State Sen. John Legg heads the education committee in the Florida Senate. StateImpact Florida's Robin Sussingham sat down with Legg recently, and asked him to sum up the most important education issues that will be in front of the legislature this year.
Legg: The biggest education issues I see are class size; [also], the House has made a priority of looking at Best and Brightest which is a recruitment and merit reward for teachers around $10,000...
Sussingham: That's pretty controversial. If you took the SAT 30 years ago, you're going to get $10,000 if you did well?
Legg: Last year, in budget negotiations, the House put in a proposal of about $44 million to recruit and reward teachers who had 80th percentile or higher on their SAT scores. The Senate did not have a chance to review that proposal. I've filed a bill this year specifically so the Senate has a chance to debate that. I have some significant reservations with the methodology of implementation of that legislation. There may be better ways of recruiting the best teachers than simply looking at test scores from 30 years ago. I think, under its present form, Best and Brightest is going to have a challenging time in the legislature, especially the Senate.
School choice is always a big issue; also, high school athletics will dominate the issues this year. Unlike recent years, I don't think testing will dominate the legislature, but there will be some review of testing and technology.
Sussingham: Parents in several school districts around the state have been organizing to bring back recess to their schools, and up until now, the state hasn't had any mandates concerning recess. Will that change this year?
Legg: There is a reluctance to mandate more recess because that means you'll be taking time away from another core class. There will be a constituency out there that will say, 'we can't cut down on reading, art, math, music,' and rightfully so. You have to give up something unless you add more hours to the day, and those hours will cost money.
Sussingham: Legislators have been trying for several years to overhaul the Florida High School Athletic Association. What do you see happening there?
Legg: There are two major proposals that are going forward. One is by Sen. Don Gaetz, which will let students move between schools for ANY reason, including high school athletics. It would do away with zoning at school districts, and that will have major impacts on high school athletics. Second, to allow a competitor to FHSAA, which pretty much has a monopoly right now. I would look for those issues to emerge and be hotly debated.
Sussingham: What about class size? That was a big deal when Florida decided on a maximum class size...
Legg: We've tried to build in some common sense flexibility, but still obey the spirit of the law, and it looks like school districts have taken advantage of some loopholes. We're looking at school districts now to see if they are violating that good faith effort and taking advantage too much of the flexibility that the legislature has granted them.
Sussingham: Charter schools receive public education dollars, but aren't controlled by local school districts. The hope is that they bring innovative ways of teaching. What's coming up for charter schools?
Legg: The legislature is looking at, specifically from the House, how do we allow them to exist - because there is huge parental demand - but still ensure that quality operators are the ones that are opening, and how do we recognize and have warnings when they're not doing well, and that we shut them down or allow another person to take them over.