As Gov. Ron DeSantis touts his state’s education reforms as a blueprint for his potential presidency, this year’s legislative session in Florida is once again teed up with bills that aim to deregulate and remake the state’s public school system.
Last year, Republicans heralded parental rights as they pushed voucher expansion, book challenges and DeSantis’ “war on woke.” Legislation that expanded the law dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by critics passed along party lines and headed swiftly to the governor’s desk.
“Thanks to the Legislature, we have protected our children from indoctrination and sexualization of the curriculum, and we stood up for parents against the woke mob,” DeSantis said during his State of the State address Tuesday at the Florida Capitol.
This year is more of the same, with some of 2023’s top legislators still leading the GOP, the state’s majority party, and carrying priority bills affecting education:
Education bills to watch this legislative session
Computer Science Education (SB 1344): This bill by Sen. Alexis Calatayud, R-Miami, would add computer science skills to the state’s academic standards for the 2025-26 school year. It would require K-12 students in public schools and public charter schools to learn computer skills and would create an AI in Education Task Force within the Florida Department of Education.
The task force, which would include gubernatorial appointees and be established by October 2024, would meet several times a year to determine “the potential applications of artificial intelligence in K-12 and higher education and to develop policy recommendations for responsible and effective uses of artificial intelligence by students and educators, including creating a definition for the term ‘artificial intelligence.’ ” The classes would meet math requirements for graduation.
School Chaplains (SB 1044/HB 931): Sen. Erin Grall, R-Fort Pierce, is sponsoring a bill that would allow public school districts and public charter schools to allow volunteer school chaplains, with the chaplains’ duties to be determined by the district’s school board or the charter school’s governing board by Jan. 1, 2025.
Schools would be required to inform parents of the services the chaplain provides, and a student must obtain parental consent before participating in any services or programs with the chaplain, who can be affiliated with any religion. The chaplains must pass a level 2 background check.
One of Grall’s most noteworthy bills last year was the “Heartbeat Protection Bill,” which banned abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.
Video Cameras in Public School Classrooms (SB 1472): Grall also is sponsoring a bill that would require video cameras in certain public school classrooms. Schools would be able to record “self-contained” classrooms, which include at least one “nonverbal” student who attends special education classes and is assigned to one or more such classrooms for at least 50 percent of the instructional day.
Last year, lawmakers passed a bill that allows cameras in self-contained classrooms if a teacher or a student requested one. This bill would require the district to provide one video camera to each self-contained classroom, and the video would also record audio.
The recordings would be kept for three months, and the district must allow a review of a recorded incident that results in neglect or abuse of a student, within seven days, when requested. The state is not allowed to continuously monitor a classroom or use the video for teacher evaluations. All those in the recorded classroom, including the parents of the students, would be notified of the camera.
Cardiac and Medical Emergencies on School Grounds (SB 432): This bill by Sen. Corey Simon, R-Quincy, would require public schools to have at least one automated external defibrillator on school grounds, stored in an easily accessible location during school days and any other time students are on school grounds. The device, which must be accompanied by appropriate signage, cannot be placed in an athletic facility.
Schools would be encouraged to have a “sufficient number of defibrillators … to allow a person to retrieve (one) within three minutes” in case of medical emergency. The bill encourages the use of partnerships, grants, gifts and other donations to cover the costs of purchasing the defibrillators and training staff to use them. The Florida Department of Education would provide districts with protocols for their use, including an emergency plan and an education plan that includes annual training for school employees and students in the use of defibrillators.
Some districts, like Brevard County, have expressed concern about requiring employees to be trained in the use of defibrillators because of liability. However, those using defibrillators or CPR are immune from liability, according to the state’s Good Samaritan Act and the Cardiac Arrest Survival Act.
Deregulation of Public Schools/Assessment and Accountability, Instruction, and Education Choice (SB 7004): Senate Republicans are walking back some decades-old regulations, with Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, calling them “burdensome” on public schools. In this bill, one of the most striking repeals would put parents’ rights over test scores for third graders.
“A student must be promoted to grade 4 if the parent determines promotion is in the best interest of the student,” the bill says. Other deregulations include removing the requirements for students to pass the Algebra 1 and Grade 10 English Language Arts assessments for graduation.
Last year, Florida school districts begged the state to delay an increase in comparative test score requirements for graduation, as many of 2023’s seniors would not have been able to graduate due to COVID-19 and learning loss.
Age Verification for Social Media Platform Accounts (SB 1788): Although not an education measure, another bill that will surely affect school-age children is legislation that would restrict those younger than 16 years of age from all social media.
Sponsored by Grall in the Senate with a similar version in the House, the bill would also require social media platforms to prohibit minors from creating new accounts and mandate an age verification system. Sen. Ileana Garcia, R-Miami; Rep. Chase Tremont, R-Port Orange, and Grall have filed similar bills that require age verification for websites and/or social media.
Related: Florida House leader pushes social media restrictions, porn viewer age verification
The Republican supermajorities in both the House and Senate have gone along with nearly all of the governor’s policy pushes, and Democrats have tried blocking them at the Capitol to no avail.
But the minority party will once again try to dismantle key “culture war” legislation and mandates that have dominated the conversation as DeSantis continues to tout Florida as the state “where woke goes to die.” Here are a few examples:
Required Instruction in the History of African Americans (SB 344/HB 1521): This bill is a direct response to the state’s African American history curriculum, released last spring, that spurred criticism and opposition due to the instructional material. Critics blasted the curriculum benchmarks, which included instruction about “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” The bill, filed by Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-Miami Gardens, says that the “instruction required under … state academic standards may not indicate or imply that an enslaved person benefited from slavery or the enslavement experience in any way.”
Education (HB 1355): Sponsored by Rep. Michele Rayner, D-St. Petersburg, this bill would would undo legislation enacted in 2023 through HB 1069, which restricted the use of preferred pronouns, laid out an objection process for books in public schools and restricted discussions of gender identity and sexuality in classrooms. With the adoption of the bill, public schools would be required to teach LGBTQ history and school districts would be prevented from adopting policies that require personnel to share certain information with parents in the case that a “reasonably prudent person would believe that disclosure would result in harm to the student.” A similar bill was filed Jan. 5 in the Senate by Sen. Tracie Davis.
Minimum Base Salary for Full-time Classroom Teachers (SB 136/HB 13): Sponsored by Sen. Lori Berman, D-Boynton Beach, this bill would increase the minimum base salary for full-time classroom teachers as well as pre-K teachers to at least $65,000. It would also provide salary increases to instructional personnel. DeSantis previously pushed the minimum base salary to $47,500 to attract teachers to Florida, but school districts and teachers’ unions criticized the mandate, saying it doesn’t do enough to address pay compression among veteran teachers.
Ana Goñi-Lessan, state watchdog reporter for the USA TODAY Network – Florida, can be reached at [email protected]. Finch Walker, who covers education for FLORIDA TODAY, can be reached at [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Florida Session 2024: parents’ rights, cameras in classrooms and more