Ga. Supreme Court the latest to reject tax credit scholarship lawsuit

Another state high court has rejected a lawsuit challenging tax credit scholarships that help students pay private school tuition.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports:

Under an opinion by the Supreme Court of Georgia, the program that provides tax exemptions to those who contribute to scholarships for students to use at private schools, including religious schools, will remain in place.

With today’s decision, the high court has unanimously upheld a Fulton County court ruling that says taxpayers who challenged the program as unconstitutional had no standing, or right, to bring their constitutional challenge.

“Plaintiffs’ complaint fails to demonstrate that plaintiffs are injured by the program by virtue of their status as taxpayers,” Justice Robert Benham writes for the Court. “Consequently, plaintiffs’ taxpayer status fails to demonstrate a special injury to their rights so as to create standing to challenge the program.”

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Florida schools roundup: What’s new next year, tax hike, D.A.R.E. and more

What’s new next year: The new school year will bring changes to schools in Florida, from kindergarten to college. Among them: 20 minutes of required recess every day for elementary students, an end to the algebra 2 end-of-course exam, some standardized tests done on paper instead of computers and conducted later in the school year, more money and flexibility with Bright Futures scholarships, no required career class in middle schools, students will be permitted to bring sunscreen to school, and student-athletes will have an easier time opting out of physical education classes. Sun Sentinel. Bright Futures scholarships winners will get $6,000 this year instead of $3,000, plus $300 for books each semester and money for summer school. It’s just for this year, though, since Gov. Rick Scott vetoed the higher education bill that would have made the changes permanent. Orlando Sentinel.

Tax hike for charters: Leon County School Superintendent Rocky Hanna says the district may have to ask voters for a tax hike to cover the $750,000-$800,000 in construction funds that now will go to charter schools under the provisions of H.B. 7069. “We may end up going to voters about increasing (sales tax) a half penny so that we can continue to build schools when needed and renovate those in need of repair,” said Hanna. Tallahassee Democrat.

Restarting D.A.R.E.: Lake County Sheriff Peyton Grinnell wants to restart the D.A.R.E. anti-drug education program for 5th-graders in county schools in the 2018-2019 school year. The Drug Awareness Resistance Education ended in Lake schools in 2013 because of budget problems, and after studies showed it had little impact on students. But Grinnell says the program has evolved to include life skills, conflict resolution and making good choices. Orlando Sentinel.

Guns at schools: Duval County School Board member Scott Shine says parents should be held accountable when their children take guns to schools. “These are not kids who went out looking for a gun to do something,” Shine says. “These are kids who found a gun or it came to them. … People are all worked up about guns in schools but, quite frankly, parents are just leaving their guns laying around.” Florida Times-Union. Continue Reading →


Scholarship, Kingdom Academy spurred turnaround for Miami student

Henezy Berrios

Eleven-year-old Henezy Berrios’ sparkling brown eyes crinkle in the corners when she smiles, which is just about all the time. She has boundless, contagious enthusiasm. She loves to dance and crack jokes.

She’s the girl that everyone in school likes.

But you would have hardly recognized her in first grade at her neighborhood school in Miami. She was quiet and withdrawn, afraid to ask for help, made fun of because she couldn’t read.

The D’s and F’s and diagnoses of ADHD and dyslexia set off alarms for her mother, Liliana Arguello. She resolved to find a better fit for Henezy’s education, and thanks to a Step Up For Students scholarship was able to access a private school called Kingdom Academy. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Administrators of year, Lauren’s Kids, charters and more

Administrators of the year: Sarasota Booker High School’s Rachel Shelley is named 2017 principal of the year by the Florida Department of Education. She was appointed principal at Booker in 2011, after being principal at a school for at-risk students. Kelly Stedman, of James Stephens International Academy in Lee County, is named assistant principal of the year. Florida Department of Education. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Gradebook.

Lauren’s Kids: State Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, voted for a general appropriations bill in the Legislature last month that included $1.5 million for her nonprofit, Lauren’s Kids, from which she earns $135,000 a year as executive director. But apparently that’s not a conflict of interest. While Senate ethics rules forbid members from voting “on any matter” from which they or an immediate family member might profit, those rules don’t apply when voting on the annual general appropriations act. The Florida Department of Education had requested Lauren’s Kids be granted $1 million to continue its “Safer, Smarter” teaching program, which helps students, teachers and parents recognize signs of child sex abuse and the importance of reporting it. Florida Bulldog.

