The '06 Agenda
In Jeb Bush's last session, the Legislature has billions to play with as it considers everything from tax cuts to land conversation.
The 2006 legislative session opens March 7 with the usual flowers on the desks, but without free meals and drinks. It's the last regular legislative session for Gov. Jeb Bush, who leaves office Jan. 2. Bush's legacy is more or less set ("Jeb's Legacy," page 52), but he has entered this session with vim and vigor, pouring it on as he nears the finish line.
In education, Bush advocates "reforming" middle schools, making high school more relevant, putting more money into recruiting math and science teachers, increasing rewards for the most effective teachers, modifying the class-size amendment and replacing the voucher program that the Florida Supreme Court invalidated.
On tax cuts, Bush is determined to maintain his streak of having cut some tax each year during his tenure. This year's a biggie because the state's rolling in dough, and Bush is seeking $1.5 billion in cuts in property, sales and other taxes. The session will no doubt produce some surprises, but following is a highlight of issues that Florida business executives consider important or interesting as the session begins.
Opportunity Scholarship vouchers may not be the most important aspect of education in Florida, with fewer than 1,000 students, but school vouchers "will be front and center in the Florida Legislature this year," Senate President Tom Lee says. "It's very popular with legislators."
Just what legislators will do, though, is unclear.
The Florida Supreme Court ruled in January that the voucher program, giving students in "failing" schools a state subsidy to attend private schools, violated a provision in the state constitution requiring a "uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high-quality system of free public schools." There are plenty of other ways that Florida education falls short of that standard, but those haven't been challenged in court. Bush likes the permanence of a constitutional amendment to allow vouchers. But will it be a narrow measure that encompasses only vouchers and similar programs or a broader vision for education that tries to thoughtfully embrace some reliance on private schools?