Florida schools roundup: Science teaching, homeschooling, tests and more

Teaching science: State Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, files a bill that would require school districts to teach “controversial theories and concepts” of science “in a factual, objective and balanced manner.” The bill would also allow local districts to adopt their own academic standards as long as they’re as vigorous as the state’s. In 2008, when the current standards were adopted, Baxley, then the executive director Christian Coalition of Florida, wanted the state to “leave the door open a little bit” for consideration of theories other than evolution about how life on Earth developed. Orlando Sentinel.

Homeschooling bill: A bill is filed that would limit the amount of information parents would have to provide to their school district if they intend to homeschool their child. The bill, filed by Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, would require only the student’s name, birth date and address. Some districts ask for more. redefinED.

Test waivers: Miami-Dade County School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho says he will ask the state to exempt students displaced by hurricanes from taking exams that are required for high school graduation. Education Week.

Tax bill and charter schools: Charter school operators warn that the tax bill under consideration in Congress would eliminate a variety of tax-exempt programs the companies use to borrow money to build schools. “This is devastating to charter schools, which often struggle to find space and lack the amenities of district schools,” says National Alliance President and CEO Nina Rees. Without the tax breaks, she says schools will have to take money from instruction to use for construction. The 74.

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Bill would add legal protections for homeschool parents

Sen. Dennis Baxley

A state lawmaker has once again has filed legislation that would rein in district inquiries to parents who register home education programs.

The bill comes in response to concerns among parents that districts add hurdles for homeschool registration. That has likely contributed to a decline in home schooling in some districts, even though state statistics show its popularity is growing statewide.

Florida law requires home schoolers to register with their local school districts. They have to send a signed notice of intent to the school district superintendent with the students’ names, birthdates and addresses. The bill would bar districts from requiring other information from parents. It would also clarify that a home education program is not a school district program.

The statute does not ask that parents provide proof of residency and a birth certificate. However, the Miami-Dade School Board adopted a policy requiring parents to provide those documents. And parents have complained of similar practices in other counties, including Broward, Hillsborough and St. Lucie.

“For that individual family to be supported in their decision to choose a different path when today we have so many more resources for home school curriculums they should not be impeded in the pursuit of what is best for each and every child,” said Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who filed the legislation.

Legal advocates say districts like Miami-Dade began requesting extra documentation from home schoolers after the death of 10-year-old Nubia Barahona, whose body was found in the back of a pickup truck in 2011. An investigation by the Department of Children and Families concluded she was a victim of child abuse. Investigators also noted that, in 2010, Nubia’s parents pulled her out of school system and homeschooled her. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Hope scholarships, community schools and more

Hope Scholarships. Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, says the school choice proposal is about issues bigger than bullying. Gradebook. Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, would be among the organizations that could administer the proposed program.

Community schools. Two Palm Beach schools add on-site clinics. Sun-Sentinel.

Maria aftermath. Florida schools will help Puerto Rican students displaced by the hurricane earn diplomas from the schools they left. Orlando Sentinel.

Career education. Duval schools ramp up career and technology courses. Florida Times-Union. Miami-Dade students with special needs learn to run their own businesses. Miami Herald.

Teacher pay. State funding is key to possible raises, the Palm Beach district’s chief financial officer writes in the Palm Beach Post. Seminole County teachers reach an agreement with their district on raises. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Choice transportation, misconduct and more

In transit. The Pinellas school board talks start times and choice transportation. The “district has 2,500 bus stops exclusively for choice programs, which account for 229 out of 441 routes.” Gradebook.

Educator misconduct. The state strips scholarships from a private school after the operator’s sexual battery arrest. Orlando Sentinel. (Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer the tax credit scholarship program.) A former Miami-Dade student wins a multimillion-dollar settlement from a teacher who had sex with her in his classroom and sent her lewd texts. Miami Herald. A former Pasco teacher is arrested for offering a student $500 for sex. Gradebook.

Teacher pay raises. Pasco teachers make the district a counter-offer. Gradebook. Polk’s new pay plan is “very confusing.” The Ledger. Tensions rise, and become public, over Palm Beach pay talks. Palm Beach Post. Continue Reading →


‘At war within itself:’ Can districts make peace with charter schools?

Maya Bugg, chief of the Tennessee Charter School Center, addresses a Brookings Institution public school choice event.

