Scott signs education bill, clearing way for open enrollment

- A wide-ranging education bill dealing with everything from funding for high-performing universities to school membership in athletic associations was signed into law Thursday by Gov. Rick Scott.

The 160-page measure (HB 7029), which ended up almost three times as long as its original version, was approved by lawmakers on the last day of this year's legislative session. It touched on virtually every level of public education in the state.

The measure would allow parents to transfer their children to any public school in the state that isn't at capacity through an "open enrollment" process; add to state law performance-funding formulas for colleges and universities; allow private schools to join the Florida High School Athletic Association or other organizations on a sport-by-sport basis; and give charter schools that serve lower-income students or those with disabilities a bigger slice of construction funding doled out by the state.

The bill would also send additional funds to "emerging pre-eminent" universities --- possibly the University of Central Florida and the University of South Florida. Those schools are approaching the pre-eminent status that provides extra money to the University of Florida and Florida State University.

"This is a great day for students across Florida as Governor Scott signs into law historic legislation to increase school choice options across our K-12 education system by allowing parents to have a greater say regarding which of our neighborhood public schools their child will attend," said Senate Education Appropriations Chairman Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican who handled the bill in the Senate.

Scott and other leaders praised the performance-funding portion of the bill. State universities are entering their third year of receiving a share of state funds under the formula, but the new law makes the change permanent.

"We have seen the positive impact performance-based funding has had on our state universities and students," Scott said in a statement issued through the university system. "Performance funding helps increase graduation rates, which translates into less debt for our students and their families."

A handful of other education measures were included in a batch of 20 bills Scott signed Thursday. The governor touted a bill (HB 7019) aimed at holding down higher-education costs by pushing textbook affordability measures and repealing a law allowing the Florida Board of Governors to give individual universities' boards of trustees the ability to increase graduate tuition.

Also, Scott signed bills that will create a pilot program aimed at giving principals more autonomy in the way they run schools (HB 287); more clearly spell out how education for homebound and hospitalized students should be handled (HB 585); and deal with emergency allergy treatments in schools (HB 1305).

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