Measure loosening rules for public schools clears Legislature
Duval County is ready to shell out an extra mill for better schools. Right?

The legislation eases retention rules for third graders who don't pass reading test and high school graduation requirements in algebra.

A package of education legislation that frees public schools from several existing requirements will next head for the Governor’s desk after unanimous House and Senate support, but without provisions that grabbed headlines at its introduction.

The bills represented an effort to allow public schools to compete with their private and charter school counterparts on a more even playing field. Fewer rules for public schools were part of the bargain a few Democrats struck in return for supporting universal school choice that passed last year, which allows all families to use tax-funded vouchers to pay for private school tuition.

These bills — at first more than 200 pages of legislation — would, with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature, overhaul requirements for teacher training, governance issues and student promotion requirements. It was dubbed “Learn Local.” And it’s just the beginning of thinning the thick stack of rules that public schools must comply with, according to Senate President Kathleen Passidomo of Naples, who made school deregulation one of her top priorities.

“The result is a tremendous win for Florida’s traditional public schools as Florida begins the process of reevaluating what level of state oversight is necessary in an environment of universal school choice,” Passidomo said in a prepared statement released upon Wednesday’s Senate approval of the bills, which were consolidated from three bills to two, SB 7002 and SB 7004.

“Our public schools deserve the opportunity to compete, right along with other school choice options,” she continued. “My goal was to make serious headway this year, and I could not be more pleased with the final product.”

A required 20-minute period of free play time, algebra and a 10th-grade English assessment would be off the list of public school requirements, according to the first version of the legislation. But lawmakers during the committee process got rid of the language that would have allowed recess to be canceled.

One academic requirement — a passing grade on a language arts exam to get a high school diploma, which has been required since 1999 — had been on the list of regulations heading for the dustbin. That represented ditching part of Gov. Jeb Bush’s A-plus plan that also required passing an algebra exam. Bush, however, published an essay in the state’s newspapers warning against loosening academic requirements.

One Democrat appeared dissatisfied the requirement remained as the House gave its final approval to the reform package Feb. 29.

“Can you walk me through the rationalization of keeping those in place?” Miami-area Democratic Rep. Ashley Gantt asked of the legislation’s House sponsor, Republican Rep. Dana Trabulsy of St. Lucie County, about passing the language arts exam.

“We really just don’t want to continue to lower standards by taking away that English language assessment,” Trabulsy said.

Panhandle Republican Sen. Corey Simon, who introduced the legislation that modified other rules about student progression, school improvement programs, instructional materials and early learning, said the update is long overdue.

“Our state education code is contained in a book that is 3.5 inches thick. I think that’s big enough,” Simon said in a prepared statement. “There are so many areas regulated from Tallahassee that could be handled more efficiently at the local level.”

It opens up new opportunities, he added.

“This bill eases the burden for our district schools and teachers, who just want to spend their time doing the job they love, focusing on our students,” Simon said. “It also magnifies the voices of our parents, affirming their right to guide their child’s education.”

Passidomo pledged to come back with more ideas for streamlining public school rules.

“With two years left in the Senate after my term as Senate President comes to an end in November, I look forward to joining Senator Simon and Senator (Alexis) Calatayud as we continue to dig in on deregulation in the years to come,” she said.


An earlier version of this story incorrectly characterized new standards for grade progression.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].


  • KathrynA

    March 7, 2024 at 2:14 pm

    The “dumbing down” of Florida continues! As a teacher, I find this appalling. Passing on a student who can’t read–I assume these are children without learning disabilities. When will they learn to read if they are promoted. It’s quite essential for every subject and for life.

  • Ima Person

    March 8, 2024 at 9:58 am

    The best thing state politicians can do for education is STAY OUT OF IT and let the experts do what is needed and make regulations and guidelines that are best for students in their own counties. Like everything else in Florida we are losing local control at an alarming rate across the governance spectrum from school boards to city councils. It is staggering the number of bills passing this year that co-opt local authority for state authority. I thought Republicans believed in proximity decision making. I guess when the sole purpose of the state is to deregulate public schools out of existence. They think (and I use that term generously) and rightfully so that the local politicians will try to hang on to local control…. as well they should. Local control is a 14th amendment right and should not be let go easily. Every one of the bills usurping local control is unconstitutional and will be challenged in court. School boards, know your local authority, use it, and hang on to it at all costs.

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