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First Amendment Foundation calls on Rick Scott to veto education bill

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The First Amendment Foundation is weighing in on a wide-sweeping education bill, asking Gov. Rick Scott to veto the measure when it gets to his desk.

In a letter to Scott on Tuesday, Barbara Petersen, the president of the First Amendment Foundation, said the organization’s concerns “relate only to the lack of transparency in the process by which major policy decisions regarding Florida’s education system were decided.”

Lawmakers narrowly approved the bill (HB 7069) on the final day of the 2017 Legislative Session. The proposal, which is tied to the state budget, was a top priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, and, among other things, steers more money to privately run charter schools, requires recess in elementary schools and tinkers with the state’s standardized testing system.

While the measure includes several education changes legislators had been considering, the final bill was negotiated largely in private and wasn’t seen by the public until the final days of the session.

“The secretive process precluded any opportunity for public oversight or input on major changes to Florida’s education policy,” said Petersen in her letter to Scott. “Alarmingly, local school officials were also shut out of the process, as were many legislators who were ultimately asked to approve this voluminous and complicated legislation decided in a manner closed even to them.”

Petersen said Floridians deserve “the respect and the commitment of our elected leaders to uphold our Florida Sunshine laws, a 33 years old tradition and benchmark of good government.”

One of the major provisions of the bill creates the “Schools of Hope” program, which would offer financial incentive to charter school operators who would agree to take students attending chronically failing schools, many in poor areas and urban neighborhoods.

The bill has been criticized by state’s teacher unions, parent groups, and superintendents of some of the state’s largest school districts.

The First Amendment Foundation has also called on Scott to veto the entire fiscal 2017-18 budget once it reaches his desk. Much like the organization’s request to veto the education bill, the group said its concerns relate “only to the lack of transparency in the process” and it wasn’t “objecting to any of the substantive programs and issues.”

Neither the budget nor the education bill have been sent to Scott.

The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permission.

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