The 2019 legislative session did not make any changes to the McKay Scholarship Program.

Since many schools accepting McKay Scholarships also accept the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, the board wanted to present the expansion and changes to the FTC scholarship.  We appreciate the Florida Association of Nonpublic School  allowing us to share their End-of-Session Report.

 

End-of-Session Report for 2019 regarding Key Education Bills/ Goals
Respectfully Submitted by: James Herzog, FAANS Legislative Committee Member
Date: May 13, 2019

Introduction: With a new Governor along with House and Senate leaders, the 2019 session was considered by many advocates to be a time for a “changing of the guard.”  This included getting used to some familiar faces handling new roles such as Senate Education Chair Manny Diaz Jr. (R, Hialeah) and House Education Chair Jennifer Sullivan (R, Mt. Dora).

Moreover, the consideration of bills was handled at a slow but steady pace.  Only 195 bills or ten percent of the 1,861 proposals filed this year were passed by the full Legislature (and a few of these could still be vetoed by the Governor).  Last year the Legislature only passed 196 bills or 11 percent of the 1,747 that were filed.  This two-year period marks the slowest period for approved legislation in the past 20 years.

The process of reaching agreement on the annual State budget was delayed until the last few days of session.  The final vote required a one-day extension of session until Saturday, May 4.  The $91.1 billion budget included an increase in FEFP (Florida Education Finance Program or basic per-child spending) of $242.  *The average FEFP was thus raised from the $7,428 set during the current school year to $7,672 for 2019-2020.  *Note: These figures were obtained from page 11 of the Florida School Boards Association’s “Legislative Session Summary” available at:  https://fsba.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/00-2019-FSBA-Legislative-Session-Summary-Part-I.pdf.

Part I – Key Bills that Passed

SB 7070/ HB 7075: These bills were advanced to alleviate the current waiting list of 13,000 students seeking Florida Tax Credit (FTC) scholarships.  The Senate bill passed the full Legislature with some bipartisan support.  The bill was signed it into law May 9th by Gov. Ron DeSantis at a special ceremony held at William J. Kirlew Junior Academy in Miami Gardens.  The bill signing was held in conjunction with nonpublic school rallies held at St. Petersburg and Jacksonville earlier that day.

The approved version (SB 7070) creates a new school choice option called the “Family Empowerment Scholarship Program” or FESP.  Major provisions include the following:

  • The FESP will allow eligible low-income students to attend participating nonpublic schools with funds coming directly from general revenue of the state (much like the McKay Program for children with special needs).
  • This funding mechanism used is a key difference between the new program and the longstanding FTC scholarships.
  • The FESP is funded directly by the state whereas the FTC is funded by corporate donations.
  • The bill also allows up to 50 percent of unused Hope Scholarship Program (HSP) funds in a previous year to be redirected for funding FTC scholarships.

Additional Relief for Families – In addition to addressing the current waitlist, the program also allows for an additional 5,000 students to be served for a total of 18,000 slots in the new program for the 2019-2020 school year.  Over time, the program could satisfy the considerable demand from all low-income families – including the thousands who begin looking into the FTC program but only complete partial applications each year – seeking a nonpublic school education for their child.  Here is some other relevant data about the current FTC Program:

  • Statewide FTC enrollment has grown to 100,512 students; this figure is up slightly from the 98,065 enrolled at the start of the current school year.
  • The current enrollment is still down 7 percent from the total enrollment of 108,098 served during the 2017-2018 school year; this was the first FTC enrollment drop in 14 years.
  • The FTC Program can grow again in the 2019-2020 school year as unused HSP funds allow more students to be served.
  • FTC enrollment should be able to continue growing for the next few years though the growth rate will be considerably slower than the average annual growth rate of nearly 20 percent that was seen in recent years.
  • As noted, the FESP will serve up to 18,000 students in year one, the 2019-2020 school year. In future school years, the program will grow to serve an additional 7,000 students per year.
  • The program could thus serve approximately 25,000 students by 2020-2021 and 32,000 by 2021-2022. This is based on a provision which allows the number of participating students to be annually increased by 0.25 percent of the state’s total public school enrollment.

