Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a controversial education bill Thursday at an Orlando private school.
Duval County School Board member Becki Couch says the new law is devastating for Duval County.
”It’s hard to say if we could have done anything differently,” Couch said. “You look back and think, ‘Could I have done more?’ I think we’ve done more than we ever had before.”
Scott signed the bill at Morning Star Catholic School, which serves many children with special needs who use the Gardiner scholarship to go there. The new law expands that program by $30 million for children with disabilities.
“This legislation helps all students,” Scott said. “I’m especially proud that this legislation boosts funding for the Gardiner Scholarship. This incredibly important scholarship provides specialized education services to students with unique abilities so they can lead successful, independent lives.”
The bill also provides millions in teacher bonuses and eliminates the Algebra I end-of-course exam for high school students.
But Couch contends her issue is with other parts of the bill. Low-performing schools will now have less time to improve before the state intervenes. And once a traditional public school is closed, privately-managed charter schools would be given financial incentives to open in the same area. Several Duval schools are now in danger of closing.
“We’re going to have to transport students to other schools that are pretty much already full with no capital funds by the way to add additions onto those schools to accommodate the increase in students,” Couch said.
That’s because the bill would also require local tax dollars used for building projects to be shared with charters. Duval, which has some of the oldest schools in the state, already has a maintenance backlog.
But Rep. Jason Fischer, R-Jacksonville, who used to serve on Duval’s school board, is excited by the new bill.
“There’s some pockets here in Jacksonville where they’re failure factories, and we need to open up an opportunity for parents in those communities and children in those failure factories to go somewhere where they can get a better education,” said Fischer, the bill’s co-sponsor, in Jacksonville Tuesday.
The bill also requires all federal Title I dollars for low-income children follow students directly to their schools, but the Duval County School Board argues it can provide better programs to those children by pooling a portion for district programs like special field trips and contracts with City Year members who help in classrooms.
Daily recess is also mandatory under this law but charter schools are allowed to opt out.
Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride