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Gov. Scott signs education bills in St. Pete | News

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Gov. Scott signs education bills in St. Pete

St. Petersburg, Florida -- Governor Rick Scott signed five education bills into law at St. Petersburg Christian School on Monday afternoon.

The new legislation aims to give thousands of Florida students in low performing schools better education opportunities.

It was among his three stops across the state.

The governor says the bills will expand and strengthen high performing charter schools and offer more on-line courses by expanding Florida's Virtual School program.

The legislation also increases scholarship opportunities for low income children, students with disabilities and special learning needs, and children in low performing schools.

Some of those scholarships will be funded through an increased tax credit for corporations that donate to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program.  Governor Scott also signed a bill that will increase the tax credit from 75% to 100%.

"Children should not be locked into a failing school just because of where they live.  We also believe parents have the right to choose the schools for the children," said Governor Scott, surrounded by a group of students from St. Petersburg Christian, Southside Christian Academy and Yvonne C Reed Christian School.

Among the kids was two of Henry Payne's grandchildren who attend Southside Christian on a tax credit scholarship through Step Up for Kids.

"If it had not been for this scholarship, they would have been another statistic," he told 10 News.

He says he was awarded custody of his four grandchildren six years ago. 

"We had no idea what was next at 2am as we walked away with four children," Payne said, recalling the moment he became the custodian of the kids who ranged in ages 2 to 6.

He says the kids had never been to school before and did not seem to succeed at a low performing school in his neighborhood.

Things changed for his family when he found out about the scholarship program and his option to transfer his grandchildren to private school.

"So far, our children are A average students.  They have all excelled," he said with a smile on his face. 

Governor Scott said the new laws are not a knock on public schools, "We're doing everything we can to make sure we have great public schools.  Public schools are always going to be the backbone of our state.  What we want to do is create as much competition as we can, so our parents have choice, so it raises the standards for all our schools."

Another piece of legislation he signed into law increases scholarship opportunities for students with learning and physical disabilities under the John McKay Scholarship program.

HB 7191 will also expands Florida's Virtual School program.  It will not only expand options for school districts and charter schools to offer on-line programs, but requires students entering into the 9th grade in the 2011-2012 school year to complete one on-line course by the time they graduate.

HB 1331 expands the definition of a failing school from a school receiving 2 "F" grades in a four year period to a two year period and includes schools that receives a "D" or "F" in the prior year.

The five bills signed Monday are a part of an education reform the governor says he promised when he took office.

The first bill he signed into law, the Student Success Act empowers principals to reward high performing teachers through a merit pay system and get rid of low performing teachers.

The governor says his goal is to create a better educated workforce, buy offering students more opportunity to excel.

Here's a summary of the bills being signed into law in three Florida cities today:  (as provided by Governor Scott's office)

  • Senate Bill 1546, Charter Schools - Charter schools will now have the opportunity to duplicate their success and grow to serve more students. Charter schools that earn an "A" twice in three years have the opportunity to earn a "high-performing" status, so they can increase enrollment and open more schools.
  • House Bill 7197. Virtual Education - Expands the Florida Virtual School to offer full-time instruction to K-12 students and part-time for grades 4-12. District virtual schools will be able to offer part-time instruction in grades 9-12 to more students.  Charter schools can also now offer online instruction, either as a virtual charter school, or combined with traditional classroom learning.
  • House Bill 1331, Opportunity Scholarships - This bill empowers parents to choose a better school for their students assigned to chronically low-performing schools. It expands the definition of a failing school from those that earn an "F" two years in a row, to those that earn two "Fs" in the past four years.
  • House Bill 1329, McKay Scholarships - Students with special learning needs will be eligible for McKay Scholarships to attend private schools.  Parents with children who receive specialized instructional plans must be notified every year of each student's options, including the McKay Scholarship.
  • House Bill 965, Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program -The tax credit scholarship program is updated to help encourage more businesses to participate in the program, thereby helping more students attend the school best suited to them.

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