Florida schools roundup: March, Hope operators, security, CRC and more

Student activism: Hundreds of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, parents and teachers are traveling to Washington, D.C., for the March For Our Lives rally Saturday. Another 800 or so marches calling for stricter gun laws are planned in cities around the world, and more than a million people are expected to participate. Miami Herald. Associated Press. Other Florida students will take part in local ceremonies. Sun-SentinelOrlando Sentinel. Gradebook. Palm Beach Post. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Bradenton Herald. Naples Daily News. Florida Today. Fort Myers News-Press. TCPalm. Five Stoneman Douglas students who have become national figures in the #NeverAgain movement to change gun laws make the cover of the April 2 Time magazine. Sun-SentinelMiami Herald.

Schools of Hope operators: Two charter school companies apply to become Florida’s first “Schools of Hope” operators. Somerset Academy, which recently took over the Jefferson County School District, and the Texas company IDEA Public Schools were approved by the Department of Education, and the Florida Board of Education votes on their applications Tuesday. Hope operators get a streamlined process to open schools in areas with persistently low-performing schools, and access to low-cost loans for facilities and grants to pay for things such as longer school days. redefinED.

School security: The Miami-Dade County School Board is considering a pilot program giving schools the option of requiring students to wear clear backpacks. Miami Herald. Hendry County schools will require students to wear clear backpacks for the 2018-2019 school year, but Charlotte and Lee counties will not. WZVN. Charter schools are struggling to find money for school security. There’s no road map for agreements between local public districts and charters on finding guards for schools, who those armed guards will be, or who will pay for them. redefinED. The Sarasota County School approves spending more than $1 million beyond what it will receive from the state to place armed law enforcement officers in each of the district’s 21 elementary schools. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Monroe County School Board is considering asking voters to approve a tax increase to pay for police officers in schools. Key West Citizen. At a town meeting, Hillsborough County parents quiz school officials on what’s been done and what’s being planned to keep students safe. School officials say their plans hinge on funding. Complying with state laws will create a $16 million deficit in security costs for the district, they say. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →


Two charter school groups apply to become Florida ‘Hope Operators’

An award-winning South Texas charter school network and the group behind an unprecedented rural North Florida turnaround could soon become Florida’s first official “Schools of Hope” operators.

IDEA Public Schools and Somerset Academy charter schools both applied to become Hope Operators. Department of Education staff found they met the requirements. The state Board of Education is expected to vote on their applications when it meets Tuesday in LaBelle.

Hope Operators gain access to a streamlined application process if they want to open new schools in the vicinity of an existing public school with persistent D and F grades. They can get low-cost loans to help pay for facilities, and grants to help pay for things like extended school days.

The Schools of Hope program was a priority of outgoing Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who wanted to recruit more nationally regarded charter school operators to low-income areas.

IDEA is a fast-growing operation, started in South Texas and now spreading across the Lone Star State and into Louisiana. It won the national Broad Prize for charter school excellence in 2016, and used the money to help undocumented immigrant children attend college. It qualified as a Hope Operator because it’s received financial backing from a federal program to encourage the growth of high-quality charter schools, as well as through the Charter School Growth Fund.

Somerset qualified as a Hope Operator because of its turnaround work in Jefferson County. The South Florida nonprofit runs schools in mostly urban areas of Florida. It works closely with the management company Academica, which also runs Doral, Pinecrest and Mater Academy charter schools.

Both organizations have a positive effect on students’ reading and math scores, according to a recent national study of charter school networks.


Fla. charter schools grapple with security funding

Even before a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School, Cynthia Aversa had been looking for ways to hire a school resource officer at the charter school she runs on Florida’s Treasure Coast.

After the shooting in Parkland, Fla., Aversa promptly decided to contract with the local Sheriff’s office to place a full-time deputy at Indian River Charter High School, where she is principal.

But she is still not sure how she is going to pay for it.

“The actual nuts and bolts of the finances of the program have not come to the forefront,” she said. “The most important issue is student safety and beyond. That is going to be our responsibility to see where we are able to pull the funds to pay for this resource officer.”