Basic Student Eligibility – For most students served in the new FESP, the total family income level is slightly higher than the guidelines for the FTC Program.  Categories include:

  • Students who are on a “direct certification” list such as those who qualify for a food assistance program or the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
  • Annual earnings must not exceed 300 percent of poverty or $77,250 for a family of four.
  • Schoolchildren from foster care or out-of-home care are eligible regardless of family income levels as long as the other eligibility requirements described below are met.

Prior-Public Requirement and Rationale – In addition to meeting one of the aforementioned categories, the student must be entering kindergarten or have spent the prior year in a Florida public school in order to be eligible.  Likely reasons why the Legislature included prior-public-school attendance under the program include the following:

  • The provision allows for policy analysts to carefully project and plan for the size and scope of the new program within the State’s budget.
  • Precedent was set by the FTC Program when it was first established back in 2001. Thankfully, the Legislature subsequently removed the prior-public requirements from the FTC Program though the change was made in stages which took more than a decade to
    be accomplished.
  • Another precedent was set by the McKay Program upon which the FESP was closely modeled. McKay scholarships still have prior-public requirements to this day.
  • The provision allows the State to use the public school model so that a hard-and-fast figure can be cited to identify the “savings” to each district which can be used to cover administrative costs such as annual notifications to prospective families. Chair Sullivan cited the figure as 5 percent each year per child which remains with the respective districts.

FESP Priority for Low-Income Families – Although the new scholarship program allows some middle-class families to be served, priority goes to schoolchildren from low-income families as described below:

  • Families whose total annual income does not exceed 185 percent of poverty or who have schoolchildren who are in foster or in-home care.
  • The total family income is thus $46,637 or less per year to obtain priority service in the FESP (as also continues to be the case to obtain priority in the FTC Program).

Scholarship Amounts for FESP Students – The method for determining the per-child scholarships for the FESP starts with identifying 95 percent of the unweighted Full Time Equivalent (FTE) rate established at the district level.  From there, the exceptional student allocations received by the districts are subtracted to calculate the per-child amounts.  The FLDOE will likely soon provide a chart to provide this information (much like they do with McKay scholarships each year).

  • The student will receive either the resulting amount (i.e. 95 percent of the FTE minus the ESE categorical) OR the nonpublic school’s tuition and fees, whichever is less.
  • There will thus be at least some variation in the exact per-child amount by county.

Special Note: For the FTC Program, Step Up For Students currently offers the following guidelines concerning what is covered under the broad terms “tuition and fees.”  The FAANS leaders are consulting with Step Up to see if the same protocols will be used for the FESP.

*FTC ”Scholarship funds may be used toward the following private school fees and are allocated in the order listed below until the maximum award is reached, or until all fees are satisfied:

  • Tuition
  • Books sold through the school (e.g. textbooks, workbooks, etc.)
  • Registration
  • Transportation services that occur during regular school hours (e.g. transportation services to/from school or for field trips)
  • Uniforms sold through the school
  • Testing (e.g. standardized or entrance testing)
  • Other fees, not including before and/or after school care services or after school sports fees (e.g. graduation fees, yearbook fees, field trips)

Fees paid to a third-party vendor (including books and uniforms) will not be covered by the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship.”

*Excerpt Source/ Link: https://www.stepupforstudents.org/for-schools-providers/how-the-income-based-scholarship-works/school-handbook/.

SB 7070 Impacts for FTC Program – It is very important to note that SB 7070 also changed the method for determining scholarships for the following categories of schoolchildren:

  • Per-Child Amounts for Returning FTC Students; and,
  • Per-Child Amounts for New FTC Students.

The general idea was to create a more sustainable system to fund nonpublic school choice scholarships going forward while providing alignment between the FTC and the new FESP.  Legislators, staff members and advocates wrestled with various calculation methods and percentages derived from the complex public school funding formula.  Behind the scenes, it was described as trying “to place a square peg into a round hole.”

