.
Participation in PAPPI provides exemptions from many provisions of the K-20 Education Code and State Board of Education rules. An important difference between the current House and Senate versions of the bill is that the Senate bill provides the exemptions from laws and rules to the participating schools while the House bill provides these exemptions to the entire school district.
SB 978 – Public School Teachers by Legg
The 2015-2016 General Appropriations Act created the Florida Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program and allocated more than $44 million to award a $10,000 scholarship to eligible teachers. In order to be eligible, a teacher must have scored at or above the 80th percentile on either the SAT or the ACT based upon the percentile ranks in effect when the teacher took the assessment and must have been evaluated as highly effective. First-year teachers who had not been evaluated had to meet only the SAT or ACT achievement requirement to be eligible.
This new scholarship program sparked controversy in many school districts particularly because veteran teachers, who did not have easy access to their high school SAT or ACT scores or percentile ranking, were at a distinct disadvantage in qualifying for the scholarship. In addition, many questioned whether high school scores were a reasonable means for identifying the “best and brightest” teachers.
The Senate has not expressed support for this scholarship program but has offered this bill as a compromise with the House that has indicated a desire to continue the program without significant amendment (see HB 7043 – Education Funding by Education). This bill revises the Florida Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program to award a scholarship, in an amount prescribed in the state budget, to eligible teachers. In order to be eligible, the teacher must have completed his/her second year of teaching (thus removing eligibility for first year teachers), must have scored at or above the 60th percentile (rather than 80th percentile) on the SAT or ACT based upon the percentile rankings in effect when the assessment was taken, and must have been evaluated as highly effective. The bill also provides that a teacher will remain eligible for the scholarship for as long as he or she is employed by the school district and maintains the highly effective level. The bill narrowly passed in the Senate PreK-12 Committee on a vote of 6-5.
HB 1021 – Award of Attorney Fees / Public Records by Steube (Similar to SB 1220 by Garcia)
In recent years, allegations have arisen that some individuals and entities have used public records enforcement lawsuits as a way to generate fees rather than to make lawful public records requests. In ruling on recent litigation in Duval County, the court opined that the Public Records Act was not designed to create a cottage industry for so-called “civil rights activists” or others who seek to abuse the Public Records Act for financial gain. This bill attempts to address these allegations of abuse.
If an agency fails to provide a public record, the person making the public records request may sue to have the request enforced. The enforcement lawsuit is composed of two parts: the first part being addressing the request for production of a record and the second part is the assessment of fees. Once an enforcement action has been filed, an agency, or a contractor acting on behalf of an agency, can be held liable for attorney fees even after the agency has produced the requested records. This is intended to encourage people to pursue their right to access government records. Under current law, if the court finds that the agency unlawfully refused access to a public record, the court must order the agency to pay for the requestor’s reasonable costs of enforcement, including reasonable attorney fees.
This bill amends current law to provide that a court may, but is not required to, award reasonable enforcement costs, including attorney fees, to the complainant even if the court determines the agency unlawfully refused to provide a public record. The bill also requires that, to be awarded such costs, a complainant must to provide written notice of the public records request to the agency’s records custodian at least 5 business days before filing the lawsuit.
Opponents of this bill assert that the bill will have a chilling effect on the public’s rightful access to public records. Supporters of the bill assert that the bill will help to curtail “nuisance” requests for public records.