THE FLOG

Bush WHACKED on Education

Florida Legislature leaves many scratching their heads, others just shaking theirs

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The deceptively named “Fewer, Better Tests” bill, backed by Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s future, was delayed by the state Senate Education Committee March 27 amidst accusations that last-minute amendments had been “stolen” from a more popular bill. South Florida Republican Sen. Anitere Flores sponsored the Bush-backed bill, SB 926, which was filed in response to Sen. Montford’s efforts to dial back high-stakes testing in his competing bill, SB 964. Montford, a Democrat, is the former Superintendent of Schools for Leon County.

Veteran Republican and former Senate President Tom Lee blasted his colleagues for displacing Montford’s bill for partisan reasons, and scolded them for raiding aspects of Montford’s bill that had already gained bipartisan support, presenting them as last-minute amendments to Flores’s bill.  Lee characterized the underhanded actions of his republican cohorts as an “abomination” of the legislative process. 

Public school advocates say that despite its name, Flores’s bill, SB 926, does not reduce the number of tests, and it would ratchet up Florida’s already high-stakes testing scheme. The Bush-backed bill would tie grade-level proficiency in the Florida State Assessment (FSA) to data from another test, the National Assessment for Education Progress (NAEP).

Florida Department of Education Secretary Pam Stewart rejected the NAEP-tie-in last year. Advocates from the public education advocacy organization, Common Ground, say linking the two tests could dramatically lower passing rates, which they contend would lead to worse school grades and “plummeting property values.” 

In a press release, Common Ground argues that true testing relief is to be found in former Leon County Schools Superintendent Bill Montford’s bill:

SB 964 eliminates the 9th grade FSA and all but two of the current state End of Course exams, allows districts to use the SAT or ACT in place of FSA testing, eliminates VAM (returning teacher evaluation decisions to the local level) and allows paper and pencil testing for students, providing welcome relief from the current test and punish system.

“The difference between these two bills is crystal clear,” says Kathleen Oropeza of the public school advocacy organization, Fund Education Now. “Sen. Montford’s SB 964 bravely dials back damage while Jeb’s SB 926 increases student suffering.” 

HB 1249, the House companion to Montford’s bill, had gained no traction by the time the Pre-K-12 Quality Subcommittee ended its business for the session on March 27.  That same subcommittee did pass a bill, however, making it easier for parents to object to textbook content at the district level, despite concerns relating to censorship.

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