Scott signs 'transformational' education measure
Published: Monday, April 22, 2013 at 3:06 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 22, 2013 at 3:06 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE — While Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders are still at odds over teacher pay raises, they came together Monday as Scott signed a sweeping education bill designed to make students more employable.
The measure affects Florida education from high school to state universities.
“This is a big deal for education,” said House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. “It's transformational.”
Among its major changes, the new law (SB 1076):
Revamps tougher graduation standards put in place in 2010, allowing students to graduate from high school without taking Algebra 2. Students could earn a “standard” diploma by taking Algebra 1 and biology, while university-bound students seeking a “scholar” diploma would have to take Algebra 2 as well as physics or chemistry.
Allows students to earn a “merit” diploma by passing industry-certified courses, in lieu of traditional math, science and English courses, although they would still have to pass Algebra 1. Students could earn national industry certifications in more than 200 different professions and occupations, better positioning them for jobs after graduation.
Creates standards for pre-eminent state universities, which the University of Florida and Florida State University are expected to meet, allowing them to receive an additional $15 million each in the state budget.
Designates UF to create an online institute to allow students to earn a bachelor's degree by taking courses on the Web. The tuition for the online courses would be no greater than 75 percent of the standard tuition. It also calls for more coordination among all the universities offering online courses.
Mandates the creation of performance-funding standards for state universities and colleges that include job placement statistics for graduates.
Gives the state colleges more flexibility in creating bachelor's degrees that can be earned for $10,000 or less.
A major unresolved issue is a tuition increase for state colleges and universities. Scott and the Senate oppose a tuition increase, while the House has advanced a 6 percent hike — although it was scaled back to 4 percent in Monday's budget negotiations.
The law, which takes effect on July 1, contained many of the major education priorities for the legislative leaders. Weatherford has been a proponent of creating an online university, while Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, had pushed the Career and Professional Education Act that was aimed at aligning Florida's schools with the needs of employers.
“By lashing education to the realities and opportunities of the economy, this legislation makes it far more likely that our graduates will earn diplomas and degrees that qualify them for real jobs,” Gaetz said.
“We should all be proud of how this will help children get jobs when they finish their education,” Scott said.
Business groups also praised the new law.
Associated Industries of Florida's Tom Feeney said the law will allow schools and businesses “to work hand-in-hand to develop curriculum and real-world training” that meet Florida's workforce needs.
“From K-12 to college, students will be able to earn industry certifications and credentials that will position them for high-wage jobs,” Feeney said.
Despite the agreement on the education reform bill, Scott and lawmakers remain at sharp odds over another major education issue — teacher pay raises.
With less than two weeks left in the annual session, House and Senate budget negotiators have agreed on a $480 million pay plan — the same amount Scott sought. However, Scott wants an across-the-board $2,500 pay raise for teachers, while legislative leaders are adamant that the raises be performance based.
Citing recent statistics showing Florida schools were improving, Scott said the K-12 system “is doing a great job.”
“The right thing to do is reward our teachers with a $2,500 pay raise,” he said.
Scott also gave no indication he was willing to back off his demand for an across-the-board pay raise rather than a merit increase.
“I have my priorities, the House and Senate have their priorities,” Scott said. “We have two weeks left in the session. We'll see how well each of us get our priorities ... I believe we're going to have a great session.”
Florida's major teachers union voiced support for Scott's position, saying lawmakers remain “obsessed with merit pay.”
“All school year we have shown that Florida's teacher evaluation system with its reliance on standardized testing is flawed and chaotic,” Andy Ford of the Florida Education Association said in a statement.
Under the current evaluation system, Ford said two-thirds of the teachers are being unfairly measured on students or subjects they don't teach.
“Despite the fact that teachers in Florida make $10,000 less than the national average, much-needed pay raises for next year will be based on a system that doesn't make a lick of sense,” he said.
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