Foundation for Florida’s Future releases 2014 legislative education report card

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School may be out, but final grades are just coming in for Florida legislators.

Foundation for Florida’s Future released Florida’s 2014 Education Report Card this week, an annual evaluation that grades lawmakers on their efforts to improve education in the Sunshine State.

Among the education issues that faced the lawmakers last session were bills for school accountability, school choice, digital learning technology and what the group called “parent-directed spending accounts,” the state’s de facto voucher system.

In addition to the Report Card, the Foundation has also added an interactive map, giving Floridians a way to connect with their lawmakers and see what grades they earned on this year’s Education Report Card.

On the 2014 Foundation Honor Roll are state representatives and senators who stood out in the push for student-centered policies. At the head of the class were Sens. Andy Gardiner, John Legg, Bill Montford, Jeremy Ring, and Reps. Manny Diaz, Jr., and Erik Fresen.

“I am grateful to all the legislative members who supported meaningful education policies,” said the foundation’s Executive Director Patricia Levesque. “These changes will truly be life-changing for students and families throughout the state. We have further to go to ensure every child is receiving a high-quality education, but I am thankful to those who acted to keep Florida on a path that places student learning above all else.”

For the 20154 session, the Report Card took into account legislator votes on seven benchmarks: standardized measurement, rigorous academic standards, data-driven accountability, outcome-based funding, effective teachers and leaders, school choice and digital learning.

Each lawmaker received a grade on a 0-100 scale based on voting records and evidence of leadership; “extra credit.”

In all, 70 House members — all Republicans — received “A” grades.  House Democrats failed across the board; Rep. Dwayne Taylor had the highest grade among Democrats (a score of 50), with four — Lori Berman, Janet Cruz, José Rodríguez and Hazelle Rogers – at the bottom with a score of 13.

No House Democrat did better than an “F” grade.

Senate scores were bipartisan, with Democratic Sens. Gwen Margolis, Darren Soto and Jeremy Ring each getting “A” grades. Ring was the sole Democrat with an “A+.” Democratic Sen. Dwight Bullard received the lowest grade of 44.

Republican Senators receiving an “A+”: Anitere Flores, Rob Bradley, Jeff Brandes, Andy Gardiner, Bill Galvano, Dorothy Hukill, Kelli Stargel and John Legg.

Among the Republicans, Sen. Greg Evers received the lowest grade of 73, giving him a “C.”

Former Gov. Jeb Bush founded the Foundation for Florida’s Future shortly after his unsuccessful first bid for governor in 1994.

June 2014 is the 15th anniversary of the passage of Florida’s A+ Plan, which set into motion policies that led to a number of educational achievements. The controversial plan expanded the use of the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test, which was a new test administered to fourth-, eighth- and 10th-graders. FCAT test performance (as well as attendance, violence and high school graduation rates) were taken in account to rate schools on an A to F scale.

The proposal also rewarded schools with “A” grades, as well as those that improved grades in a year, with monetary bonuses. Failing schools were given two years to improve or risk being turned over to the state, which would then change school staff and apply changes as necessary.

Students at “F” schools would be eligible for taxpayer-funded vouchers to transfer to private schools.

This session, several legislators worked to keep Florida’s education system focused on student learning, through school accountability, setting high expectations, rewarding success, attracting talent to the classroom and offering parents educational choices.

“It was a good session for Florida students,” Levesque said. “And we should thank Florida lawmakers for that.”

The complete Florida’s 2014 Education Report Card is at www.AFloridaPromise.org.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.