Florida schools roundup: Schools of Hope applicants, term limits and more

Schools of Hope: Thirty-three struggling Florida schools have applied for extra money through the state’s Schools of Hope program. This is the second round of applications. In the first round, 50 schools applied for the extra $2,000 per student, but only 11 were accepted. The state is limiting the number of schools in the program to 25. The state Board of Education is expected to announce the winners next month. Gradebook.

Proposed amendments: A committee of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission approves two proposed constitutional amendments – one that would set term limits for local school board members at eight consecutive years, retroactive to 2016, and another that would require school district superintendents to be appointed rather than elected. The proposals still have to be approved by 22 of the 37 commissioners before they can be placed on the November 2018 ballot. Then, 60 percent of voters would have to approve to put the amendments into effect. GradebookPolitico Florida. The move to require school superintendents to be appointed riles some superintendents from rural areas. Politico Florida. The panel also will consider a proposal that would allow entities other than local school districts to oversee charter schools. The proposal was made by Erika Donalds, a Collier County School Board and CRC member. redefinED.

State responds to suits: Lawyers for the state are asking a a Leon County circuit court judge to dismiss a lawsuit against six provisions in the new education bill, H.B. 7069. They argued that the 13 districts bringing the suit don’t have the standing to challenge five of those provisions. They also say claims that the law will harm local schools is “speculative.” The sixth provision in the law requires districts to share more local tax revenues with charter schools. It is being challenged by the Palm Beach County School Board. State lawyers point out that districts are already required to share some local tax money with charters. redefinED.

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Florida officials defend new charter school law

Lawyers for the state of Florida argue local school boards don’t have the authority to challenge several contentious provisions of a new education law.

Thirteen school boards this fall filed a wide-ranging lawsuit to block six key provisions of HB 7069. The state responded this week, asking a Leon County circuit judge to dismiss the case. It argues the school boards don’t have legal standing to challenge five of those provisions.

The state’s lawyers cite court cases that found constitutional officers — including school district officials — can’t challenge laws that affect their official duties, unless the law they challenge forces officials to spend public money.

That, the state argues, means district officials can’t sue over parts of the law that:

  • Allow Schools of Hope, charter schools run by operators with proven track records serving low-income students, to open with a streamlined application
  • Speed up the timetable for struggling public schools to turn around their performance before consequences kick in
  • Set new rules for distributing federal funds that support low-income students
  • Limit districts’ authority to modify charter contracts
  • Allow more charter school networks to form “Local Education Agencies” under federal law

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Florida constitution panel could overhaul charter school oversight

Florida voters could be asked next year whether the state should allow entities other than school districts to oversee charter schools.

Right now, Florida is one of several states where local school boards, and with narrow exceptions, only school boards, can authorize charters.

Courts have ruled the state constitution gives school districts near-exclusive authority over public schools, including charters. That creates a barrier to statewide boards, university charter school authorizers or other non-district entities.

Erika Donalds, a member of the state’s Constitution Revision Commission, has filed a proposal that would allow multiple charter school authorizers in addition to districts.

And the commission’s education panel has begun to look at charter school authorizing.

Donalds, who helped start a charter school and now sits on the Collier County School Board, cited an article about Lake County School Board members reluctantly approving a charter application. School board members’ comments, she said, highlight “the difficulty that charter school operators have going to a reluctant, or sometimes even hostile, district.” Continue Reading →

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Parent, principal push to intervene in Florida charter school lawsuit

A parent of a charter school student wants to intervene in a court case challenging a new funding system for school facilities.

Marleny Olivo has two children who attend Palm Beach County public schools. One attends a district-run school. One attends a charter.

She argues that before HB 7069 passed earlier this year, the state and the local school board did not treat her children equally. Among other things, they did not use local property taxes to fund the facility at Academy for Positive Learning. But they did use that revenue to fund facilities at district schools.

