Florida charter school package held up over school board term limits

Florida lawmakers are clashing over a charter school package that House and Senate members alike have attempted to stuff with various education policies that are at risk of dying in the waning days of session.

The House passed the proposal on Wednesday after tacking on various amendments, most notably of which would install eight-year term limits for local school board members. In response, the Senate gutted the changes in short order and added its own slate of policies the House must now consider.

“As of right now, we were wanting to take that out because we weren’t able to get with everybody in the body to see where the votes were on the floor,” Sen. Travis Hutson (R-Palm Coast) said of the school board term limits pitched by the House.

Back and forth: The legislation in question, FL SB1028 (21R), is one of the few remaining education proposals left on the docket in 2021.

Under the measure, state colleges and universities would be allowed to operate charter schools that draw in students from multiple counties. These proposals would put college and university trustee boards in charge of charter schools, creating a new slate of operators in addition to local school boards.

Additionally, both bills would create a new appeals process for charter schools. The legislation grants charters the ability to immediately appeal to an administrative law judge if either the district or charter school doesn’t want to mediate the decision.

Both chambers have backed the core of the legislation in committees, but the package has taken on numerous new policies on the floor this week.

Before taking up the bill, the House added various amendments to SB 1028 including the term limits, mandatory student instruction on voting and a rule change for students who are learning English as a second language. House members on Wednesday morning backed the revamped proposal 80-39 with Democrats objecting, sending it back to the Senate, where it had passed two days prior.

About three hours later, senators scrapped the changes sought by the House and added their own wrinkles.

Now, the legislation includes policies surrounding student retention due to the Covid-19 pandemic, water safety education, and must be reconsidered by the House. The Senate passed the measure by a 24-16 vote with Democrats in opposition.

What’s next: It’s the House’s turn to take up the charter school package, but the chamber was locked into intense debate over an elections bill when the bill was bumped from the Senate. It’s possible lawmakers take up the legislation after Wednesday.