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Renewed Push for Revamping High School Graduation Standards

A push to revamp graduation standards in Florida schools will continue even though the measure requiring students to take specific science and math classes failed during last year's legislative session.

“We're still a state that is wholly responsible for educating our citizenry and as such, education policy should not be put on the backburner because of a struggling economy,”said Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, who sponsored the legislation during the 2009 legislative session and is doing so again for the 2010 session.

Under the bill filed for the coming session (HB 61), students who are in ninth grade in 2011-2012 would be required to take one year of algebra and one year of geometry as two of their four required math classes, plus a year of biology for one of three science credits. It would continue to raise the bar, so that in two years, ninth graders who start in 2013-2014 would have to take two years of algebra and one of geometry as part of their four math classes. And it would require a year of biology and a year of chemistry.

During the 2009 session, the bill was passed out of the House, but failed in the Senate. Senate sponsor Thad Altman, R-Viera, said at the time that many senators wanted more time to evaluate the bill and talk further with educators, many of whom were divided on the legislation.

But the biggest holdup seemed to be the potential fiscal impact of the bill. The House and Senate staff analyses said the bill would create no additional costs for schools because additional curriculum was not being created. The classes were already there, but under the proposal, all of the students would be required to take them.

The teachers' union and other education groups were not entirely convinced that there would be no additional costs associated with the legislation, something that also concerned some lawmakers in a tight budget year.

“It's going to cost something, there's no question about that,” said Florida Education Association spokesman Mark Pudlow. “And if that's the same approach they're going to take, we're going to have some problems with it.It's like trying to put a bigger engine in your car and trying to make it work.”

Fresen countered that the legislation's tiered approach at implementing the requirements would give schools time to adjust and it would not require new classes because each school already offers algebra, geometry, biology and chemistry.

“You can't determine what may or may not have a fiscal impact three or four years from now especially when no new curriculum is being added,” he said.

Fresen said he expects Altman will serve as the Senate sponsor again, though a senate version has not yet been filed.

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