Miami-Dade Public Schools hold an induction ceremony for school police officers. While some large urban districts have their own police forces, many public schools contract with local law enforcement agencies for resource officers. Funding arrangements vary within and among districts.

Like other public school officials across the state, Aversa acted quickly to respond to concerns about school safety in the wake of the massacre. Like her counterparts in school districts, she’s still trying to figure out how to make the funding work.

A little over three weeks after the shooting, Gov. Rick Scott signed SB 7026 to enhance safety and security. Every public school in the state will receive proportionate funding to hire a school resource officer or participate in a program to train and arm school employees.

The bill gave public schools an additional $97.5 million for resource officers. School districts across the state have said that while the money will help them hire officers, it won’t cover the full cost of adding an officer at every school campus.

This week, the Tampa Bay Times reported one charter school management company, Charter Schools USA, has asked districts to place a resource officer in every school it runs. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Term limits, school authorization, security and more

Education amendments: A proposal to impose term limits on local school board members moves ahead at the Constitution Revision Commission meeting. Under the proposal sponsored by Erika Donalds, board members would be limited to no more than two consecutive four-year terms. The measure now moves to another committee. If approved by the committee and then the full CRC, it would go on the November ballot and would require 60 percent support to become part of the state constitution. News Service of FloridaGradebook. Another Donalds proposal, which would allow the Legislature to authorize the establishment of alternative public schools, such as charter schools, is pushed forward by the CRC to the next committee. Right now that authorization power lies solely with local school boards. redefinED. Gradebook. Donalds withdraws her proposal for an amendment to end the election of school superintendents. Gradebook. An attempt to add gun-control measures onto existing proposals before the CRC fails on a technicality. News Service of FloridaPolitico Florida. Tampa Bay Times.

School security: Gov. Rick Scott’s offer to place Florida Highway Patrol troopers at every entry point at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is accepted by Broward County School Superintendent Robert Runcie and Broward Sheriff Scott Israel. Eight troopers will be outside the school today. Sun-Sentinel. Associated PressReutersPolitico Florida. Runcie also announces changes in safety protocols for all Broward schools, including a requirement that students use only clear backpacks that will be issued by schools. WSVN. Miami Herald. The Miami-Dade County School District plans to hire 20 armed guards and 100 unarmed ones, and tighten entry points to bolster security at schools. Miami Herald. Every elementary school in Sarasota County would have a resource officer by April 2 if a proposal from Superintendent Todd Bowden is approved by the school board today. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Lee County Sheriff’s Department is temporarily shifting 40 deputies, detectives and supervisors to the county’s schools, starting next week, until more officers can be hired. Fort Myers News-Press. The Alachua County School Board votes against training and arming school personnel through the state’s new guardian program. WJXT. Gainesville Sun. At a town hall meeting, St. Johns County parents tell school officials that they do not want to arm teachers. St. Augustine Record. Continue Reading →


Florida commission advances proposal to revamp charter school oversight

A constitutional amendment that could open the door to new forms of public school oversight took a step closer to Florida’s November ballot today.

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission voted 27-8 to support a proposal that, among other things, would allow the Legislature to create new charter school authorizers. The measure now heads to a drafting committee for possible revisions.

In 2008, courts blocked efforts to create a statewide Schools of Excellence Commission that could authorize charter schools. The legal rationale: Florida’s constitution gives school districts exclusive authority over every public school in their geographic areas.

Some groups argue this limits efforts to improve charter school quality in Florida. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Tax levies pass, school security, finances and more

Tax hike votes: Voters in Sarasota and Manatee counties approve an additional 1 mill on property taxes for schools, by a wide margin in Sarasota and a narrow one in Manatee. In Sarasota, the extra $55 million in each of the next four years will help pay for 30 extra minutes of classtime a day, higher teacher salaries and more art teachers and behavioral specialists. In Manatee, the extra $33 million a year for the next four years will be used to lengthen the school day by 30 minutes, pay teachers and other employees more, expand STEM and career programs and support charter schools. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Martin County School Board members are considering asking voters to approve a hike in property taxes to pay for teacher bonuses and construction projects. If approved, the measure could raise about $11.2 million a year for four years. TCPalm.

