Florida Legislative Session Wrap Up 2019

May the Fourth Be With You! Today, the 2019 session of the Florida Legislature is finally over. Here’s a quick summary of the issues we here at Florida Citizens for Science were tracking.

Senate Bill 330: Educational Standards for K-12 Public Schools

This bill would have impacted the standards for all academic subjects, especially science. The bill proposed allowing school districts to adopt their own sets of educational standards if they are “equal to or more rigorous” than the state’s educational standards. The bill specifically targeted science standards with the following directive from lines 62 to 66.

62 (b) Science standards must establish specific curricular
63 content for, at a minimum, the nature of science, earth and
64 space science, physical science, and life science. Controversial
65 theories and concepts shall be taught in a factual, objective,
66 and balanced manner.

“Controversial theories” is a standard tactic used for several years to target evolution and, lately, climate change. The bills don’t call out these scientific concepts by name, but the history of bills like these, referred to collectively as Academic Freedom Bills, make it clear what the intended science topics are.

END RESULT: This bill died. It was never heard in a committee. A companion bill in the house never appeared. It was a horrible idea even by the standards of this year’s horrible legislative session. I’m betting this bill was filed by Sen. Dennis Baxley just to drum up some publicity. He probably knew full well the bill was dead on arrival.

But will Baxley file the bill again next year or file a bill similar to it? You betcha!

For more background on the bill and Baxley’s history with evolution in schools, see our issues page.

House Bill 855 & Senate Bill 1454 – Instructional Materials

These bills would have made quite a few drastic changes to laws governing schools’ instructional materials. For instance, the section below features the “controversial issues” phrase. (Strikeouts are deletions and underlines are additions proposed by the bill.)

463 To use the selection criteria listed in s. 1006.34(2)(b) and
464 recommend for adoption only those instructional materials
465 aligned with or exceed the Next Generation Sunshine State
466 Standards provided for in s. 1003.41. Instructional materials
467 recommended by each reviewer shall comply with all quality and
468 content criteria established in state law, including an
469 assurance that such materials are researched-based and proven to
470 be effective in supporting student learning; are be, to the
471 satisfaction of each reviewer, accurate and factual; provide,
472 objective, balanced, and noninflammatory viewpoints on
473 controversial issues; are, current, free of pornography and
474 material prohibited under s. 847.012; are of acceptable quality;
475 are in full compliance with s. 847.012, s. 1003.42, and all
476 other state laws relating to instructional materials;, and are
477 suited to student needs and their ability to comprehend the
478 material presented.

The bills would have also done extreme damage to the instructional materials vetting and review process. For a full summary of those aspects, see my series of posts on the bills here, here and here.

END RESULT: The bills are dead. The House Bill was heard in one committee where it underwent a drastic overhaul, taking out the majority of the bad ideas in the original version. But then the bill stalled after that. It never got a hearing in its other assigned committee. And the Senate Bill never saw any movement at all.

But the organization behind this bill, the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, was ready to fight for their bill and you can bet they’ll try again next year.

Senate Bill 770 & House Bill 661: Workforce Education

Good grief, this bill was a tough one to follow. There were about 15 other “related bills” and I quite honestly lost track of what was going on until the end. It looks like the end result that tied everything together was the passage of House Bill 7071.

The stated purpose of the original bill was to give students a way to earn a high school diploma through a Career and Technical Education (CTE) pathway. “Some advanced math and science courses” were seen as obstacles to graduation for certain students and so the original bill would have allowed many of those math and science courses to be replaced with CTE credits.

In the final version of HB 7071, this is what can be done (keep in mind that a standard diploma requires four math credits and three science credits):

567 3. A student who earns a computer science credit may
568 substitute the credit for up to one credit of the mathematics
569 requirement, with the exception of Algebra I and Geometry, if
570 the commissioner identifies the computer science credit as being
571 equivalent in rigor to the mathematics credit. An identified
572 computer science credit may not be used to substitute for both a
573 mathematics and a science credit. A student who earns an
574 industry certification in 3D rapid prototype printing may
575 satisfy up to two credits of the mathematics requirement, with
576 the exception of Algebra I, if the commissioner identifies the
577 certification as being equivalent in rigor to the mathematics
578 credit or credits.

589 3. A student who earns a computer science credit may
590 substitute the credit for up to one credit of the science
591 requirement, with the exception of Biology I, if the
592 commissioner identifies the computer science credit as being
593 equivalent in rigor to the science credit. An identified
594 computer science credit may not be used to substitute for both a
595 mathematics and a science credit.

This final version isn’t as bad as the original version (see my posts about it here, here, and here). But the persistent idea that anything other than Algebra and Biology are somehow “advanced” courses that are just too tough really got me steamed.

END RESULT: HB 7071 (which contains much more than what I summarized above) is on its way to the governor, who is guaranteed to sign it into law.

New Voucher Program Created

Florida politicians’ love affair with unaccountable private schools resulted in yet another pot of money going to many creationist schools.

Florida dumps another $130 million into wild west of unregulated, unaccountable voucher schools

“You know, if I was confident that my ‘choice’ system was working for kids, I’d welcome basic standards and accountability.

“But if I wasn’t … well, I’d act like Sullivan and the rest of her GOP peers. I’d keep hiding what goes on in voucher schools, dodge standards — and then keep telling everyone that public schools are the problem.”

Florida legislators stick it to public education, as usual

“And Florida? Instead of following the lead of public schools that have demonstrated success — and yes, there are plenty — this state blundered into the abyss during the legislative session that ends Saturday when it set aside $130 million for people who use unregulated voucher schools accountable to almost no one to ‘educate’ children.

“Whoo hooo! Just go out and hire any old high school dropout or convicted felon off the street to ‘teach’ the kiddies. Never mind the hillbilly science curriculum that says dinosaurs and people lived at the same time, that God saved North America from Catholics by giving them South America or that the U.S. would still have slavery except some ‘power-hungry individuals stirred up the people.’ (Blasted Yankees!)”

The Orlando Sentinel exposed how horrible the Florida private school industry is with their Schools Without Rules series. I was interviewed for this part of the series: Private schools’ curriculum downplays slavery, says humans and dinosaurs lived together

“That was just plain-old, misguided, bad, horrible science, talking about dinosaurs and humans living together,” said Brandon Haught, a science teacher at University High School in Volusia and a member of the advocacy group Florida Citizens for Science, who also reviewed the materials.

He said all the texts, compared with what he uses in his public high school, seemed to downplay “actually doing some science.” They also disregard a key point of science — that not all answers are known, that there are more discoveries to be had.

About Brandon Haught

Communications Director for Florida Citizens for Science.
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