Florida House would ease extra hour reading requirement for Lowest 300 schools Jeffrey S. Solochek, Times Staff Writer Wednesday, April 5, 2017 10:26am

With just three words, the Florida House would scale back the decade-old requirement to add an hour of reading instruction to the state's lowest performing elementary schools.

The program -- a Senate priority -- has mandated that students in those schools with the lowest passing rate on the state language arts test receive the extra lessons, unless they earned a Level 5 on the test. Some parents have questioned why children who have passed the exam must attend.

In its education budget bill (HB 5101), the House would address that concern. Approved by the House Appropriations Committee, the bill would add Level 4 students in those schools to those at Level 5 who may choose not to participate.

The House bill also would delete language requiring schools to offer the added hour of reading "beyond the normal school day." Some schools have struggled to extend their days, citing issues including cost and transportation, and have sought ways to fit the instruction into their regular class day but been told that is not acceptable. The House further would place schools on the Lowest 300 list based on a three-year average of the test results.

The Florida Senate, by contrast, makes no such change in its budget bill (SPB 2516). In fact, the Senate proposes that schools on the list offer a 60-hour summer school program for the students in each school, in addition to the daily hour of instruction.

It would not remove Level 4 students from participation, and it would potentially add to the schools offering the extra time by having those that perform well enough continue with the program two academic years after coming off the list. Schools would be assessed based on the previous year's test results, and not on a three-year average.

Senate PreK-12 Appropriations chairman David Simmons, the leading proponent of the added hour, has repeatedly said he does not want to water down the program. He has argued that all schools eventually should get more time for instruction, to help students become better prepared.

The House and Senate disagree on several other education funding issues, most notably the required local effort for property tax rates. The House also has set a priority expense of $200 million for a new charter school proposal, which the Senate has yet to adopt.

With the chambers moving their appropriations bills on Wednesday, as the session approaches its halfway point, watch for compromises to begin emerging.

[Last modified: Wednesday, April 5, 2017 10:24am]


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