Against this backdrop, specific concerns were raised by our FCCB staff in an effort to protect students from sudden cuts in per-child amounts from one school year to the next (please see https://ecatholic-sites.s3.amazonaws.com/11291/documents/2019/3/190327HerzogTestimonyHB7075.pdf).  As session reached its final weeks, however, time constraints and other pressures limited opportunities for significant public input.  To some degree, the bill was rushed through the Senate as advocates feared that opposition could increase if funding calculation issues were raised before the floor vote and delays occurred due to the amendment process.

 1.) Per-Child Amounts for Returning FTC Students – The bill had a de-facto “grandfather clause” to protect schoolchildren from sudden drops in per-child scholarship amounts from one school year to the next.  To accomplish this end, the bill offers the two following options for how the per-child amount is determined:

  • The student can receive the tiered scholarship amount that they generated during the 2018-2019 school year; or,
  • The student can receive a scholarship set at 95 percent of the unweighted FTE at the district level minus the exceptional student education amount.
Quick Reference Chart Regarding Per-Child FTC Scholarships for 2018-2019 School Year

 

Grade Level Percentage Amount Dollar Amount
Kindergarten to 5th Grade Students: 88 Percent of FEFP $6,519
6th to 8th Grade Students: 92 Percent of FEFP $6,815
9th to 12th Grade Students: 96 Percent of *FEFP $7,111

 Special Note: The returning FTC student is able to receive the greater of these two
calculation amounts (i.e. 95 percent of the unweighted FTE at the district level minus the ESE categorical OR the tiered amount for 2018-2019).  This change alone is likely to create some planning difficulties by our school communities and will thus require careful discussion for all parties involved.  The FAANS Legislative Committee will collaborate with the superintendents, the FLDOE and Step Up to devise guidance materials to assist schools in making this adjustment.

 2.) Per-Child Amounts for New FTC Students – This is where the concept of providing alignment of the new FESP and the longstanding FTC Program came into play under the bill.  The following calculation method is the same between the two programs:

  • The student will receive either 95 percent of the unweighted FTE at the district level minus the ESE categorical OR the nonpublic school’s tuition and fees, whichever is less.
  • There will thus be at least some variation in the exact per-child amount by county.

Important Note: In changing the per-child calculations for the FTC Program, legislative staff did not provide budget projections to Step Up For Students or other advocates.  A few weeks into session, concerns started to be expressed about problems with the methodology proposed for determining these amounts going forward.  Step Up recently provided a document entitled “Response to Calls about the new Family Empowerment Scholarship.”  According to this document, Step Up summarized the situation as follows: “… we don’t expect to receive the exact numbers until June 1.  We do anticipate that scholarships will increase by several hundred dollars for students in grades K-3 and decrease by at least that amount for students in grades 4-12.  Existing FTC students can keep their same scholarship amounts if they are higher.”

Other Changes for FTC Program – Another change for next school year will be the removal of partial scholarships for FTC families from middle-income backgrounds.  In recent years, there has been a sliding scale established for review of annual family income.  However, due to continued high demand from low-income families and the priority given to them under state law, partial scholarships have not been widely available in recent school years.

This change begs the question: what per-child amount will new middle-income families be eligible to receive under the FTC Program?  The answer is this: all FTC families will now be able to receive the full scholarship amount generated by their child, regardless of the total family income level.

Potential Lawsuit Challenge – School choice advocates are cautiously optimistic that the new program would survive the possibility of future legal challenges.  Former Governor Jeb Bush was on the floor of the Florida House when the final vote was taken.  Governor Bush had been instrumental in calling for the “Opportunity Scholarship Program” back in 1999.  This short-lived program gave nonpublic school options to students who had previously attended failing public schools.  It was struck down by the Florida Supreme Court in 2006 based on a decision that it violated Article IX, Section 1 of the Florida Constitution.  This provision in part requires the state to make adequate provision “for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education.”

Another key provision which may be part of a lawsuit going forward is the so-called “Blaine” amendment or Article I, Section 3.  This provision requires in part that “no revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.”

It is anticipated in school choice circles that three Justices appointed to the Florida Supreme Court by Gov. DeSantis would uphold the new FESP regardless of a challenge made under either of these two provisions in Florida’s Constitution.

