Florida schools roundup: Bright Futures, retention, funding and more

Jim Booth

florida-roundup-logoBright Futures: The number of Florida students claiming Bright Futures scholarships continues to decline, according to the Department of Education. The total number of Bright Futures scholarships is expected to decline 20 percent this year, to 102,000 compared with 128,545 in the 2014-2015 school year. At its peak, about 179,000 students had the scholarships. But there are some projections, now being reviewed by the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research, that suggest the number may be improving. Incoming Senate President Joe Negron, R-Palm Coast, hopes to restore the scholarships to cover full tuition and fees. Florida Politics.

Retention fight: The Opt Out Florida Network is raising money through gofundme.com to support a lawsuit that would challenge Florida’s retention of third-graders who don’t pass a state reading test. The group has raised about $2,500 of the $17,000 it estimates it will need. Gradebook.

Funding problems: School superintendents in Escambia and Okaloosa counties warn that future school budgets are going to be squeezed drastically, and both are starting the search for cutbacks. Florida spends about $7,100 per student, 42nd among the states and well below the national average of almost $9,800. WUWF.

School tax rate: The Miami-Dade County School Board is considering setting a lower tax rate. For many homeowners, the decline would probably offset the forecast increase in property values. First the first time since the real estate crash, the school budget is likely to exceed $5 billion. Miami Herald.

Contract negotiations: Contract talks between the Pasco County School District and its unions may begin next week. The district’s chief financial officer, Olga Swinson, says money will be tight but the district is still hoping to give employees raises of up to 3 percent. Gradebook.

School grades: No Polk County high school improved its school grade from the state this year. Twelve maintained their grades from last year, and seven declined. Lakeland Ledger. Monroe County’s schools slipped from an A grade last year to a B grade this year. School officials blame the drop on the new formula used in calculating grades, and note that the county is tied for 12th in the state’s overall ranking system, up two spots from last year. Keynoter. Despite widespread criticism of the way school grades are formulated, the Department of Education issues a press release quoting two superintendents who praised the system after the grades were released last week. Politico Florida.

Academy sued: The former athletic director of Oxbridge Academy is suing the school for defamation. Craig Sponsky was fired after an internal investigation concluded the athletic department emphasized athletics over academics. Sponsky says he was a scapegoat, and contends the school ruined his “flawless” national reputation. Palm Beach Post.

Candidate says too much: A candidate for a Sarasota County School Board may have violated state law by disclosing her party affiliation at a forum. Caroline Zucker, who has served almost 20 years as a board member, said she was a Republican. That appears to violate a state statute that says, in part: “A candidate for nonpartisan office is prohibited from campaigning based on party affiliation.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Operations resume: It’s business as usual at the Okaloosa Academy Charter School for at-risk students in Fort Walton Beach, despite Tuesday’s search and seizure of materials by the FBI. School officials say they haven’t talked to the FBI, and the FBI says it won’t release any information unless charges are brought. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Drill team review: The Monroe County School District authorizes an audit on the finances of the Key West High School drill team, the Conchettes. Some parents have complained that the group isn’t answering questions about how its fundraising money is being spent. Keynoter.

Teacher arrested: A first grade teacher in Polk County is arrested and accused of possessing child pornography. Juan Berrios, 64, teaches at Palmetto Elementary School in Poinciana. He has been suspended without pay. Lakeland Ledger.

School threats: A 25-year-old Georgia man pleads guilty to making bomb threats against two Palm Beach County high schools and Palm Beach International Airport. Preston McWaters could get five years in prison and be fined $250,000 on each of the six counts. Sentencing is Sept. 23. Palm Beach Post.

Opinions on schools: The state’s original mission for charters in the 1990s plainly stated the idea was to reach students who were at-risk academically. And yet that’s not happening. John Romano, Tampa Bay Times.

Student enrichment: Leila G. Davis Elementary in Clearwater is one of five U.S. schools honored with an award from the National Association of Elementary School Principals for integrating technology into math lessons. T.H.E. Journal. About 150 southwest Florida students graduate from Destination Graduation, a program that connects mentors with at-risk students. Students from Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties participate in the program. Fort Myers News-Press. About 300 children are fine-tuning their musical skills at summer camp in the Sarasota Orchestra building. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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