TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Despite criticisms that it could lead to censorship, the Senate on Friday narrowly passed a bill that would force the state's 67 school districts, instead of state officials, to review the textbooks used in classrooms.
The Florida House, meanwhile, passed and sent to Gov. Rick Scott a bill that would bar school districts from collecting student data such as fingerprints.
The two bills are being pushed amid complaints about the state's move to Common Core State Standards. The Republican-controlled Legislature is refusing to jettison the standards as some activists and conservative groups want. But they are pushing legislation meant to address concerns that have been raised during the fight over the standards.
The House voted 113-1 for the student data privacy bill. Scott had already promised Republicans earlier this year he would sign the bill.
The bill (HB 188) would ban school districts from being able to collect information on the political or religious affiliation of students and their parents. It would also ban the collection of biometric information including student fingerprints, palm scans or iris scans.
The legislation also calls for creating a new student identification system so that school districts could eventually stop using social security numbers.
"Today, the Florida House strengthened our state laws to ensure our students' personal information, which has little to do with their education, is kept private and secure," said Rep. Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island.
The student data bill passed both the House and Senate overwhelmingly. But legislators are divided over the textbook bill. The final vote in the Florida Senate was 21-19 as a handful of Republicans joined with Democrats concerned about the far-reaching effects of the legislation.
The bill was partially inspired by complaints over a high school world history textbook that some said gave too much attention to Islam.
School boards can currently select textbooks from a list drawn up by the Florida Department of Education or review the books at the district level. But the bill sponsored by Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, would eliminate the state review completely. It would also require districts to hold a public hearing if parents challenged the books chosen.
Hays said the legislation was needed so that school board members will be accountable to parents and voters. He said school board members have blamed the state for the textbooks they picked.
"This bill imposes on the local school board members the responsibility and accountability to their citizens," Hays said.
Opponents complained it would cost districts money to review textbooks. Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, said she was worried that some districts would wind up censoring some books, while other senators raised questions about whether districts would pick textbooks aligned to the state's current standards.
Even Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart questioned Hays' bill.
"From a practical standpoint it lifts a burden from us," Stewart said. "But we heard loud and clear from districts that they rely on (the state review). They need that. They don't have the resources to be able to do that."
The textbook bill heads next to the Florida House. A similar bill already in the House, however, would not eliminate the state's review of textbooks. Instead it would require districts that choose to pick their own textbooks to hold a public hearing prior to adoption.
Common Core State Standards are a result of an initiative sponsored by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers and have been adopted by numerous states.
Opponents see them as the nationalization of education policy and standards, something they say should be left to the states. Supporters contend that having a shared set of standards will allow for a more accurate state-by-state comparison of student performance.
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