The Florida Legislature enacted sweeping changes to our state’s public schools during the 2023 Legislative Session. They had one mandate for the sixty day session– pass a balanced budget. In addition, they passed a slew of bills that will fundamentally change the Florida public education system and greatly impact the lives of students, educators, families and communities in the months and years to come.
Vouchers for all
Despite public outcry and warnings from stakeholders, the governor signed a controversial bill which will give families tax payer funded vouchers. The vouchers can be used to pay for private school tuition, for homeschooling resources or to pay for other school-related costs. Every child in Florida is eligible including students who have never attended a Florida public school leading many to predict an exorbitant price tag. Research organizations, including the Education Law Center and the Florida Policy Institute estimate the law will cost Florida taxpayers $4 billion. Opponents fear that much of this sum will be cut from an already under-resourced public school system and will fundamentally change the public school system.
School Start Times
A bipartisan bill forces districts to set new school start times for middle and high schools. The new law prevents middle schools from beginning the “instructional day” earlier than 8 a.m., while high schools would be barred from starting the school day before 8:30 a.m. The changes go into effect by July 2026.
About 48% of Florida’s public high schools start school before 7:30 a.m., according to the Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability. Another 19% of high schools start between 7:30 a.m. and 7:59 a.m.
Partisan School Board Races, Residency Requirements, and Term Limits
From WGCU “The Republican-controlled House voted 79-34 along straight party lines to approve a proposed constitutional amendment (HJR 31) that seeks to hold partisan school-board elections. If ultimately approved by voters, the amendment would scrap a current requirement that the races be non-partisan…
If it emerges from the Legislature, the proposed constitutional amendment on partisan elections would go on the 2024 ballot, where it would require 60 percent voter approval to pass. It would take effect with the 2026 elections.”
Another law requires Florida school board members to live in their assigned district on the day the candidate assumes office instead of on the date of qualification which is the current law.
Lastly, the legislature further reduced last year’s measure to limit school board members’ terms from 12 years to 8 years.
“Considered a “union buster” by Florida’s teacher’s union, the new law forbids auto withdrawal of union dues from paychecks, increases the threshold of employees needed to form or maintain a union, and requires annual audits. The new law did not apply to other labor unions including firefighters or police.
“It feels like over the last five, six decades the Florida Legislature has constantly eroded the right to collectively bargain,” Frank Peterman with the Florida Education Association said.
In a press release later in the day, FEA’s president suggested litigation could be coming as soon as this week.”
Expansion of “Dont Say Gay”
Last year’s controversial bill has been expanded this year to include all of K-12 education. From NBC News– “among its provisions, the bill requires schools to teach “that sex is determined by biology and reproductive function at birth; that biological males impregnate biological females by fertilizing the female egg with male sperm; that the female then gestates the offspring; and that these reproductive roles are binary, stable, and unchangeable.
The bill bars schools from requiring students or employees to refer to each other with pronouns that do not align with their assigned sex at birth. It will also prohibit trans school employees from sharing their pronouns with students.”
Social media bans
A new measure gives Florida’s public teachers the power to ban cellphone use during class time. It blocks social media sites like TikTok off district devices and servers and requires teachers to educate students about the dangers related to social media.
According to WUSF, “Lawmakers approved putting a record $26.7 billion into the the Florida Education Finance Program, the main funding source for public schools. That represents an increase of $2.2 billion over the current year. Lawmakers also bolstered a multi-year plan to boost teacher salaries, pumping an additional $252 million into the effort. The budget also includes $350 million for what has been dubbed the Educational Enrollment Stabilization Program, which would help hedge against unanticipated financial impacts from the expansion of school vouchers… A Senate summary of the budget said the stabilization money is designed to “protect districts from financial instability as a result of changes” to student enrollment throughout the year.”