Florida schools roundup: Enrollment down, spending, teacher prep and more

florida-roundup-logoSchool enrollment: State economists predict that public schools enrollment in Florida will be 2.82 million next year, down slightly from the July forecast of 2.83 million. They say that will help with the state’s budget problems, but they still expect lawmakers to have to deal with a $450 million shortfall. Last year’s gap was covered by the Legislature from the state budget, but House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, has said not to expect that to happen again next year. Naples Daily News.

Spending splurge: Over the past two years, Orange County School Board members have spent about $500,000 with little public oversight. Each of the eight members receives $40,000 a year to spend at his or her own discretion. It’s the only central Florida school district with such a fund. Board members say they use the money to pay for extras. Among the extras was $2,500 a board member spent for a school mural that depicts herself. Orlando Sentinel.

Teacher preparation: Many Florida colleges do a poor job of preparing prospective elementary school teachers to teach math, according to a study by the National Council on Teacher Quality. Most of the Florida colleges reviewed received an F grade in this category. Orlando Sentinel.

Administrator under fire: An investigation concludes a Broward County school administrator misused his position while carrying on an affair with a school district community liaison. The district’s Professional Standards Committee recommends that Israel Canales be fired. Canales, 54, is a manager of administrative support for the district. Canales says he will fight any move to fire him. Sun-Sentinel. Continue Reading →

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The next Nevada? These are the states to watch for education savings accounts

Nevada’s universal education savings accounts were the most far-reaching educational choice program ever created, but they suffered a setback earlier this year when the state Supreme Court ruled the funding mechanism unconstitutional.

November elections swept pro-school choice Republicans from power. Potential legislative fixes a likely bargaining chip between Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Brian Sandoval, meaning it’s an open question whether the program will ever get funded.

While Nevada’s fate remains uncertian, educational choice advocates are looking to other states to follow up with legislation that might match its scope and ambition.

There’s no question education savings accounts will be on the agenda in state capitals all over the country next year. They’ve been passed by legislatures in six states and signed into law in five. A total 18 states drafted, studied or introduced ESA bills in 2016, and this fall’s elections may have tipped the political balance for educational choice in statehouses around the country.

Observers and education reform experts gathered in Washington last week for the Foundation for Excellence in Education conference had some ideas for states worth keeping an eye on.

Iowa 

The top choice of Robert Enlow, the president of EdChoice, Iowa already has a tax credit scholarship program.

Iowa lawmakers actually drafted a universal ESA bill a whole month before their Nevada counterparts back in 2015. But despite 24 co-sponsors, the proposal never gained traction. Another ESA bill to create a smaller pilot ESA program for 190 students could only make it out of a subcommittee in the Republican-controlled House.

The November elections may have changed the political calculus. Republicans gained control of the state Senate, and now observers across the political spectrum seem to believe some form of ESA legislation is in the works. Continue Reading →

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A path to better charter school oversight in Florida

Florida’s charter school laws continue to get middling rankings from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. The state’s rating remains unchanged in the group’s latest national report, leaving it tied with Arizona for the 18th-best charter school oversight policy in the country.

The state’s executive branch is trying to tackle some of the issues raised in the third edition of the annual report, which came out this week.

In a nutshell, Florida gets pretty good marks for charter school accountability. Districts are required to keep track of charters’ performance, and schools can lose their contracts if they don’t meet academic goals. The lowest performers — those that earn consecutive F’s through the state grading system — can be shut down automatically.

But the state falls short when it comes to holding districts accountable for the charters they oversee. Local school boards sponsor all but a handful of the state’s more than 650 charter schools.

There are several issues here.

Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Workers comp, reading bill, top foundations and more

florida-roundup-logoWorkers comp: Florida lawmakers worry that a 14.5 percent increase in workers compensation rates will cost state school districts tens of millions of dollars in what is already looking to be a very tight budget year. “You could foresee some type of legislation filed this session, but the fact remains, as we are sitting here today, school districts are worried. And they should be,” says State Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, who is also CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. WFSU.

Reading instruction: A bill is filed in the Florida House to improve reading lessons in schools. The bill, filed by Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, calls for training teachers in “explicit, systematic, and multisensory reading strategies,” and encourages districts to step in earlier to help struggling readers. A similar bill passed the House in the last session, but died in the Senate. Gradebook.

Top-rated foundations: The Pinellas Education Foundation is rated the best in the country for the third straight year, according to a study by the Caruthers Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank. Other Florida foundations in the nation’s top 50 are Brevard Schools Foundation (8th), Foundation for Osceola Education (12th), Foundation for Seminole County Public Schools (14th), Education Foundation for Collier County (22nd), Broward Education Foundation (32nd), Educational Foundation of Lake County (40th), Polk Education Foundation & Business Partnership (41st), Public Education Foundation of Marion County (43rd), and the Education Foundation of Sarasota County (48th). Gradebook.

