News Service of Florida

The Florida Senate on Wednesday passed a suite of bills aimed at “deregulation” of public schools, with one measure undergoing a significant change that nixed a provision related to the state’s third-grade literacy policy after it was heavily criticized by former Gov. Jeb Bush.

The legislative package, a priority of Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, is aimed at what she characterized as “cutting red tape” and taking burdensome regulations off the books for schools.
Included in the plan is a proposal (SB 7004) that would make changes related to state assessments and instruction. For example, the bill would remove a requirement that high-school students pass the state’s tenth-grade English-language arts exams in order to graduate. Instead, the exam would count for 30 percent of the students’ final course grade.
The measure also would do away with a requirement that students pass an Algebra I end-of-course exam in order to earn a diploma.
Bill sponsor Corey Simon, a Tallahassee Republican, has touted the deregulation effort as a way to let teachers place more focus on classroom instruction, which he has said would benefit students.
“Over the years, our education code has only grown. And there are great ideas from great senators and great House members. But those great ideas have added up over the years, and it’s cost our students,” Simon said just before the Senate unanimously passed the measure.
One part of the proposal received high-profile pushback from Bush, who nearly 25 years ago championed reforms that the measure sought to — in Bush’s words — water down.
A previous version of the bill proposed to remove a requirement that third-grade students score adequately on an English-language arts exam to advance to fourth grade. Instead, the measure would have changed the policy to allow parents to override decisions about retaining students if the parent “determines retention is not in the best interest of the student and approves a good cause exemption” to advance the student.
“Lawmakers have proposed watering down our third grade literacy policy, removing the backstop of retention and paving the way to reinstate social promotion,” Bush wrote in an opinion piece that ran in the South Florida Sun Sentinel in November.
That part of the bill was removed through revisions to the bill that were backed by Simon, who told reporters after the measure passed Wednesday that the change was related to a new progress-monitoring system of standardized testing. Under the new testing system, approved by the Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2022, students are given exams at the beginning, middle and end of the school year, with the final test of the year being used for accountability purposes.
“We’re able to now ascertain at an earlier age for these kids, in kindergarten, first, second grade, if they’re on grade level,” Simon told reporters. “So because we’re able to see those things, we wanted to make sure we weren’t just waiting until the last minute to retain those students in the third grade. If we need to, we can retain them in kindergarten or first or second grade.”