The new law changed that. But the Palm Beach County School Board is challenging it in court. Other districts subsequently banded together and filed a pair of separate suits challenging the same law. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Funding suit rejected, charter schools and more

School funding suit rejected: The First District Court of Appeal rejects a challenge to the state’s public school funding, saying the issue raises political questions that can’t be answered by judges. Several education groups and some parents contend that the state discriminates against minorities and low-income students, which they call a violation of the state’s constitutional duty to provide a “high quality system of free public schools.” The argument was rejected by a circuit court judge last year, leading to this appeal. The groups suing the state say they don’t know if they’ll take the issue to the Florida Supreme Court. The appeal court also ruled that the McKay scholarship, which provides state money to about 30,000 disabled children, is constitutional. Associated Press. News Service of FloridaOrlando SentinelGradebook. Sunshine State NewsPolitico FloridaredefinED.

Charters are public: The Florida Commission on Ethics has decided that charter schools are public agencies, not private ones. In October, the commission deadlocked on an opinion in a conflict of interest case. The opinion concluded that charter schools are not public agencies, but it was not adopted because of the tie vote. Last week, commissioner Matthew Carson cast the deciding vote and said, “Charter schools are public schools in operation, in function and by statute. Seems to me that what would be good for any other public agency under this statute would also be good for a charter school.” Politico Florida.

Charter school accused: A former Broward County charter school once accused of falsifying enrollment numbers to get more money from the state now faces allegations of fraud. New Horizons, now a private school that used to be the Pathway Academy charter school, allegedly falsified records when applying for tax credit scholarship money, and an administrative judge says the school should be cut off from scholarship funds. School officials deny the charges, and plan to file a response to the Department of Education. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit scholarship program. Sun-Sentinel.

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Appeals court rejects education lawsuit, upholds Florida special needs vouchers

A three-judge panel on a Florida appellate court has tossed an 8-year-old lawsuit taking aim at 20 years of state education policy.

Today’s ruling upholds an earlier trial court decision hailed as a victory for education reformers who defended school choice, testing and other policies targeted by the lawsuit.

It also adds to the ledger of lawsuits around the country that hit roadblocks trying to force states to increase public school funding.

The First District Court of Appeal’s decision is noteworthy for another reason. It finds a 2006 state Supreme Court ruling that found private school vouchers violate the Florida constitution does not threaten vouchers for children with special needs.

Judge Bradford Thomas writes that when the high court struck down Opportunity Scholarships for private schools in Bush v. Holmes, justices left the door open to reach different conclusions about the constitutionality of other school choice programs.

And McKay Scholarships, he writes, are different. About 30,000 students with special needs, less than 1 percent of Florida’s K-12 students, currently use the scholarships to attend private schools. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Testing extension, ESSA plan reviewed and more

Testing extension: The Florida Department of Education has agreed to extend the window for the Florida Standards Assessments testing and all state end-of-course exams. School districts had asked for a delay in the testing because of a busy hurricane season that caused many districts to miss days of school. Instead, K-12 Chancellor Herschel Lyons extended the testing time-frame by a week. The decision gives districts the option of delaying the tests, or using the full two weeks to complete them. Gradebook.

ESSA plans: A group of 45 bipartisan reviewers gives Florida’s plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act mixed reviews, with no one awarding the state the highest rating in any of the nine categories studied. The strengths of the plan include a clear, student-focused vision of high standards, an easy-to-understand grading system, inclusion of science and social studies assessments, and the identification of struggling schools. The highest marks came in academic progress, for measuring learning gains, and in continuous improvement for identifying struggling schools and helping them improve. The weaknesses: incorporating subgroups into the accountability system, and in marking progress toward English language proficiency. The 74.

Dangerous school zones: Miami-Dade County has the most dangerous school zones in Florida, according to an analysis of vehicle crash data from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles by San Diego company 1Point21Interactive. Eight schools in the county are in the state’s top 10 most dangerous school zones. Miami Herald.

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Taking the initiative on school choice in California

California is partisan Democratic by a substantial margin. In October Berkley’s Institute of Government Studies released the results of a cross-partisan poll of 1200 registered voters probing attitudes toward K-12 schools. Substantial parts of the poll focused on the potential support for subsidized parental choice, using the term “vouchers”. Fifty-Five percent of registered Democratic responders favored vouchers for low-income parents to choose a private or religious school. Fifty-seven percent of Republicans agreed. By contrast, the prospect of vouchers to all parents regardless of income dropped approval to 43 percent of Democrats and raised Republicans approval only two points.  Continue Reading →

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