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Textbook Bill Survives Tight Senate Vote

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami) – A bill that would replace a statewide review of public-school learning materials with a local process narrowly survived its final Senate vote Friday, though the fate of a similar bill in the House remains unclear.

The measure (SB 864) passed 21-19 after five Republican senators joined all 14 Democrats in opposition. The five GOP opponents were Sens. Charlie Dean of Inverness, Miguel Diaz de la Portilla of Miami, Greg Evers of Baker, Anitere Flores of Miami and Rene Garcia of Hialeah.

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said he wasn’t surprised that the bill, which is opposed by most local school districts, barely made it through.

“It was expected to be a close vote, and the reason why is because school boards, not all of them, but many school boards … who constantly say, ‘Give us more local control’ were afraid they might get it,” Gaetz said.

The bill’s counterpart in the House (HB 921) has already been scaled back to remove provisions that would get rid of the state’s textbook approval process. Instead, it would establish new standards for districts that voluntarily want to set up their own approval systems and require all districts to hold public hearings before deciding which materials from the state-approved list they want to use.

But the sponsor of the Senate version said his proposal would increase local control of schools and make sure parents know who to blame if objectionable material comes home with their children.

“This bill imposes on the local school board members the responsibility and the accountability to their citizens to say, ‘(These are) the instructional materials we’re going to use, and here’s the reason why,’ ” said Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla.

On a broader scale, the bill also serves to distance lawmakers from the Common Core learning standards, on which the state’s academic benchmarks are based. Conservative activists are outraged over Common Core, saying the standards are part of a federal effort to intervene in local schools.

Critics of the bill counter that the process of sorting through textbooks would prove costly for local districts and could drive up the costs of the materials. The state is often able to negotiate prices with publishers because of volume. They also said that having each county choose its textbooks could lead to inconsistencies.

“If you have 67 different textbooks, there is no guarantee that the information that is measured on the FCAT is in that particular textbook,” said Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando.

The House bill is ready for the floor, but hasn’t been added to the chamber’s agenda.

“The News Service of Florida’s Brandon Larrabee contributed to this report.”

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