Charter capital funds: The Florida Department of Education now proposes denying state construction and maintenance money for charter schools that get an F grade from the state or two consecutive grades lower than a C. The rule was tweaked after an earlier version was challenged as discriminatory against charter schools in poor communities. Charter school advocates say they will continue to fight the rules through an administrative hearing. Politico Florida. Continue Reading →

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Florida charter schools win facilities funding fight

After a legal challenge, the Florida Department of Education is withdrawing a contentious rule that would have set a higher academic bar for charter schools that get state facilities funding, Politico Florida reports.

The proposal would have made schools that earned consecutive D grades ineligible for funding. The change was part of a policy shift that also steered more money to schools with large numbers of low-income or special needs students.

Cheryl Etters, a spokeswoman for the state education department, said in an email Tuesday to POLITICO Florida that “during the course of the rule challenge it became apparent that our proposed rule would benefit from additional clarity” and that new language would be made public on Wednesday.

“We look forward to working with our stakeholders to ensure our rule is clear and concise, provides meaningful accountability, and aligns with the statutory requirements,” she said.

Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Building funds, charters, testing, equal access and more

florida-roundup-logoSchool tax revenue shortfall: Tax revenue for building and repair schools is forecast to be lower than expected, and legislators may consider issuing school construction bonds through the Public Education Capital Outlay fund. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, said issuing bonds would be a last resort, but Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, called bonding appropriate. Naples Daily News.

Charter capital funds: The Florida Department of Education drops a regulation that would have denied charter schools construction and maintenance money from the state if they received consecutive D school grades. The rule was adopted in September, but was changed after it was challenged as discriminatory against charter schools in poor communities. Politico Florida.

Charters to return money: Officials from two Miami-Dade County charter schools that loaned $912,094 to sister schools outside the county say they will return the money. The state Department of Education said the loan violated state rules. District officials say even after the money is returned, they will consider terminating the schools’ contracts. Miami Herald.

Testing problems: American high school students are falling further behind their peers from other countries in math. And the results in reading and science literacy testing are not much better, according to a study of students in 70 countries by the Program for International Student Assessment. Associated Press. Washington Post.

Equal access lawsuit: A federal appeals court rules that the Equal Access Act, which requires federally funded U.S. secondary schools to give equal treatment to all extracurricular clubs, applies to middle schools. The ruling overturns an earlier decision that supported the Lake County School Board’s decision to stop Carver Middle School students from starting a gay-straight club. Daily CommercialOrlando Sentinel. News Service of Florida. Continue Reading →

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When parents close charter schools

There’s a school of thought in educational choice that parents exercise the most brutally efficient form of quality control, steering their children clear of institutions that don’t teach them well.

That appears to be what happened with Valor and Virtue Academies, a quartet of single-gender charter schools in Duval County, Fla. They launched with hopes of raising achievement for low-income students in the same Northwest Jacksonville neighborhoods targeted by KIPP, but they struggled academically, drew warnings from the district about financial insolvency, and now they’ll be closed before Christmas.

According to the Florida Times-Union, the four schools enrolled roughly 360 students, which means they’ve fallen short of the projections listed when they applied to the school district. Now families are being uprooted in the middle of the school year, the school district is picking up the pieces, and local TV news stations are running segments that aren’t exactly advertisements for the school choice movement. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Computer coding, questionable loans and more

florida-roundup-logoCoding as a language: For the third straight year, a bill has been introduced in the Legislature that would allow computer coding to fulfill two credits of foreign language requirements in high schools. The bill, filed by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, would not require high schools to offer computer coding classes, but would require universities to accept coding credits in lieu of foreign languages. It also allows Florida Virtual School to offer the coding courses. Gradebook. Florida Politics.

Charters’ loans questioned: The Florida Department of Education says two Miami-Dade charter schools illegally loaned $912,094 in taxpayer funds to sister schools outside the county. Keys Gate Charter School in Homestead and BridgePrep Academy in Miami should be asked by the school board to repay the money, recommends a district auditor. A spokesman for Keys Gate disputes the loans were illegal. Florida Bulldog. Miami Herald.

Superintendent search: The Lake County School Board will interview seven candidates to replace retiring Superintendent Susan Moxley on Dec. 13, then make a decision Dec. 14. The finalists are: Bob Anderson, deputy superintendent at Fulton County Schools in Atlanta; Quintin Shepherd, superintendent of the Linn-Mar Community School District in Marion, Iowa; Jerry Wilson, superintendent of Worcester County Public Schools in Berlin, Md.; Mark Mullin, deputy superintendent at the Brevard County School District; Diane Kornegay, deputy superintendent at the Clay County School District; Brennan Asplen, deputy superintendent for the St. Johns County School District; and Verna Ruffin, superintendent for Jackson-Madison County Schools in Jackson, Tenn. Moxley retires in July. Daily Commercial. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →

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