By Ryan Dailey ©2023 The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — Florida lawmakers are looking at ways to take some regulations off the books for public schools.
The Senate Education Pre-K-12 Committee and the House Education Quality Subcommittee held workshops this week on the issue, after a deregulation effort was included in a law (HB 1) passed in March that massively expanded the state’s school voucher programs.
Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, has championed the effort to do away with what she calls “burdensome” regulations on schools.
“Because traditional public schools should always be a strong option for Florida’s families, a huge component of implementing HB 1 is our effort to reduce outdated, unnecessary, and quite frankly, burdensome regulations public schools have to abide by,” Passidomo said in a Nov. 3 memo to senators.
The law directed the State Board of Education to identify potential repeals and revisions in the state’s education code. The law also required the board to solicit input from people such as teachers, superintendents, administrators and school boards.
More than 4,000 suggestions came in from across the state, with most coming from parents of public school students and educators. The law required the education board to submit recommendations to the Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis by Nov. 1.
A Department of Education presentation given to the House and Senate panels said recommendations were aimed at “increasing efficiencies and reducing redundancies,” “removing outdated and unnecessary reporting requirements,” “providing additional flexibility in the area of transportation while ensuring safety” and “providing additional financial flexibility.”
“In terms of efficiency, we had a number of recommendations that would allow districts to leverage technology to increase efficiency. One of them is to remove some requirements around publishing notices in the local newspaper,” Adam Miller, a senior chancellor with the Department of Education, said during the House presentation Wednesday.
Instead, districts would be allowed to use digital communications to distribute the information. Miller said the board looked at research that suggested people are more likely to get information from digital media.
The Legislature is slated to consider the recommendations during the 2024 legislative session, which will start in January. The Senate Education PreK-12 Committee on Wednesday will begin considering three deregulation bills, though details had not been released as of Friday morning.
The recommendations presented this week to the panels also included such things as changing a requirement that certified mechanics inspect school buses every 30 days, extending that time period to every 90 days.
“It’s important to understand that required daily inspection still exists. So, bus drivers have to do visual inspections of their buses every day before they drive them,” Miller said.
Other recommendations were aimed at providing financial flexibility to schools. For example, one proposal would involve raising the threshold at which districts are required to obtain the services of registered architects for renovation projects. That threshold is $50,000.
Miller told the House panel that the financial flexibility suggestions could particularly help districts.
“Especially with some of the … inflationary pressures that districts are dealing with, to let them manage their finances with a little more flexibility,” Miller said.
Sen. Corey Simon, chairman of the Senate education panel, said the regulations that could be removed were added over time and were “well-intended.” But he said proposed changes are designed to make sure time and money are used more wisely.
“What we’re really shooting for is to get back to making sure that our teachers and our students take advantage of the time that they have in the classroom. We don’t want a lot of wasted time and a lot of wasted money by our school districts, by our state,” Simon told The News Service of Florida.
TJ Bugos, a Seminole County teacher who heads the Seminole Education Association, spoke in support of the deregulation effort during Tuesday’s Senate panel meeting.
“Back to local control. Republicans are famous for wanting local control. Government is best when it’s closest to the people. And where is it any closer than public schools?” Bugos told the News Service.