Florida schools roundup: Term limits, TPS, Bright Futures, charters and more

School board term limits: A proposal to limit terms for school board members is among the 103 changes to the state constitution that the Florida Constitution Revision Commission will begin considering Monday. Fourteen education-related proposals have been filed. Twenty-two of the 37 commission members have to approve proposals to put them on the November 2018 ballot. Then, 60 percent of voters would have to vote for the changes to put them into effect. The commission has until May 10 to finish voting on the proposals. News Service of Florida. WFSU.

Fighting end of TPS: Educators in south Florida vow to fight the Trump administration’s decision to end the temporary protected status for 60,000 Haitians who fled the island after a 2010 earthquake. About 20 percent of them are enrolled in the Miami-Dade school system. TPS for the Haitians would end in July 2019. WPLG. WSVN. WTVJ.

Bright Futures: Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, says he agrees with the bulk of the higher education agenda of Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, including the portion of the bill that would provide $77 million to restore 75 percent funding for Medallion scholars, the second level of the Bright Futures program. Politico Florida.

Charter appeals rejection: A charter school company is appealing the Marion County School Board’s decision to deny its application to open a school. Charter Educational Foundation Inc., which operates Charter Schools USA’s schools, asked the board for permission to open the 745-student Southeast Marion Charter Academy. The board decided the proposal offered nothing new or innovative, and denied it. The charter group is appealing that decision to the state. Ocala Star-Banner.

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Adoptive family grateful for private school, scholarship that made it possible

When Camron Merritt came home from first grade with a card inviting him to a birthday party, he didn’t know what it was.

Recently adopted after two turbulent years in foster care, the 6-year-old had never been invited to a birthday party before.

He was the difficult kid with storm clouds behind his dark brown eyes. The one that other children and their parents couldn’t understand.

Camron and Rylan Merritt are typical brothers. “They fight like cats and dogs, and 10 minutes later they’re best friends again,” said adoptive mom Melissa Merritt.

All of that started to change when Camron’s adoptive parents took him out of his neighborhood school in Bushnell and enrolled him in a private school with a school choice scholarship.

New mom Melissa Merritt cried when she saw the invitation.

“Seeing your kid go from being the outcast, the kid that nobody talks to, to getting invited to a birthday party is such a big deal,” she said.

When they got Camron at age 5, Melissa and husband Brandon put him in the neighborhood school that was closest to her job as a victim’s advocate for the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office. It did not go well.

Camron’s early childhood was plagued by neglect and exposure to domestic violence and drugs. The emotional damage was made worse by more than 20 foster homes and several schools before he was adopted. He was too much for most people to handle.

“He didn’t trust anybody. He didn’t like loud noises. If there was somebody yelling on TV, he used to run and hide in the bathtub,” Melissa said. “If you said no to him, his little face would scrunch up. He’d cross his arms and stomp his foot.”

At school, Camron wrestled with learning disabilities, severe ADHD and difficulty adjusting.

“Every day I was getting calls to come get him,” Melissa said. “He was hiding under his desk, screaming and throwing things, not paying attention, smacking other kids.”

Because Brandon does pest control work throughout the region, it was Melissa who had to leave her work frequently.

“It was extremely stressful,” she said.

Frustrated with a lack of support and communication from the school, Melissa resolved to find a better option and learned about Florida tax credit scholarships* from another adoptive mother. Children in foster care or out-of-home care automatically qualify for the scholarships and can keep them if they are adopted.

Since 2014, state law has allowed foster parents to apply for scholarships year-round. Continue Reading →


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 →