Gov. Rick Scott wants all Florida teachers to get state-funded debit cards they can use to purchase school supplies many now pay for with their own money.
The debit card proposal -- with no specifics on how much each teacher might have to spend -- is one of several Scott officially announced this morning in a speech in Fort Myers. He used the speech to explain the education part of his agenda for the upcoming 2013 legislative session.
Scott said in a statement that he will be pushing lawmakers to maintain current spending on public education and "also working to increase our investment in education," if the economy allows.
"Any 'Investment' we make in education must be focused on 'Results for Students and Teachers,' " his statement said, and be part of an overall strategy to improve public education.
"Our goal is clear -- we must focus our entire education system on better preparing students to go on to college or a career," he said.
The governor's other proposals mesh with ideas he's touted before, including continued expansion of charter schools, elimination of unnecessary school regulations and support for Florida's transition to Common Core standards -- the new, tougher academic benchmarks that most states have adopted.
Scott's plan was quickly praised by the influential Florida Chamber of Commerce and by former Gov. Jeb Bush and his education foundation -- and quickly criticized by the Florida Democratic Party.
The Democrats said Scott and other Republican leaders had lead an "assault" on Florida's schools and colleges, and that while they hoped his new plan was "sincere," said it "does not erase the Republicans' long record of hurting our parents, teachers, and students."
Some education advocates said they viewed his proposals as promising, both because he's seeking to make education a priority and because he seemed to take to heart some educators' recommendations.
The Florida School Boards Association, for example, said it was "particularly impressed" that Scott seemed willing to provide "greater flexibility and deregulation to local school districts."
The Florida Education Association wasn't quite as rosy in its assessment but said deregulation, if it meant more local control, would be positive, as would be money for teacher debit cards and enhanced teacher training. But how the plan evolves will depend on whether there is money to pay for it, the union said.
"I want to see the details," said Andy Ford, the association's president. "We're going to need to see how all this plays out."
State leaders said Scott's plan was based on what he heard during his "listening tour" when he visited schools across the state last month.
"It addresses many of the issues that are important to parents, teachers, and students -- mentoring programs that can complement parental involvement, innovative support for teachers, and a commitment to K-12 funding," said Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.
Under his "support teachers" proposal, Scott suggested the debit cards and $2 million for more teacher training. He said he wanted the debit cards to be funded by the state, local school districts and private donations.
He also said he wants enrollment caps on charter schools -- public schools run by private groups -- to be removed and some school districts to be able to start their own "district charter innovation schools."
Scott supports the move to Common Core, which means Florida is dropping the math, reading and writing sections of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test in favor of new language arts and math exams in 2015.
The governor said he wants to make sure that during this transition no other, new testing requirements are put on teachers and students. But he did not point to any particular tests or requirements he does not want implemented.
The Florida Department of Education for the past several years has been transitioning the state testing system away from one based solely on FCAT to one that also includes new end-of-course exams and, in several years, the new Common Core-based PARCC exams. It already has dropped some FCAT exams as the end-of-course exams came online.
This spring, high school students are to take a new end-of-course exam in U.S. history while a new civics exam for middle school students will be field tested ahead of its 2014 debut.
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