School Choice Bill Advances Through Florida Senate

School Choice Bill Advances Through Florida Senate Hero Image

A radical new bill making its way through the Florida legislature is set to bring school choice to high school students throughout the state.

The piece of legislation would allow students to enroll in any public school they’d like, without geographic or eligibility restrictions.

Students could then move freely between school districts provided the school has room for the student, and the student has transportation to and from school. This will open up better schools to students that live in poorer school districts, but will have the most profound impact on student athletes.

A hot bed for college athletic recruiting, Florida will make it possible for its entire body of student athletes to place themselves in the school they think will best help them reach the next level. High school coaches and athletic directors are worried about the change this may spur in the Florida athletic landscape.

Their biggest fear is that the the new rules will encourage coaches to try and recruit “super teams” made up of the best players in the state that will ruin the competitive balance that is currently maintained at the highest levels of competition in the state. Others fear that students will jump from school to school based on the season and sport they are looking to play.

In an effort to preempt these objections, the bill’s authors, Republican State Senators Kelli Stargel and Don Gaetz, included provisions in the bill to deter recruiting.

Harsh penalties would be put in place for coaches who recruit students for their programs. The bill calls for a $5,000 fine for a coach’s first offense, the fine plus a one-year’s suspension from coaching for a second offense, and the fine plus the loss of their teaching license for the third offense.

These additions seem to satisfy the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA). “I think the world of high school athletics understands that you have, with this bill, resolved the message that we’re not going to tolerate recruiting,” said FHSAA lobbyist Ron Book.

With the support garnered by the recruitment penalties, the bill’s swift progress though the state senate is unsurprising. The biggest obstacle the bill faces comes from a similar bill that is currently on the calendar and awaiting debate in the state House of Representatives, though that bill does not have the blessing of the FHSAA.

The state legislature will eventually have to decide which bill to embrace, but for now both propositions will have to meander through various committees until a final draft can be placed before the legislature for a vote. The most important thing is that both bills propose school choice, so students will have the freedom to choose the school they want to attend if either passes.