Charter complaints: Republican politicians in the Florida Panhandle say Gov. Rick Scott’s decision to approve H.B. 7069 could cause him problems in his expected 2018 campaign for Bill Nelson’s U.S. Senate seat. “He had a chance to stand up for public schools and he didn’t,” says Henry Kelley, who ran Scott’s 2010 campaign in Okaloosa County and is particularly unhappy with what he considers advantages charter schools were given in the bill. “They voted to harm what is arguably the region’s most valuable asset.” Sen. George Gainer, R-Panama City, agreed, saying “we’re all in trouble” if lawmakers don’t fix the inequities between charter and traditional schools in the next session. Miami Herald. Moody’s Investors Service is warning the state that requiring traditional public schools to share capital funds with charter schools could affect the credit ratings for districts with “significant” charter enrollment. News Service of Florida. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Private and charter school growth, lawsuit and more

Private, charter growth: Private school enrollment is up 6.5 percent in Florida, the sixth straight year of growth, and now makes up 11.6 percent of all pre-K through 12th grade students. There are 368,321 school students at 2,663 private schools in the state, according to the annual report from the Florida Department of Education. Miami-Dade County has the most at 76,022. redefinED. Hillsborough County school officials expect 21,626 district students to attend charter schools in the next school year, an increase of about 22 percent. Charter students now make up about 10 percent of all students in Hillsborough. Gradebook.

Students sue district: Two former Miami-Dade County School District students are suing the district after they found their Social Security numbers and test scores on the district’s website. District officials call the breach an isolated incident and say a forensic review is being conducted to find out where the information came from and whether it is authentic. Miami Herald.

District hires lobbyist: The Miami-Dade County School District hire Ballard Partners to lobby for the district’s interests in Congress and several federal agencies. The contract is for three years at a rate of $108,000 a year. It’s the first time since 2008 the district has had a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. “We’ve always had a very active presence at the federal level, but in light of the new players in the administration we felt it was prudent to seek assistance in being able to have additional access,” said Iraida Mendez-Cartaya, who runs the district’s office of intergovernmental affairs. Miami Herald.

Charter vendor arrested: Steven J. Kunkemoeller, charged with fraud and racketeering in connection with the operation of charter schools in Florida, is arrested in Pensacola. He operated two companies that allegedly sold school materials at inflated prices to Newpoint Education Partners. Newpoint founder Marcus May, who has also been charged with fraud and racketeering, has not yet turned himself in. Gradebook. An Escambia County commissioner accuses the school district of trying to hide misconduct at the counties’ three Newpoint charter schools. Jeff Bergosh says for a year, district officials ignored complaints about grade-fixing, organized cheating and student safety issues. School officials dismiss Bergosh’s allegations. Pensacola News Journal. Continue Reading →


Florida’s private schools are growing at a faster rate

Florida’s private schools saw their biggest enrollment growth in 15 years.

Enrollment grew by 22,525 PreK-12 students in the 2016-17 school year. That’s a 6.5 percent increase over the previous year and the second-highest enrollment growth since 2000. According to the new report from the Florida Department of Education, private school students now make up 11.6 percent of all preK-12 students in Florida.

Enrollment ranged from 0 students in rural Liberty County to 76,022 in Miami-Dade. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Project manager, budgets, charters and more

Managing the boom: The Palm Beach County School Board will consider a plan to hire a company to manage the district’s building boom, at a cost of $26.4 million over 10 years. California-based AECOM would act as the program manager in exchange for a 2.2 percent cut of the $1.4 billion the district is spending to repair old schools and build new ones. Voters approved a sales tax initiative in November to raise the sales tax for school infrastructure. “I think, at 2.2 percent, that is a terrific deal for the district,” says Mike Burke, the district’s chief financial officer. Palm Beach Post.

Financial problems: Hillsborough County School Superintendent Jeff Eakins acknowledges at a budget workshop that the district’s financial problems are even worse than previously known. The district’s reserve account lost $83.6 million between 2014 and 2015, and that was after the district transferred $55 million into it, and was on track to lose $130 million or more the following year. School board members brainstormed cost-cutting ideas, but no decisions were reached. Tampa Bay Times. Budget cuts could put the brakes on a proposed technology upgrade for the Pasco County School District. Chief finance officer Olga Swinson is recommending the elimination of $724,000 budgeted for new televisions and projectors to help teachers with presentations. She also suggests not spending the previously budgeted $642,000 for telecommunications upgrades and maintenance, and $310,000 in computer hardware, servers and software. Gradebook. Pasco County Superintendent Kurt Browning has been pushing the state to return to paper-and-pencil standardized testing, but he’s recommending the district continue to use computer tests because doing so will save money. Gradebook.

Sharing with charters: Under the new state education law, the Duval County School District will be compelled to turn over $16 million from its capital fund in the next five years to charter schools. School officials say the first payment will be $2.4 million for the next school year. Florida Times-Union. In Sarasota County, charter schools’ share of capital funds will be $9.3 million, up from the $5.5 million the board allotted this past school year. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Flagler County School District will have to send $570,000 from its capital fund to the county’s two charter schools. Flagler Live. Continue Reading →


HB 7069 lifts Florida’s last remaining virtual education restrictions

Gov. Rick Scott signed a major education bill last week that, in addition to equalizing funding for Florida charter schools, also removes the state’s last remaining restrictions on virtual education eligibility for elementary school students.

HB 7069 also eliminates geographic boundaries for virtual education and creates statewide open enrollment for virtual charter schools.

Florida Virtual School functions like a statewide school district, enrolling students in online classes full and part-time.

Under existing laws, students in second through fifth grades can’t enroll in virtual courses part-time. Children in middle and high school can only take certain part-time courses if they were enrolled in public schools the previous years. Continue Reading →