TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/AP) — Florida’s sweeping education bill is being signed into law Monday by Gov. Rick Scott. The bill changes tough graduation standards, while also setting the stage for the University of Florida to take the lead in online education in the state.
The measure was passed overwhelmingly by the Florida Legislature and it also makes changes to everything from testing requirements to adding a new “financial literacy” requirement for high school students.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. John Legg, R-Lutz, maintains that the bill would create a “passport” for students and help them prepare for jobs of today and the future.
The main part of the legislation would give students an ability to graduate from high school even if they don’t complete tough classes in both math and science.
Legislators in 2010 raised the state’s graduation requirements by adding Algebra II and science courses such as chemistry and physics. The argument at the time was that it would align high school standards to the types of skills that would be needed to attract high-wage jobs in the state.
But the bill sent to Scott, however, would remove those requirements, which is a position backed by school superintendents. Instead college-bound students could opt to take tougher courses and earn a high school diploma that includes a “scholar” designation. Students would also be allowed to take career education courses or enroll in work-related internships.
Supporters of the measure insisted they were redesigning high school standards to give different options to students who may not be interested in pursuing a college degree.
“Whether that child wants to be a brain surgeon or a Mercedes mechanic, this takes care of them,” said Rep. Elizabeth Porter, R-Lake City during debate on the bill.
But some of the lawmakers who opposed the bill questioned the idea behind the bill. Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, noted that students of today will likely change careers several times over their lives. He cautioned about training students for an industry that might one day be a “dinosaur.”
“I think we’re much better off with a wide breadth of an education, allowing our students to get an education in many different subjects,” Clemens said.
The new measure would also remove requirements to pass end-of-course tests in biology and geometry in order to earn a diploma. Instead, the tests would count as 30 percent of a student’s final grade.
The measure also includes several provisions that affect Florida’s public universities, including designating universities as “preeminent state research” universities.
UF, which meets the criteria, would be allowed to start an online institute in 2014 that would offer bachelor’s degrees online. This was a high priority for House Speaker Will Weatherford, who said it was time that the state expanded its digital offerings to students.
Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, predicted that the legislation would let the state lead a “digital revolution” in online education.
The cost of the online courses could not be more than 75 percent of the tuition charged to Florida residents who attend school at the Gainesville campus. UF would also get $15 million in the coming year to carry out its new mission.
“You could take all of your courses from a kitchen table,” said Rep. Marlene O’Toole, R-Lady Lake and chairwoman of the House Education Committee.
The new “preeminent” designation would also apply to Florida State University, which would be eligible for extra money to help it attract national known scholars to the faculty. Both UF and FSU would also be given the authority to mandate that incoming freshmen take up to 12 hours of courses that could not be bypassed by taking Advanced Placement courses in high school.
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