Temporary Certification Changes – Beyond the school choice aspects of the bill, the Legislature included provisions for teacher certification.  Classroom teachers can now take the full three years of their temporary certificates to show mastery of the General Knowledge (GK) exam.  The Senate Appropriations Committee analysis of April 22nd summarized this change as follows:

“The bill retains the requirement for a teacher to demonstrate mastery of general knowledge as a condition for issuance of a professional certificate, but extends the time to demonstrate mastery of general knowledge for the validity period of the temporary certificate. This extension of the time allotted to demonstrate mastery might allow more teachers who do not possess passing scores to continue employment beyond the first year.”

In granting this extension for the full three years, the bill also made the following changes:

  • Removes the requirement that a teacher issued a temporary certificate must show mastery of general knowledge via passing scores for all subtests within one year of employment.
  • Removes the school district ban on continuing employment beyond one year for a teacher under a temporary certificate who has not shown mastery of the GK exam.

Key Provisions in Existing Law – At least one year before a temporary certificate expires, the Department will send an electronic notice to the individual with a list showing the ways a professional certificate can be completed.  Current law also establishes several exceptions for individuals who wish to extend their temporary certificate for up two more years.  Under Section 1012.56(7), F.S., these exceptions include:

  • The serious illness or injury of the applicant.
  • Military service by the applicant’s spouse; or,
  • Other extraordinary or extenuating circumstances.

Moreover, public school teachers may have their temporary certificates extended for an additional year if the teacher is evaluated as “highly effective” or “effective” based on a formula for learning growth as set by the Commissioner of Education.  The Department is also allowed to reissue temporary certificates for two additional years if approved by the Commissioner.

Additional Change for Temporary Certification – The bill added an additional category to the list of exceptions for individuals who wish to extend their temporary certificates for an additional two years beyond the original three-year validity period.  A fourth category was added to law as
described below:

  • The certificate holder “has completed a 2-year mentorship program pursuant to s. 1012.56(8).”

This part of state law is entitled “Professional Development Certification and Competency Program.”  Under a key section of this law, the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops’ staff had previously collaborated with the Florida Department of Education to gain approval for their own professional mentoring program.  This program was adapted with permission from Duval County from their “Mentoring and Induction for Novice Teachers” or MINT Program.

Here is a key excerpt from 1012.56(8)6(b)1, F.S. (with emphasis added):

“Each school district must and a private school or state-supported public school, including a charter school, may develop and maintain a system by which members of the instructional staff may demonstrate mastery of professional preparation and education competence as required by law. Each program must be based on classroom application of the Florida Educator Accomplished Practices and instructional performance and, for public schools, must be aligned with the district’s or state-supported public school’s evaluation system established under s. 1012.34, as applicable.”

Analysis – The bill thus appears to allow a pathway for nonpublic school teachers to obtain an additional two years to show mastery of GK exam requirements.  Other legislation introduced this session – but not passed by the full Legislature – did not include nonpublic school personnel under changes that had been proposed.  Please see the link below for more information:

Special Note: The FAANS Legislative Committee is in the process of confirming our understanding of how the changes made to teacher certification will impact nonpublic school personnel.  We have reached out to FLDOE contacts accordingly and will provide additional guidance when available.

 Effective Date – Most provisions of the bill will take effect on July 1, 2019.

SB 7030/ HB 7093: These bills were based upon recommendations from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission (as had been established under a 2018 law).  The Senate version passed the full legislature and was signed into law by Gov. DeSantis on May 8.

Senate Bill 7030 was one of the most controversial education proposals debated this session.  Opponents labeled it as a bill to “arm teachers.”

One major change was to expand the Coach Aaron Feis School Guardian Program.  To borrow a term from football, legislators changed the previous “triple-option” format in state law to make it only a “double option.”  By this, if a local public school board votes by majority to have a Guardian Program, then the local Sheriff’s Department would have to establish one in the respective county or contract with the Sheriff’s Department of another county to offer the training needed.

The program is still optional or voluntary to the professional who wishes to become a Guardian.  He or she would have to take extensive firearms and safety training and meet certain other requirements.  However, a big change would be that the current provision excluding professionals who work exclusively as classroom teachers is deleted from law.  The 2018 law which established the program had only allowed professionals whose main duties were outside the classroom to serve as Guardians.  This included athletic directors, coaches and administrators.  Under the new law, classroom teachers can now opt in to becoming Guardians in districts that opt in to programs.

