A document released Tuesday by Gov.-elect Rick Scott’s transition team outlines ideas for expanding “school choice” and “teacher accountability,” along with other measures intended to transform the state’s education system.
In a theme familiar to other transition team recommendations, the document calls for a “re-branding” of the state Department of Education. It envisions a new Department of Education Innovation, which would usher in a bold new era for Florida schools.
Not all of the policy ideas outlined by Scott’s education advisers (led by Patricia Levesque of the Foundation for Florida’s Future, a school reform group backed by former Gov. Jeb Bush) are new. Some, such as basing teacher pay on factors like student performance, were proposed recently by the legislature and are likely to resurface during the upcoming session.
One proposal calls for “education savings accounts,” which would give public-school parents control over 85 percent of the funding used to put their children through public school. That money (which would be a little more than $5,800 a year, based on current funding rates) could be used to pay for virtual school, a private school, private tutoring, or college expenses. That would save the state 15 percent of its education costs (or a little more than $1,000 per year) for each student that forgoes public education using this option, the plan notes.
One of the guiding principles would allow parents to enroll their children in any public school system, charter school, or virtual school of their choice, as long as space is available. “However, parents would be responsible for any transportation costs.”
Another recommendation addresses the fact, documented here, that not all charter schools are top performers. It would seek to create a new classification of “High Performing Charter Schools,” which would enjoy “greater operational flexibility,” including longer-term charters that could be eligible for automatic renewal.
In addition to expanding charter school programs, the advisers recommend more online “virtual” schools (one sub-heading calls for “digital learning for all”). All state tests should be moved online, in part to save money, and high school students should be required to take an online exam before graduating to “prepare them for the digital requirements of the 21st-century workplace.” Textbooks could also move online, replaced by “digitally-delivered content.”
The A-F grading system for schools should continue, and parents should be allowed to vote on plans for turning around failing schools, according to the recommendations. Parents should have access to schools’ financial data, presented in an easy-to-read format, so they can understand how funds are spent.
Students should also be allowed to take extra courses and graduate early, “as long as they are college or career-ready.” They would be rewarded with a scholarship worth 50 percent of what the state saves as a result of them leaving the system ahead of schedule.
As Levesque helps outline ideas for the new governor, she has also begun detailing proposals for the legislature, including an updated version of the performance pay plan outlined in Senate Bill 6, which was vetoed last session by Gov. Charlie Crist.