Charter schools are public schools. In many places, including all of Florida, school districts authorize and oversee them. But that doesn’t mean district leaders view them as their own.

Maya Bugg of the Tennessee Charter School Center described this awkwardness during a Brookings Institution event this week on public school choice. Some Nashville school board members won’t set foot in charter schools, she said. The school board members declined to pass a resolution to “advocate for all of the students it serves” — including those who attend charters.

“There’s this tension of who is important, whose voice is important,” Bugg said. “You’ve got the parents of children in your district. They have chosen to go to a school that you’ve approved.” And yet, it’s like they aren’t part of the local public school system.

“This rhetoric is tough in some cities, and it’s confusing to families, because it’s a district at war within itself,” she said.

Sound familiar? That kind of rhetoric has been on display in many parts of Florida. It’s especially prevalent in the battles over new, contentious charter school legislation. But it’s not the case everywhere. Officials in Hillsborough and Sarasota Counties, to cite two examples, have recently reiterated that charter school parents and educators are part of their district. Continue Reading →


Florida roundup: Charter schools, FLVS union drive and more

FLVS union? Florida Virtual School teachers are starting to unionize. They say they have to work long hours, and they’re in touch with the Florida Education Association. The statewide public virtual school argues a union isn’t necessary. Gradebook.

HB 7069. Jeb Bush says it’s a “historic” law that will bring positive changes. redefinED. News Service of Florida.  Due to the law, Duval County may have to bring in “outside entities” to run three persistently struggling schools. Florida Times-Union.

Funding. Lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott are again at odds over school property taxes. News Service of Florida.

Testing. A teacher accused of filling in assessment answers remains in the classroom. WFTV. Continue Reading →


Bush: Fla. Legislature ‘doing the right thing’ on charter schools

Former Gov. Jeb Bush talks to Florida House members during a rare visit to the state capital.

During a rare visit to Tallahassee, former Gov. Jeb Bush told Florida lawmakers they were on the right track when they passed a “historic,” but contentious, education law.

School districts have since filed three separate legal actions. The latest, and most dramatic, came this week, as nine districts asked the state Supreme Court to strike HB 7069 in its entirety.

“You know you’re doing the right thing when you get sued by school districts,” Bush said during a sit-down hosted by the Florida House.

Bush said the law would bring a “renaissance” to a stagnating charter school sector. Growth has slowed and fewer new charter schools are opening. More concerning, public-school student achievement seems to have flat-lined.

Among other things, the new bill is designed to help draw nationally recognized charter school operators to academically struggling areas of the state. This has long been a priority of key state policymakers.

Bush suggested that and other changes might reinvigorate Florida’s public education system. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Governor’s education budget, H.B. 7069 and more

Governor’s education budget: Gov. Rick Scott’s $87.4 billion budget proposal includes a request to increase per student spending by $200, to $7,497, boost the state’s voluntary pre-kindergarten program by $12 million, add $23 million for Bright Futures scholarships, and give $18 million to help teachers buy classroom supplies. Scott would pay for the increases by keeping property tax rates the same and allowing increasing property values to drive up revenue. The proposal now goes to the Legislature for consideration. News Service of FloridaGradebook. Associated Press. Florida Politics. Orlando Sentinel. Politico Florida. Florida Times-Union.

H.B. 7069 challenge: Nine Florida schools boards contend that the new education law, H.B. 7069, violates the law by dealing with more than one subject, and are asking the state Supreme Court to void it. Two other lawsuits have been filed against the law by school districts, but this one focuses solely on the single-subject issue and is asking for immediate action. “Waiting for a trial-court determination and its subsequent appellate review will allow irreversible damage to the function of the public education system to occur throughout the state of Florida,” the lawsuit states. The nine school boards are from Alachua, Bay, Broward, Hamilton, Lee, Polk, St. Lucie, Volusia and Wakulla counties. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. The Collier County School Board votes to join at least 13 other districts in suing the state over the education bill because it requires public school districts to share property tax revenues with charter schools. Naples Daily News.

ESSA plans: Florida’s accountability plan for complying with the Every Student Succeeds Act is weak in the category of encouraging schools to focus on all students, not just low performers, according to an evaluation by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank. Florida was one of 13 states considered weak in this area. The state was given an evaluation of strong in the other two areas weighed: in the clarity of the ratings to parents, educators and the public, and in the fairness of the rating system for all schools, including ones with high levels of poverty. The 74.

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