A proposal that would turn all the state’s school board members into volunteers and require all library materials be publicly reviewed and listed online received approval at its first stop in front of the Education & Employment Committee Thursday.
The measure (HB 1467) passed largely along party lines with Democrats opposed, and is one of a few bills taking aim at school policies this Session. It comes on the heels of some school boards’ dramatic rebellion against Gov. Ron DeSantis’ edict last fall that students cannot be required to wear masks at school to stop the spread of COVID-19. Another proposal (SJR 244), would make school board races partisan.
Republican Rep. Sam Garrison said he’s trying to get the politics out of school board service and increase parental involvement.
“It’s about parents and not politicians … we want to make sure our schools are focused on parental engagement and parental involvement,” he said.
The legislation is “eliminating the financial incentive for politicians who want to use this as an opportunity, either a launching pad to a political career or maybe a landing pad to get a salary,” Garrison said.
A National School Board 2018 study found that 61% of school board members across the country did not receive a salary. Some committee members, however, were concerned that Florida’s school districts are often mammoth operations with complex finances. And eliminating school board salaries would limit the job to the wealthy, who don’t have to work outside the home.
“School board members are there after 1 or 2 in the morning — they have a very big responsibility,” said Democratic Rep. Patrcia Hawkins-Williams. “They vote on the budget which can be billions of dollars … They are in charge of the safety of our children.”
Republican Rep. Randy Fine said that there are about 10 Florida school boards where things “have come off the rails over the last year.”
“… And (they have) done exactly what Rep. Garrison talked about which is put politics before their students, before their parents,” he said. “That’s why their meetings are going until 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning. It’s because they are doing things that parents don’t like.”
The bill would also require school districts to list all library and instructional materials in use to be reviewed by a committee and subject to public inspection.
“If an individual who lives in Maine wants to fly down to Clay County because he or she really cares about knowing what’s going on in the curriculum, they have the ability to come and observe,” Garrison said.