Florida's legislative leaders said today they have an ambitious education agenda that includes making college more affordable -- and easier to access for veterans -- increasing "tax-credit scholarships" for children living in poverty and expanding career and technical education.
The goal, said Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, is "to promote economic opportunity by continuing to transform education."
House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said the pair will also push to revamp how public schools are graded by the state. The A-to-F grading system has faced mounting criticism in the last year, as many questioned if it was accurately judging school quality.
"Restoring trust and integrity into out grading system" is a top priority for the Florida Legislature, which starts its next session in March, Weatherford said.
Weatherford and Gaetz spoke together during a "planning session" for reporters who cover the Legislature's work.
Their education agenda includes several changes meant to make higher education more affordable.
Weatherford said they want a new limit on the amount that public universities can raise their tuition. Doing that, he said, would “dramatically reduce the cost of what is now an unaffordable and out-of-reach” Florida Prepaid College Program. Far fewer families are choosing to invest in that program because costs have skyrocketed in recent years.
Weatherford also said they want to provide all veterans with tuition waivers so that, regardless of where they came from, they qualify for in-state tuition at Florida schools. He also wants to offer free tuition to deployed members of the Florida National Guard so they can take classes while they are away overseas.
In both colleges and high schools, the pair want to see "career and technical education" expanded, so that students can learn skills -- whether in nursing or aviation mechanics -- that can help them land jobs after school.
The mission, Gaetz said, "is to make Florida first in the nation ....in preparing students for real jobs in the real economy."
Weatherford said they also want to see a "massive expansion" of Florida's Tax-Credit Scholarship Program, which provides scholarships so families living in poverty can send their children to private schools.