Charter schools didn’t cause your late-summer air conditioning woes

Florida students head back to school in the heat of August. A Tampa Bay Times column notes some of them suffer in sweltering buildings with worn-out air conditioners.

This problem has many causes. Temperatures routinely break 90 degrees. School officials disagree on the best way to manage the heat. And, for a variety of reasons we’ll get to in a minute, the district is strapped for building maintenance money.

The Times points to a different culprit: Charter schools.

The nutshell version is that the bulk of Hillsborough’s more than 230 public schools are older buildings with cooling units that have reached the end of their usefulness. Your Florida Legislature keeps funneling public school dollars into private charter schools, so money to fix or replace failing systems is disappearing.

Fun fact: Hillsborough schools receive $145 million less from the state funds for routine maintenance than seven years ago. Thank your Legislature for that.

The basis for this “fun fact” is not clear. The state budget seven years ago allocated $122.1 million for building maintenance at non-charter public schools. That’s total, statewide. The Hillsborough County school district received $8.7 million of that. (See page 30.) The Times does not explain how the district could have lost $145 million in state maintenance funding since 2010. (Update: See below.) Continue Reading →

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Florida charter school group takes state to appeals court

A group of mom-and-pop Florida charter schools has lawyered up and is taking the state to court over charter school funding rules.

The rules adopted earlier this year by the state Board of Education set a higher academic bar for charter schools to receive state facilities funding. Schools that receive consecutive D grades for academic performance will no longer be eligible.

The Florida Association of Independent Public Schools fought the change before the state’s Division of Administrative Hearings. It lost. But now it’s hired a law firm and asked the First District Court of Appeal to hear the case.

The group wants to redefined the academic standards for charter schools that receive state capital outlay funding. The law says only charters with “satisfactory student achievement based on state accountability standards applicable to the charter school” can qualify. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: School costs, repairs, absenteeism, eclipse and more

School costs rise: Lee County school officials are asking the school board to approve an additional $13.9 million to build Bonita Springs High School. The board approved a budget of $49.9 million in April 2016, but the latest estimate of the final cost is $84.9 million. School officials blame a labor shortage, rising costs and changes to the design of the school, which is expected to open in the fall of 2018. Fort Myers News-Press.

School repairs: Marion County school officials say they will receive $164.38 million over the next five years for school repairs to their 51 schools and district offices. But the latest estimate of the cost of all the needed repairs is $530.25 million, leaving the district $365.87 million short. “Our state Legislature has dropped the ball.” says Lake Weir Middle School principal David Ellers. “They are not taking care of the kids.” Ocala Star-Banner. Sarasota County School Board members say they were taken by surprise by renovations planned for the district’s administrative offices. Superintendent Todd Bowden says the work is part of the staff reorganization he proposed in March, and well within the budget the board approved. Board member Eric Robinson says it was unclear what the board was approving. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Student absenteeism: The rate of Duval County students considered chronically absent doubled during the 2015-2016 school year. The rate has usually been 6-7 percent of students who miss 21 or more days a month of school, school officials say, but rose to more than 12 percent last year. School board members were shocked by the spike, and asked interim Superintendent Paula Wright to investigate. Florida Times-Union. Chronic absenteeism is also a problem in Palm Beach County, says school board member Erika Whitfield. She says there’s a clear correlation between attending school and graduating. “If we can’t get our students to school on time or to be there, how are we ever going to teach them?” she asks. Palm Beach Post.

Eclipse schedules: School districts around the state are deciding if their students will be permitted to view the solar eclipse Monday, and if they will be, how they might do so safely. TCPalm. Northwest Florida Daily News. Citrus County ChronicleSt. Augustine Record. WUSF. WKRG. WPTV. Cape Coral Daily Breeze.

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Catching up on nationwide private school enrollment trends

The U.S. Department of Education is out this week with a new report on private school data from across the country. The last such data came out two years ago. Here’s what the numbers from the 2015-16 school year show.

Enrollment in private schools continued to decline. And yet, there were more private schools and more private school teachers.

Between 2013 and 2015, the number of students fell 9 percent, to 4,903,596.

But the number of teachers rose about nine percent, to 481,558.

Meanwhile, the number of schools jumped by nearly 1,000, to 34,576.

This factoid might be related. In the fall of 2013, roughly 36 percent of private schools had fewer than 50 students. Two years later, 46 percent of private schools were in that category.

Enrollment in faith-based schools is still falling. It dropped by just over 6 percent from the fall of 2013 to 2015. But enrollment in “nonsectarian” schools is falling faster. It dropped by more than 18 percent during the same period.

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Florida schools roundup: Solar eclipse, sales taxes, school names and more

Eclipse schedules: School districts around the state are deciding if their students will be permitted to view the solar eclipse Monday, and if they will be, how they might do so safely. Palm Beach Post. Fort Myers News-PressNorthwest Florida Daily News. St. Augustine RecordGradebook. WFTX. WJAXJackson County Floridan. WCJB. WPECGradebook. Florida Today. Lakeland Ledger. Bradenton HeraldWashington PostU.S. News & World ReportFox News. Education Week.

