Multiple new laws will affect schools in Okeechobee

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bevy of new laws which went into effect on July 1, and many of those laws will bring changes to local school districts throughout the state.

One law, HB 7071, seeks to encourage vocational and technical training in high schools. Starting in the 2019-20 school year, school districts will be required to allow students to fulfill some high-school graduation requirements by completing two credits in career and technical education and two credits in work-based learning programs.

Students using that option will be able to graduate with a 2.0 GPA.

In the 2019-20 school year students will also have the option to substitute a computer-science credit for a math or science credit. School districts will also be required to offer financial-literacy courses as electives.

“I think it’s important that our education system recognizes that there is more than one way to get advanced knowledge and skills beyond the traditional four-year, brick-and-ivy university,” Gov. DeSantis said at the bill signing in Merritt Island on June 24. “Some of these concrete skills are in as much demand as ever. We want to make (sure) that our system is nimble enough to recognize that and produce graduates that have a capacity to earn a good living when they get out of school.”

Some private companies have already stepped up to offer vocational school options of their own.

Starting in late 2019, U.S. Sugar will open their Industrial Skills and Training Academy (ISTA) in Clewiston. The company visited many lake area high schools last spring and eight Okeechobee High School students have already taken part in ISTA’s bootcamp in June.

One section of SB 7070 will ease the testing requirements for teachers taking the Florida Teacher Certification Exam. In 2015 lawmakers made the General Knowledge section of Florida’s Teacher Certification Exam tougher. That resulted in fewer teachers passing the tests, which inadvertently added more substitute teachers to schools throughout the state as districts attempted to fill in the gaps.

The new law gives teachers additional time to take and pass the General Knowledge test and it also gives schools the authority to keep teachers who haven’t passed the test but who have been deemed “highly effective” by their principals.

Another section of SB 7070 gives residents in Florida access to scholarships for private schools. Under the new law, families of four making $77,000 or less annually will get access to public funded scholarships for private schools.

Prior to scholarship funds being awarded, the student must be accepted and enrolled in a participating private school. There are currently eight private schools in Okeechobee eligible for the scholarships, including Okeechobee Christian Academy, Peace Lutheran School and Rock Solid Christian Academy.

Gov. DeSantis also signed legislation back in May approving the removal of sales tax on back-to-school items for a short time in August. Computers costing $1,000 or less, clothes costing $60 or less and school supplies costing $15 or less will be tax exempt from Aug. 2 to Aug. 6.

Richard Marion is a staff writer and photographer at Lake Okeechobee News and can be reached at rmarion@newszap.com.

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