Elite schools may not have to follow rules

Published May 2, 2007


Schools districts designated as "high performing" would be exempt from state rules regarding the development of reading plans, certain program spending, portable classrooms and instructional material choices, under a bill (SB 574) that passed the Senate Tuesday and the House Monday. The exemption would apply to districts that earn an "A" grade from the state two years in a row, have no F-rated schools, meet class size requirements and have clean audits. No Tampa Bay area districts currently meet those standards. The bill, sponsored by Republican Sens. Mike Bennett and Don Gaetz, who is a former Okaloosa schools superintendent, also allows high-performing districts to use their discretionary 2 mills in ad valorem taxes for property and casualty insurance. Some senators said the changes should be tested out with a pilot program first. "We have said time and time again that we need to think outside the box ... in public education, " said Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville. "This is the time."

New office to help adoption efforts

The state will have an office and a "chief child advocate, " dedicated to the promotion and improvement of adoption programs, under legislation passed by both chambers and praised by the governor Tuesday. The initiative is a priority of Gov. Charlie Crist, who included it as part of his proposed budget. The legislation (SB 1388) creates the Office of Adoption and Child Protection, which will be led by an advocate who is to come up with a plan for better promoting adoption and preventing child abuse. The bill authorizes the office to create a direct-support organization that can raise money and seek grants to help the state with adoption efforts. And it increases the subsidies for families adopting foster children, with an emphasis on special-needs children. There are nearly 3, 000 Florida children in foster care, and more than a third wait at least three years to be adopted. "We have an obligation to protect the most vulnerable among us - our children, " Crist said. "This legislation provides important tools to promote the culture of life in our state."