Sales tax revenue: The half-cent sales tax voters approved in 2014 for the Brevard County School is bringing it almost 30 percent more money than projected. The district expected to collect about $78 million from the tax by now. Instead, it has collected $101 million. The money is used for building repairs, security upgrades and technology purchases. Florida Today.

Confederate school names: Duval County School Board members say they have no plans to rename any of the district schools bearing the names of Confederate leaders. A couple of years ago, the board changed the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest High School to Westside High School. Forrest was a Confederate lieutenant general. WJAX. A study by the Southern Poverty Law Center says there are at least 109 schools in the United States named after prominent members of the Confederacy, and many of the schools have a significant number of black students. Cox Media Group.

Back to school: More from districts around Florida that have returned to school or will soon. Naples Daily News. Panama City News Herald. Miami Herald. The kindergarten and 1st-grade wing at Osceola Magnet School reopen today. It had been closed since Monday for mold contamination. Air quality tests on other parts of the Vero Beach school are due Friday. TCPalm.

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The ode to ‘government schools’

Editor’s note: A series of attacks tying school choice to segregation has prompted rebuttals from conservative and libertarian writers. Here, Professor John E. Coons, who occasionally sparred with Milton Friedman in the early years of the school choice movement, responds from a different perspective.

Recently, the New York Times featured a guest column and cartoon demonizing the empowerment of low-income families to choose private schools. Written by one Katherine Stewart, it features recall of tidbits from and about racial segregationists of the 19th century and of the 1950s following Brown v. Board. The author makes plain, in almost Trump-like prose, that, to her, the whole effort to liberate the poor from compulsory assignment to a “government school” resonates with racism. I am surprised by the Times‘ featuring such a screed; to be sure, the paper has consistently opposed choice for the poor, but one would have expected comment at a superior level.

The editorial prefers the label “public” for those schools operated by the state. (My own favorite tag: “state schools.”) The term “public” is, of course, interesting and ambiguous. Our sidewalks are “public” – anyone can walk or stand (or recline?) on them. The park is public. It welcomes all, standing or sitting. (Though some charge a fee. Relevant?) Our courts are ordinarily public, and I suppose one can visit police stations, though briefly. Are they public? Our legislator’s office, the public library, the fire department, the Army post, the skating rink — you name it. What makes for “public?” Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Teacher bonuses, H.B. 7069, eclipse and more

Teacher bonuses: Each Florida school district will be responsible for determining the eligibility of teachers for state bonuses under the “Best & Brightest” teacher bonuses program, the Department of Education says. The program was redefined as part of the new education bill, H.B. 7069, which also calls for $1,200 payments to teachers rated “highly effective,” up to $800 for those rated “effective,” plus bonuses for those teachers who scored in the top 20 percent on the SAT or ACT test. Teachers are expected to receive the bonuses April 1. Principals are also eligible for bonuses for the first time, but the state has yet to say how that program will work. Miami Herald.

H.B. 7069: Orange County School Board members informally say they are likely to join the lawsuit against the new state education law, H.B. 7069. All eight members support the suit, saying the law infringes on the authority of school boards and could hurt students. The board expects to take an official, binding vote next week. Orlando Sentinel. WMFE. Florida Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has removed state Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, from his assignment as chairman of a Senate budget subcommittee for pre-K-12 education. Replacing him is first-term Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples. Simmons angered many Republican leaders by voting against the House’s top priority, H.B. 7069. Negron denies the change was made as punishment. Gradebook. Naples Daily News. News Service of FloridaPolitico Florida. Simmons says he plans to remain involved in education issues. Gradebook.

Eclipse schedules: School districts around the state are deciding if their students will be permitted to view the solar eclipse Monday, and if they will be, how they might do so safely. Sun-SentinelGradebook. WPLG. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Bradenton HeraldOcala Star-Banner. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Flagler Live. WFTV. Florida Today. WQAM. Panama City News Herald. Lakeland Ledger. WJAX. WFLA. WTSP.

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Why is the number of homeschool students declining in Miami-Dade?

Recent data released about the number of home school students in Florida reveals a mystery.

The number of home education students in the state continues to increase. State data show it reached 87,462 during the 2016-17 school year — roughly a 5 percent increase from the previous year. Miami-Dade County, however, saw a decline in enrollment by 11 percent.

Homeschool parents and legal advocates say there is a reason behind Miami-Dade’s declining numbers. When some parents file a notice of intent to homeschool with the district, they say, the district asks for additional documentation such as proof of residency or a birth certificate. These requests go beyond what the law requires.

This creates a new barrier to home schooling, legal advocates and parents say. Some parents are finding new ways around that barrier, such as forming umbrella schools. Others have prevailed in disputes with the district after getting home education advocates involved.

Miami-Dade school officials declined to comment for this story. Audrey Walden, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education, said the department was “looking into it.” Continue Reading →

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