House Education and Employment Chairperson Rep. Chris Latvala spoke virtually Friday to discuss priority education legislation for the upcoming Session.
Hosted by the Consortium of Florida Education Foundations and the Florida Philanthropic Network, Latvala highlighted several bills involving school choice, reading and higher education.
Latvala highlighted HB 3, which would establish a reading initiative to deliver books to families for free in order to encourage reading among elementary school students. The bill was introduced by Rep. Dana Trabulsy.
The program, called the New Worlds Reading Initiative, would be Florida’s first statewide book distribution program, to provide at-home literacy support for students reading below grade level.
The House bill has already passed through its first committee hearing and has two more before it can be heard on the floor.
“It really is the first time in Florida’s history, where we will be sending books into the homes of struggling readers on a regular basis,” Latvala said. “And we will be partnering with school districts to identify those students.”
The bill came in conjunction with House Speaker Chris Sprowls‘ announcement of a state partnership with Reading IQ, a virtual program where students can access a digital library of more than 5,500 books. The program also has resources to support reading.
“The whole goal is for them to read 20 minutes a day,” Latvala said, adding that getting kids reading is “something that the Florida house is going full steam ahead on this year.”
Latvala also discussed a bill introduced by Sen. Manny Diaz that would simplify Florida’s education choice programs by merging five scholarship programs into two, while adding flexible spending options.
The bill, SB 48, would transfer students currently receiving scholarships through the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program and the Hope Scholarship program to the Family Empowerment Scholarship, which was signed into law in 2019, and sunset the 20-year-old tax credit scholarship.
“I suspect that the House will have a version of our school choice bill at some point,” he said. “It’s no secret that the Florida House supports school choice.”
The bill has already passed its first committee, and is scheduled to be heard at its second committee next Wednesday. If it passes, it will have one remaining committee before it can be heard by the Senate.
Higher education is another priority this year, especially apprenticeship programs. Several proposals this year will focus on such programs, including (SB 508/HB 175), which would connect high school and middle school students to job training programs, helping provide young people a pathway to the workforce that doesn’t go through college.
Latvala also brought up a proposal that would allow out-of-state college students to be eligible for in-state tuition rates if they have grandparents who are residents of Florida.
“There’s a few tuition priorities that we’re going to have — for instance, if you’re a high school student and you perform at a high level, and you have a grandparent who lives in Florida, you’ll be eligible for in state tuition,” Latvala said.