Florida schools roundup: Capital funds, ESSA answer, learning gap and more

florida-roundup-logoCapital spending: A reduction of the state’s school capital tax and the near evaporation of the state’s Public Education Capital Outlay fund has put many school districts dangerously behind on school repairs. Since 2008, the state’s 67 school districts have lost about $6 billion in capital revenue. Twenty-six of those counties have passed sales tax increases to pay for repairs and construction, but the other 41 are having problems keeping up with basic school maintenance. Ocala Star Banner.

Stewart on ESSA: In a letter to U.S. Education Secretary John King, Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart questions the reach of the federal government in the Every Student Succeeds Act, the timeline implementation, the proposal to differentiate grading and the language required to explain school grades. Gradebook.

Achievement gap: Despite several years of emphasis and changes, the achievement gap between the races in Duval County continues. While 68 percent of Asians and 62 percent of whites pass the state reading tests, just 31 percent of black students and 42 percent of Hispanics do. Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says it takes more than two or three years to close those gaps. Florida Times-Union.

Funding decline: Federal funding for disabled students is declining in Florida, which ranks 49th nationally in state education funding per pupil. Funds for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act were a victim of the 2013 compromise to end the federal government’s budget standoff. In 2012, funding was $1,954 per student. This year it’s $1,301, and some districts are digging into general revenues to pay for the federally required programs. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Superintendent under fire: Clay County Superintendent Charlie Van Zant is being accused of deliberately and falsely labeling students as having learning disabilities in order to improve the district’s graduation rates and to receive more state funding. Van Zant denies the charge, saying it’s a political slur lodged by his liberal opponent. Florida Times-UnionWTLV.

Charter schools: More than 250,000 students attend about 650 charter schools around the state. But problems have accompanied the growth. In 2015, 27 charter schools shut down. Through June 30 of this year, another 16 have closed. WUSF.

Norovirus outbreak: Several teachers and staff members at Casselberry’s Sterling Park Elementary are diagnosed with norovirus, the stomach bug. The school has been disinfected, and the Seminole County School District and Florida Department of Health are working to open the school as scheduled Wednesday. Orlando Sentinel.

Recess moms: The “recess moms” movement is growing around the state. Members are lobbying school boards and legislators and even running for office. Their common belief is that the unrelenting pressure of testing and academics is draining the joy of learning, and that 20 minutes of free play a day is a way to fix the problem. Miami Herald.

Academic pressure: Teachers and students are increasingly feeling the pressures of education – more testing, more homework, higher stakes, greater oversight. The list goes on and on and the stress is building up. Miami Herald. Too many high-achieving Florida students are fulfilling their schools’ physical education requirements to take additional academic classes. That’s a mistake, according to Scott Brown, a psychologist and assistant professor in University of Miami’s public health department. “When you engage in physical activity, the increased blood flow to the brain improves your ability to adapt to stressful situations,” says Brown. Miami Herald.

Enrollment growth: High schools in northwest Hillsborough County are bursting at the seams, while many in other parts of the county are hovering around 70-80 percent capacity. At least one school board member is calling for rezoning all the county’s schools to balance out enrollment. But that’s something the district hasn’t done in more than 10 years. Tampa Bay Times.

Discipline story: London Hall had never been in trouble at school until he began attending Bay Point Middle School in St. Petersburg. His experiences there show the difficulty Pinellas school officials will have erasing the disparity in how discipline is imposed. Tampa Bay Times.

Zika and schools: Orange County schools are taking steps to keeping the Zika virus from causing a problem for the district’s 200,000 students. WFTV.

GPS on buses: All 450 school buses in the Seminole County School District are being outfitted with GPS systems. The cost is about $127,000 for the first year, and $121,000 for subsequent years. Orlando Sentinel.

Housing concerns: The Monroe County School District and school board worry that soaring housing costs are creating a housing crisis for district teachers and other employees. Keynoter.

Lottery proceeds: Highlands County School Board Chairwoman Donna Howerton says Florida voters were “sold a bad bill of goods on Lotto.” Assistant superintendent Mike Averyt concurred: “The lottery funds were never intended to fully fund education as the public believes. It was intended to supplement school funding. Now the state determines how to spend it so it does not help us at all when we try to balance our budget.” Highlands Today.

Back to school: Many changes are coming to the Lake County School District: new hours, new bus schedules, new principals, new programs and new policies. Daily Commercial.

Superintendent reflects: Pasco County School Superintendent Kurt Browning sails into a second term unopposed, but he gives himself just a C grade for his first term. Tampa Bay Times.

Coach honored: The Manatee County School Board is considering renaming the refurbished tennis courts at King Middle School after Brian McAllister, the longtime girls tennis coach at Manatee High School. McAllister died of cancer in February at the age of 47. Bradenton Herald.

Principal resigns: The Pinellas County principal who was suspended after making anti-gay Facebook posts shortly after the massacre at an Orlando night club has resigned. Stephen Kenney was principal at the Center Academy. Tampa Bay Times.

Opinions on schools: The Pinellas school district was right to step in and provide stability for the failed University Preparatory Academy charter school’s 400 students, but the work is just beginning to ensure that their education gets back on track. Tampa Bay Times. The evolution toward greater protection for football players is now, finally and thankfully, reaching the high schools. Lakeland Ledger. The next Marion County school superintendent should make creating a logistics program an immediate priority. Not doing so is failing our business community and, more important, our young people. Ocala Star Banner. Supporters of former Hillsborough County School Superintendent MaryEllen Elia will get a chance for revenge at the ballot box. Joe Henderson, Florida Politics. School starts Wednesday, and our community needs you to get to school, to stay in school, and to quickly earn whatever diploma or degree that school has to offer. Why? Why so much schooling? Because Marion County desperately needs to improve its ranking on WalletHub’s list of most and least educated cities in America. Jim Ross, Ocala Star Banner.

Student enrichment: Members of the Leon County community pitch in to help children in need prepare for school. Tallahassee Democrat. Microfarms are being started at five Clay County schools and will be tended by students. The produce will benefit needy families in the community. Florida Times-Union. All Escambia County students in grades 3-12 will receive a Chromebook when school starts. The cost is about $300 per student. Pensacola News Journal. About 500 pounds of school supplies are headed toward low-income students in Manatee County, courtesy of MCR Health Services Associates. Bradenton Herald. A Museum of South Florida summer trip to the Badlands for science teachers results in fossils being on display in classrooms. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Seven students from DeLand’s Blue Lake Elementary and Melbourne Beach’s Gemini Springs Elementary get a full day of farm-to-table education. They picked crops, prepared them, cooked them and served them. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

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