Failed education bills come up for vote again
Published: Saturday, January 4, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 3, 2003 at 10:34 p.m.
At least three failed education bills from last year's session of the state Legislature have resurfaced this year for consideration beginning in March, while other bills related to high school dropouts, charter school personnel and school funding are making their debut.
Proposals for schools
This year, bills on education finance, the prevention of harassment of students and financial accountability have all been proposed again, despite dismal results last year.
For example, a bill suggested by state Rep. Mark Mahon, R-Jacksonville, would remove what's called the cost-differential from the funding formula for public schools. The factor generates more money for larger counties in the state that have higher costs of living, taking money from smaller, usually poorer counties.
For example, last year, a total of $158 million went to the larger counties to make up the difference, while this year, $186 million went there, according to Richard Pra, legislative assistant to Mahon.
"The counties that gain say they have to pay their teachers more," Pra said.
Last year, Duval County lost over $10 million because of the funding formula, Pra said. While districts such as Dade County reaped nearly $80 million in additional funding last year, Alachua County lost nearly $5 million.
The bill died in an education committee last year.
Meanwhile, an accountability bill proposed by state Rep. Connie Mack, R-Ft. Lauderdale, also suffered a similar fate. The bill requires a written analysis of the cost, level and quality of service for noninstructional services, including student transportation, food services and facilities operations and maintenance.
If those reports determine the costs are lower to privatize those services, then districts would be required to contract them out, according to the bill.
Another bill that is getting a second chance is the Dignity for All Students Act, proposed by state Rep. Kenneth Allan "Ken" Gottlieb, D-Miramar, who wants to combat harassment of, and discrimination and violence against, students in schools.
The act prohibits discrimination, harassment and violence based on a real or perceived identity or expression of race, color, religion, national origin, marital status, sex or gender, disability or sexual orientation.
The act would require districts to establish reporting procedures for such behavior; to train school personnel on what constitutes harassment and discrimination and how to prevent it; to provide guidance and counseling services to affected students; and to establish punishments for students and employees who have violated the act.
Among new bills this year, one aims to keep teenagers in school longer by raising the mandatory attendance age to 17, up from 16. The act still requires at least one parent to sign off on the decision.
"It's just an irony that elected officials are being criticized for the dropout rates, yet we make it so easy to drop out," said Rep. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who offered up the bill. "At 15, you can sign the paperwork so you can leave school on your 16th birthday. I don't believe a 16-year-old is capable of making that decision."
In employment matters, state Rep. Phillip Brutus, D-North Miami, wants to require charter school personnel to abide by the same state and federal employment regulations that govern public school personnel. That same bill also would require personnel working directly with students at district alternative schools to be fingerprinted. Currently, neither is the case.
Brutus filed the bill following a situation at a Miami charter school in which a student was allegedly molested by an assistant principal with a lengthy criminal record.
"The reason he was not discovered was he was not a regular school board employee and the same background check was not done," Brutus said. "My bill says, 'Look, if you have contact with kids you must go through the same background check.' "
To help boost funding for schools, state Rep. Dick Kravitz, R-Orange Park, wants to allot $1 million from the rollover amount of the Florida Lotto toward education beginning this year.
With each successive rollover, the amount would double, according to the bill.
Cathi Carr can be reached at 374-5086 or cathi.carr@ gainesvillesun.com.
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