Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday signed into law a sweeping schools measure that could change everything from where parents send their children to what football fields students wind up playing on.
The comprehensive schools bill was one of 20 bills Scott signed into law, including measures touching on property insurance, grocery stores and health care. He also vetoed a bill that would have handed out financial incentives to dentists who agree to treat patients in underserved and rural areas.
Scott's decision to sign the education measure means that starting in the fall of 2017, parents across the state will be allowed to move their children across county lines to any school that has space.
Although some districts currently allow students to transfer to schools in another county, most parents must send their children to the same county they live in. The new law could have a dramatic impact in some counties, especially in north Florida where there are wide disparities in school rankings.
"By expanding Florida's school choice options, parents and students will be able to find an education solution that best fits their needs," House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said in a statement.
The education bill (HB 7029) combined several unrelated education measures into one comprehensive bill. It includes many changes for high school athletics that had been a source of bickering and debate for the past six years. It allows private schools to join the Florida High School Athletic Association on a per-sport basis and makes students who transfer schools immediately eligible. It also adds stricter penalties for schools and coaches found guilty of recruiting violations.
The legislation also would change how families are notified of their right to skip the daily Pledge of Allegiance and it alters the way charter schools receive money for school construction.
Charter schools are privately run schools that receive public money, and initially some legislators wanted to tighten up which schools were eligible for money. The final bill, however, makes it easier for some charter school operators to obtain state money, although legislators changed the funding formula so additional money will go to charter schools that serve students from low-income families and those with disabilities.
Other bills signed by Scott include one (HB 7019) requiring colleges and universities to notify students at least 28 days before trustees plan to vote to raise tuition or fees. The legislation also requires that 45 days before classes start, colleges and universities must post online a list of books that will be used in a class. He also signed a measure (HB 931) dealing with Citizens Property Insurance that requires the state-created insurer to give its customers additional information when they are being asked about switching to a private insurance company.
Scott also approved a bill (HB 153) that creates a pilot program aimed at bringing grocery stores to areas that don't have access to fresh food. The measure authorizes Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam to set up a program that offers grants and loans for businesses to open in "food deserts." These are usually low-income neighborhoods served only by convenience stores or fast food restaurants.
The governor vetoed a dental care bill that had been unanimously passed by the Legislature. Scott contended that he could not support the program because it did not place "appropriate safeguards on taxpayer investments."