Today's news -- November 21, 2017




Baxley files school bill to require “controversial”

science topics be taught in “balanced” way *

State Sen. Dennis Baxley, who once said controversy about evolution being taught in public schools “will never be over,” wants to make school districts teach “controversial theories” in science subjects in a “balanced” manner. Baxley, R-Ocala, filed a bill that would alter Florida’s academic standards in several key ways. His bill would give the state’s 67 school districts the power to adopt academic standards as long as they were as rigorous as Florida’s. Florida has had statewide standards since 1977. Local districts use those state-mandated standards to devise lessons and courses. Baxley’s bill (SB 966) also would mandate that in science classes, “controversial theories and concepts must be taught in a factual, objective and balanced manner.” Such language has long been used by those opposed to the teaching of evolution. The State Board of Education in 2008 adopted Florida’s current science standards, requiring for the first time that evolution be taught in public schools. The standards call the theory of evolution the “fundamental concept underlying all of biology” and one that it is “supported by multiple forms of scientific evidence.” That 2008 vote came after months of controversy about the proposed new standards and created a public outcry, much of it centered on North Florida. Baxley, then executive director of the Christian Coalition of Florida, said at the time he wanted scientists to “leave the door open a little bit” for the consideration of other evidence about how life on Earth developed. After the vote, he told Education Week, “The controversy will never be over. … It’s another step in a long saga of this discussion. There will be a number of scientific perspectives put forward as the years go on, and a number of religious and other perspectives.” Baxley’s bill has already raised alarms at the Florida Citizens for Science group, which noted the lawmaker’s long-standing history of “disliking evolution lessons in schools.” The group’s chief writer, Brandon Haught, a biology teacher in Volusia County, worried on the group’s blog last month that such a bill was in the works. Besides science, Baxley’s bill also adds onto the state’s social studies standards. His proposal says government and civics classes “must strictly adhere to founding values and principles of the United States,” and economic classes must include “the study of at least Keynesian and Hayekian economic theories.”


Panel to weigh changes for school boards *

A proposal to impose term limits on school board members will be taken up Monday as the Florida Constitution Revision Commission begins to evaluate 103 measures aimed at changing the state constitution. The term-limit measure (Proposal 43) is sponsored by Commissioner Erika Donalds, a Collier County School Board member. The amendment, if placed on the 2018 ballot and adopted by voters, would limit school board members to no more than eight years in office, or two consecutive four-year terms. The proposal is one of three school-related measures sponsored by Donalds that will be reviewed by the commission’s Education Committee, as the overall 37-member commission begins four days of committee meetings next week on a host of proposals. Another Donalds’ measure (P33) would require the appointment of school superintendents, which is now done by 26 of the 67 school districts, with the majority of superintendents still elected by voters. Donalds also wants to eliminate salaries for school board members in another proposal (P32). The committee meetings are only a first step in advancing the potential constitutional changes. To end up on the 2018 general ballot, 22 of the 37 members of the commission would eventually have to vote for each proposal. The commission has a May 10 deadline for its proposals, which also would need to win support from 60 percent of voters during the November 2018 election to be enacted. Some 14 education-related proposals have been filed by commission members, making it a top category. The commission meets once every 20 years and has the ability to directly place proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot. There also were 14 proposals related to the judicial system filed by commission members. More than a half-dozen of those proposals will be taken up Tuesday by the Judicial Committee. There are four different proposals that all would change the mandatory retirement age for Florida judges to 75, increasing it over the current 70-year-old limit. Former Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, has a variation (P8) of that proposal, which would also require state appellate judges, including Supreme Court justices, to face confirmation votes in the state Senate. The General Provisions Committee will begin hearing seven proposals Tuesday, including a measure (P29), sponsored by Commissioner Rich Newsome, an Orlando lawyer, that would require Florida businesses to use the federal E-verify system to prevent the hiring of illegal immigrants. Businesses could face the suspension of their licenses if they fail to comply or if they hire illegal workers, according to measure. On Wednesday, the same committee could hear a proposal (P67) from Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, that would ban greyhound racing in Florida beginning in July 2021. The commission’s Ethics and Elections Committee will begin two days of hearings Wednesday on five proposals, including a measure (P11), sponsored by Commissioner Sherry Plymale of Palm City, that seeks to close the so-called “write-in candidate loophole.” Plymale’s measure would let all voters participate in primaries if all of the candidates, except write-in candidates, are from the same party. Currently, the presence of general election write-in candidates keep primaries limited to only voters in one party. The committee will also consider a proposal (P62), sponsored by Commissioner Bill Schifino, a Tampa lawyer, that would let “no party affiliation” voters designate and vote in party primaries. A proposal (P56), sponsored by Commissioner Frank Kruppenbacher, an Orlando lawyer, would eliminate the use of public financing for statewide candidates and will also be considered by the Ethics and Elections Committee.


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