Hillsborough school officials review legislative priorities
By LINDA CHION KENNEY
To get the “biggest bang for the buck” out of a robust list of wants, the Hillsborough County School Board acted on a legislative wish list that defines for parents and students the driving issues of Superintendent Addison Davis and his leadership team.
From the state list of 32 bulleted items, nine were selected for a lobbyist push, including $800,000 for a K-8 STEAM magnet academy in south Hillsborough County; $500,000 for a summer bridge program to serve students at greater risk of dropping out; amending state statute to specify that excused absences include both physical and mental health concerns; and funding to improve the overall salaries of veteran teachers. This follows House Bill 641, approved this year, which provided for an increase of the minimum base salary of full-time classroom teachers to $47,500.
From the city and County lists, top concerns included prioritizing school district staff and students for access to the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available and measures to address the difficulties in siting and constructing schools in high-growth areas, which is a particular concern in south Hillsborough County.
On the federal list, top concerns included funding the extension and expansion of student loan forgiveness for public school employees and seeking additional COVID-19 funding on top of the $68 million in CARES Act funding already allocated. The district seeks an additional $70 million.
Overall, the superintendent’s proposed legislative platform package spanned eight pages and detailed 50 bulleted items spelled out in five “power areas” for three levels of governance. The school board reviewed the package at a morning workshop Dec. 15.
Much like a kid at Christmas asked to list his preferred gifts for Santa, Davis was asked to select his top wants for federal, state, city and county legislators, which the school board acted on later that day at its regular board meeting. Items were categorized for each level of governance and for each of the five power areas.
Collectively, those areas of focus spell out the top concerns of the district: literacy and closing the achievement gap; continuous school improvement and climate and culture; graduation rate and career workforce development; STEM and 21st century skill development; and operational excellence and fiscal responsibility.
Board member Vaughn successfully moved that in addition to the one-sheet submitted for each level of governance, that the full list of bulleted items be forwarded, as well, to the lobbyists working on the school district’s behalf, and, in turn, to the legislative committees determining their agendas for the upcoming legislative seasons.
Rounding out the list for top asks for federal legislators, Hillsborough asks for increasing the number of community schools through grant and partnership funds and funding to increase capacity and update aging facilities at Tinker Elementary School on the MacDill Air Force base.
For state legislators, top asks include providing assessments in their native languages for English Language Learners; including the General Knowledge Test required for teacher certification as an option for high school students as a proposed industry certification; and funding for a Purple Star Designation Program for military-friendly schools, which reportedly is in place in nine states. Also included are increased funding flexibility to meet community needs and funding to build a technical center in Plant City.
For city and county legislators, top asks include partnering with government, community and business partners to provide a Newborn Care Package to every newborn in Hillsborough County; partnering with the University of South Florida Louis de la Patre Florida Mental Health Institute to reduce Baker Act cases; partnering with government and local groups to expand early childhood offerings; student field trips to local libraries for students in kindergarten through grade 8; and increased internet connectivity to targeted communities of learners.
Also, in respect to schools for high-growth areas, a series of issues was raised for local legislators, including waivers for school siting issues where transportation is substandard and renewed discussion over the creation of a school district/county task force “to strategize and collaborate on improving school siting issues.”
To review the legislative platform in its entirety, as well as in a one-sheet breakdown of priorities for each level of governance, visit www.sdhc.k12.fl.us. For assistance, call: 813-272-4045.