March 14, 2013

For Florida education laws, it’s out with the old

Efforts to repeal more than two dozen education laws show how public-school policy comes and goes in Florida.

Remember the highly touted policy requiring every high-school student in Florida to choose a major? It’s about to be canned.

The state Department of Education’s plan to establish a parent-response center? That’s out, too.

On Thursday, state House and Senate took steps toward repealing more than two dozen outdated, overlooked or just plain unpopular education laws.

State education officials say the move will tighten up Florida’s schools statute, and put an end to some superfluous programs. But the action also shines a light on the ever-changing state of education reform in Florida, where headline-grabbing policies come and go, and teachers complain about the constant state of flux.

“It’s been reform on top of reform on top of reform,” said Georgia Slack, who lobbies for the Broward school district. “We drown in education laws.”

Among the education laws headed to the grave this year:

•  A 2007 law creating the High School to Business Career Enhancement Program. The program let school boards adopt high-school internship policies, and established the criteria for students to receive credit. According to the state education department, no districts have participated in recent years.
•  A 2006 law requiring high-school students to declare a major in order to earn a standard high school diploma. Lawmakers took some of the language off the books in 2010, but never fully removed the program from statute.
•  A 2003 law known as the Family and School Partnership for Student Achievement Act, which required the state education department to establish a “parent-response center.” No parent-response center exists.
•  A 1997 law requiring incoming high-school freshman and their parents to develop four-year academic and career plans. Another law came along requiring middle-school students to complete a course in career and education planning.

Some higher education laws are also likely to be axed, including the 2011 legislation requiring students to submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid to be eligible for a Bright Futures scholarship. University financial aid officers said the law led to “a significant increase in the workload due to the need to process approximately 30,000 additional student FAFSA applications,” according to a Senate analysis.

Of all of the laws on the chopping block this year, the legislation requiring high-school students to choose a major was the most celebrated; the program made national headlines in 2006 when former Gov. Jeb Bush signed it into law. But school districts found the mandate burdensome, and state education officials could find little evidence of its value.

On Thursday, Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, called the proposed repeals “the result of a coordinated effort to reduce regulation of public education institutions.” Late last year, Gov. Rick Scott asked seven school superintendents to recommend changes to outdated statutes and State Board of Education rules.

Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, said circling back to previous legislation is part of the process.

“In all policy areas, in order to make reforms that lead to a paradigm shift, you have to re-analyze earlier decisions to see if they can be tweaked or perfected,” he said.

But some observers say the repeals are evidence that Florida lawmakers are taking a less-than-comprehensive approach to public-school policy.

“People go to Tallahassee and they make themselves experts on education,” said Miami-Dade School Board member Raquel Regalado.

Recent changes have come on quickly. Just three years ago, the state adopted new standards and a new set of FCAT, Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests. But even that won’t last long. The state is moving toward new, national standards known as the Common Core and their accompanying exams.

Miami-Dade teacher Antonio White called the onslaught of new education laws “frustrating.”

“As soon as you think you’ve figured it out, the state changes to something different,” said White, who teaches business technology at Jose Marti Math and Science Technology Academy in Hialeah. “It’s constantly changing and nothing is proven to work.”

Kathleen McGrory can be reached at kmcgrory@MiamiHerald.com.

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