School security, finances: Putting a resource officer in every Pinellas County school by July 1 will cost $23.6 million, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri tells the county commission. The state’s contribution is $6.1 million, and the sheriff’s office and municipal police departments’ contribution is $1.6 million, leaving the school district to find $12.4 million to put 201 school resource officers in the 139 district schools and 18 charter schools. And, Gualtieri notes, there would be an additional $11.2 million needed for upfront costs such as cars, weapons, uniforms and computers. Neighboring Hillsborough County school officials say the district will get an additional $41 million from the state, but still is projecting a $16 million deficit because of new state requirements on school security, an expected 3,000 extra students and other expenses. Tampa Bay Times. Hillsborough County School Board member April Griffin talks about the district’s finances, and the new education and school safety bills. WMNF. The head of one of Florida’s largest charter school networks is asking the 13 districts where it has schools to provide resource officers on every campus by April 1. Gradebook. The Gulf Breeze City Council votes to fund the placement of part-time officers in all the city’s elementary schools through the end of the school year. WEAR.

Continue Reading →


Florida will honor an education trailblazer

Civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune opened a private, faith-based school in Daytona in 1904 to expand educational opportunity for African-American girls. (Photo from State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.)

A pioneering educator will be the first black woman honored at National Statuary Hall.

Gov. Rick Scott on Monday night signed SB 472, a measure replacing Florida’s statue of Confederate General E. Kirby Smith with one of Mary McLeod Bethune.

Her likeness will join that of John Gorrie, the father of air conditioning, representing the Sunshine State at the U.S. Capitol.

Bethune was a civil rights leader and educational freedom-fighter whose commitment to racial uplift resonates in the present.

As this blog has noted before:

With $1.50 to her name, Bethune opened the Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls in 1904. There were public schools for black students in early 1900s Florida, but they were far inferior to white schools.

Bethune’s vision for something better was shaped by her own educational experience.

She attended three private, faith-based schools as a student. She taught at three private, faith-based schools before building her own. In every case, support for those schools, financial and otherwise, came from private contributions, religious institutions – and the communities they served. Backers were motivated by the noble goal of expanding educational opportunity. Black parents ached for it. That’s why, in the early days of her school, Bethune rode around Daytona on a second-hand bicycle, knocking on doors to solicit donations. That’s why her students mashed sweet potatoes for fund-raiser pies, while Bethune rolled up the crust.


Florida schools roundup: March, walkouts, Cruz’s brother, votes and more

March For Our Lives: More than 1 million people are expected to attend March For Our Lives rallies Saturday in Washington, D.C., and at least 800 other sites around the world, according to the students who have organized the rallies in response to the school shootings in Parkland on Feb. 14 that killed 17. They are calling for stricter gun regulations. “It just shows that the youth are tired of being the generation where we’re locked in closets and waiting for police to come in case of a shooter,” says Alex Wind, a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Associated Press.

Board member rips walkout: Marion County School Board member Nancy Stacy says Superintendent Heidi Maier’s plan to allow student walkouts on campuses April 20 is “pure liberal fascism at its finest.” Stacy says Maier is being used by the “political idiots of the left.” In a series of emails to the superintendent, Stacy also wrote that: “We all know the students didn’t arrange a thing here or Tallahassee or nationwide. This is another example of why we need (school) vouchers for parents to escape this abusive manipulation of their children’s minds.” Ocala Star-Banner.

Cruz’s brother arrested: The brother of accused Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz is arrested after deputies say he trespassed onto the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School campus. Zachary Cruz, 18, had been warned to stay away from the school. He said he went to the school to “reflect on the shooting and to soak it in …” Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. Palm Beach Post. Associated Press.

School tax votes today: Voters in Sarasota and Manatee counties go to the polls today to vote on increasing property taxes by 1 mill for schools. A yes vote would increase revenue for schools in Sarasota County by about $55 million a year, and by about $33 million a year in Manatee. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Bradenton Herald. Continue Reading →