Senate wary of House public schools overhaul
Published: Tuesday, May 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 30, 2007 at 11:42 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE - A proposal to overhaul the state's public school curriculum with "world-class standards'' won a unanimous victory Monday in the House.
But, as sometimes happens in the Legislature, the Senate begged to differ.
Just moments after the House vote of 113-0, senators doused the plan with skepticism.
"Oh, please,'' said Sen. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, vice chairwoman of the Senate's Pre-K-12 committee. "How do you define â€òworld-class' standards? What does that mean?''
With just four days left in the session, the Senate's skepticism put in doubt the bill's chances for passage.
The plan includes provisions to expand the FCAT to include social studies and to begin teaching world languages in elementary school. It also invites international experts and business people into the Department of Education to expand the current Sunshine State standards.
"This is, members, one of the most important bills we will pass this legislative session,'' said Rep. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, chairwoman of the House committee on K-12.
She said the package of reforms - which comprise 11 of House Speaker Marco Rubio's "100 great ideas'' - would make Florida competitive with students from Singapore to Finland.
But for Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, a lawmaker since 1994 who has served on various education committees, the overhaul sounds like too much, too fast.
"One step at a time,'' she said.
Lynn also questioned the House's embracing of "world standards.''
"I don't know what the term exactly means,'' Lynn said. "Does it mean a far cry from what we have for standards today? I don't think we're there yet. It would depend on what they're talking about, and that's not clearly defined in the bill.''
The Senate companion was carried by freshman Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, the chairman of the Education Pre-K-12 committee.
But because of a procedural error in its last Senate committee, the bill was temporarily postponed, meaning the only way to vote on the ideas would be for the Senate to agree to hear the House version of the bill.
Even Gaetz, a former school superintendent in Okaloosa County, said he didn't like the House version because of an amendment tacked on Monday just before the vote - an amendment that was supposed to appease the Senate. It pushed the start date for testing social studies on the FCAT to 2012.
That was several years too late for Gaetz.
"I don't think we ever indicated our desire to delay,'' Gaetz said. "But I would like to see a bill considered on the floor of the Senate, and I'm willing to work with others on the amendments.''
Rep. Michael Grant, R-Port Charlotte, a co-sponsor of the proposal, said he was confident that eventually lawmakers would come around, if not until next year.
"It's like anything else up here,'' Grant said. "Somebody has a good idea, it takes a while for it to percolate. Most institutions are resistant to change. On the face of it, it sounds like a great idea.''
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