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President Office — Press Release


May 2, 2014

CONTACT: Katie Betta, (850) 487-5229,
Britton Alexander, (850) 487-5184

Senate Advances Accountability Provisions for Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program

Legislation Creates New Education Pathways for Students with Disabilities

Tallahassee —

The Florida Senate today passed Senate Bill 850, Education, by Senator John Legg (R-Lutz), adopting strong academic and financial accountability standards for Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program and creating new educational pathways for students with disabilities.

“Today the Florida Senate passed strong academic and financial accountability provisions for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program that meet the accountability standards Speaker Weatherford and I discussed months ago when we outlined our Work Plan Florida 2014 joint legislative agenda,” said Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Niceville). “Additionally, choice options outlined in this legislation accommodate the unique needs of students, including students with disabilities and economically-disadvantaged students, as they progress and transition along their academic and career pathways.”

Senate Bill 850 affirms private school autonomy over curriculum and instructional materials and as currently exists in statute, requires those schools to assess scholarship students in private schools using a Florida Department of Education-approved test.  Under the bill, the Learning Systems Institute at Florida State University will provide testing reports to parents, showing how their students are progressing in math and reading skills compared to like assessment components in other public and private schools. Reports will be based on similar components across various stated-approved assessments, so parents can compare apples to apples. The Institute will also produce school-based reports and student-based reports, without identifying student information. 

“This legislation affirms private school autonomy and the authority of a private school to determine its own standards and curriculum, but also ensures that parents, students, teachers and taxpayers have a valid and reliable measurement of student performance,” continued President Gaetz. “Additionally, the legislation empowers students with disabilities and their parents to choose education options that best meet students’ unique needs by creating additional opportunities to satisfy the requirements for a standard high school diploma that focus on postsecondary goals and career transition planning.”

Senate Bill 850 creates Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts for students with disabilities in kindergarten through high school.  The bill repeals the Special Diploma and creates additional options for students with disabilities to satisfy the requirements for a standard high school diploma.

Academic accountability measures outlined in SB 850 will begin this fall with a focus on the schools serving the largest number of scholarship students assessed in the 2014-2015 school year.  Under this legislation, scholarship funding organizations will be audited annually by the Auditor General to track how funds are spent and to ensure that no state dollars are used for lobbying or political purposes. Financial accountability provisions begin immediately for all schools receiving the publicly-funded scholarships.

Senate Bill 850 expands Career and Professional Education (CAPE) and acceleration options as well as rigorous curricular, instructional and assessment options available to K-12 students.

The legislation also establishes requirements for Florida College System institutions and school districts to provide a pathway for high school students to earn a full year of college credit while enrolled in high school.

Additionally the bill authorizes industry certification providers to notify students and parents about the college credits earned by the students, and the savings associated with earning the college credits, to illustrate the return the investment of state dollars for the industry certifications earned by the student while in public school. Bonus funding, under the bill, would be established for schools and teachers who directly assist students in attaining new digital skills and industry certifications.  

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