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Amid continued calls to veto HB 7069, Rick Scott says he is still ‘reviewing it’

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Gov. Rick Scott isn’t showing his cards when it comes to a wide-sweeping and contentious education bill, despite rumblings he could sign the measure as early as this week.

The Naples Republican said he is still reviewing the bill (HB 7069), which, among other things, creates a “Schools of Hope” charter school program backed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran. However, many people believe Scott will sign the bill in return for Corcoran’s support of his priorities, including full funding of Visit Florida and money for an economic development fund, during a special session which ended last week.

“We all want school choice, we want to make sure our kids are going to good schools,” said Scott, when asked by reporters about continued calls for him to veto the bill during a stop in Fort Myers on Tuesday. “I know the Speaker is very passionate about it and it was something that was very important to him. I’m reviewing it, and I’ll do the best thing for the citizens of the state.”

The governor’s comments came as two state lawmakers sent letters to Scott urging him to veto the legislation. Rep. Ben Diamond and Sen. Gary Farmer, both Democrats, both called on Scott to veto the bill, telling the governor if signed it will divert money away from traditional public schools to charter schools.

The bill, among other things, extends the Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program; reduces state testing, and requires test results be provided to parents and teachers in a timely fashion; expands eligibility for the Gardiner Scholarship Program; and requires 20 minutes of recess each day for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

The bill also requires school districts share capital project tax revenue with charter schools, which Corcoran argued is one of the reasons why some school district officials have come out in opposition to the bill.

“What they’re really crying over is their bricks and mortar money,” said the Land O’Lakes Republican following a stop in Fort Myers on Tuesday. “The problem with bricks and mortar is they’re building $40 million Taj Mahals up and down the state, 67 counties (building) the most expensive buildings they can build. What we’re saying is focus on beautiful mind, not beautiful buildings. It doesn’t matter what the buildings look like, what matters is having that money follow the student and having that student have a world class education.”

But opponents aren’t just concerned about the capital outlay portion. In a statement, Diamond said the bill will “divert significant resources away from our traditional public schools for the benefit of charter schools, many of which are run by out-of-state, for profit corporations.”

“The bill includes little oversight or accountability for these charter schools, which would receive a significant investment of taxpayer money. The bill also makes it harder for our school districts to retain our best teachers,” said Diamond.

Corcoran said “every single penny” in the bill goes to public schools, and called outrage over the “Schools of Hope” component misplaced.

“The real outrage shouldn’t be that we’re funding ‘Schools of Hope,’ it should be that we’re the third largest state and the richest country in the world and we have failure factories. Some of our students, from the time they enter school to the time they graduate, spend their entire educational career in a failure factory. That’s where the outrage should be,” said Corcoran. “We’ve come in and said ‘enough is enough.’ We’re going to create ‘Schools of Hope,’ where those children are able to be afforded a world class education just like every other child in the state of Florida. That is transformative and that’s beneficial.”

Scott and Corcoran were in Fort Myers on Tuesday as part of a five-city “Fighting for Florida’s Future Victory Tour.” The one-day swing was meant to highlight the successes of the special session, which ended Friday.

The event at the Sun Harvest Citrus retail store and package facility struck a much different tone than a “Fighting for Florida’s Future” tour Scott embarked on in May. While Scott used that trip to hint at vetoes and take swipes at lawmakers over their decision to slash funding for Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, this swing has been a chance for Scott and Corcoran to mend fences and show a unified front.

“The speaker is passionate about what he believes in and you know what I believe in,” said Scott. “We worked hard to get something done, and we had a very good session and a very good special session.”

Corcoran called the governor is “a passionate warrior,” and he looks forward to another session of working together.

“The neat thing about this is the two of us have another session together,” said Corcoran. “I can assure you, we’re looking forward to coming back next session with another bold agenda that’s transformative and continues on this great path the governor has led us on.”

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