The Florida Legislature's final plan to reduce the number of children in each school classroom probably won't include a large expansion of vouchers or a virtual Internet school for elementary and middle school children.
Hoping to reach a compromise with the House as the legislative session winds down, the Senate on Thursday passed a compromise bill -- minus the most controversial provisions of the House bill.
Not included in the Senate's new bill: a $3,500 voucher for kindergarten parents that could be applied to a private school and one for parents whose children attended a Florida public school the previous year.
The idea behind those vouchers was to encourage parents to leave public schools, thus shrinking classes.
"I think this is important to [the House]. Whether or not they'll take this or not is debatable," said Senate President Jim King, a Jacksonville Republican. "I think the governor's office is down there right now encouraging them to support this bill." The Senate also nixed a proposal for a virtual school for students in grades K-8. Private, for-profit companies that were lobbying legislators would have received $4,800 per student to teach them over the Internet, thus freeing desks in brick-and-mortar schoolhouses. Another idea that didn't make the Senate bill: a minimum salary of $31,000 for all Florida teachers.
Florida school districts are expected to reduce their average class size by two students for the 2003-04 school year, as a first step toward reaching longer-term goals approved by voters in November.
School boards won't know how much money they have to make that happen until the Legislature hammers out a budget during a special session later this month, but the apparent compromise Thursday gives school boards a road map to get started.
"I'm cautiously optimistic," said Rep. David Simmons, a Republican from Longwood who worked closely on the House's first class-size bill.
Simmons said the House could approve the Senate's bill on the last day of the regular session today, though strict House rules could stall the vote.
The Senate did include some other House measures:
-- School districts can apply for a waiver so that a high school credit only requires 120 hours of classroom time instead of 135.
-- The corporate income tax credit would be expanded from $50 million to $88 million for donations to a fund that pays for low-income students to attend a private school.
-- Advanced students can graduate from high school on a "fast track" that requires 18 credits instead of 24.
-- A teacher "career ladder" would establish four levels of teaching -- associate teacher, professional teacher, lead teacher and mentor teacher. At each rung, teachers would receive a raise.
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