Analysis: There was some support this session for including nonpublic schools under the Guardian Program.  Although this idea did not “gain traction” this session, it is likely to resurface next year so it may warrant further discussion by FAANS at the September meeting.

Part II – Key Bills that Failed

SB 1342/ HB 189: These bills were sponsored by Sen. Kelli Stargel (R, Lakeland) and Rep. Ardian Zika (R, Land O’ Lakes), respectively.  These measures would have restored access to free dual enrollment program courses for 6th-12th grade students attending nonpublic schools.  House Bill 189 passed the Full House with a unanimous 113-0 vote on April 29.  However, the identical Senate bill only passed two of three committee stops and “died” in Senate Appropriations, its third and final committee of reference.

Analysis: After five years of working on this goal, FAANS members were reassured last fall by pledges of support from then Governor Scott and then Governor-elect DeSantis.  During the 2019 session, Richard Corcoran, Commissioner of Education, also pledged support for restored access and directed his staff to help advocate for the issue with legislators.

Despite these reports, advocates remained cautious by continuing to check with Sen. Stargel’s staff during the waning days of session.  Her staff was guarded in what was said.  Much attention was placed on reaching a budget agreement.  To complicate matters, Sen. Stargel was asked to handle a major finance and tax-reform package by Sen. George Gainer (R, Panama City) when he was ill.

In addition to these challenges, Sen. Bill Montford (D, Tallahassee) expressed some pause regarding the impact of the bill to the State’s budget for colleges and universities.  The Senator’s staff reassured the FCCB that he would not oppose allowing the bill to be heard.  Nonpublic school administrators helped to quickly contact key Senators but the proposal still failed.

HB 9197/ Senate Project Form 2270: These efforts were sponsored by Rep. Thad Altman (R, Indian Harbour Beach) and Sen. Debbie Mayfield (R, Melbourne), respectively.  This proposal would have allocated $4 million in nonrecurring general revenue from the state for the purpose of hardening the physical security of certain accredited nonpublic schools.  The following was proposed:

  • Funds would be made available on a first-come, first-served basis for schools accredited by an accrediting agency member of FAANS.
  • To demonstrate community support, a dollar-for-dollar, matching-grant approach was used.
  • For example, a school raising or spending $10,000 in security enhancements from the local community could have drawn a matching $10,000 from the state fund.

Analysis: The House process for budget projects requires that formal bills be introduced while the Senate only requires that a three-page, special project form be submitted (see https://www.flsenate.gov/PublishedContent/Session/FiscalYear/FY2019-20/LocalFundingInitiativeRequests/FY2019-20_S2270.PDF).  It is thus crucial to have a very active House sponsor to gain final passage.

Furthermore, though Gov. DeSantis advocated for an additional $2 million security funding to enhance the safety of Jewish Day Schools, he did not broaden his call to include other nonpublic schools.  It would be helpful to gain support from the Governor if possible and ask the Commissioner to include funding in his annual legislative budget request.  It may thus be helpful to develop a per-child formula or categorical item for security based upon the percentage of students served at particular nonpublic schools under state scholarship programs.

This session, the original $2 million ask for funds to enhance security for Jewish Day Schools was increased to $2.5 million.  The likely last-minute increase was approved in response to the Synagogue shooting which occurred in Poway, CA on April 28th.

Florida first allocated funds to harden security for Jewish Day Schools after a series of threats were reported nationwide for Jewish schools as well as community centers.  Here is the recent history:

 

State of Florida Allocations to Harden the Physical Security of Jewish Day Schools

 

Fiscal Year Dollar Amount
2017-2018 $600,000
2018-2019 $2 million
2019-2020 $2.5 million

Part III – VPK Funding Held Level Once Again

Base Student Allocations: The per-child allocations for VPK will be held level for the 2019-2020 school year.  The amounts will thus continue to be set as follows:

  • $2,437 per child in the school-year program; and,
  • $2,080 per child in the summer program.