Florida schools roundup: Testing reform, funding, incentives and more

Testing reforms: Under the proposed “Fewer, Better Tests” bills filed Wednesday in the Legislature, all K-12 assessment testing would take place in the final three weeks of the school year, starting in the 2017-2018. S.B. 926 and H.B. 773 would also require results be returned to teachers within a week of testing, and that an understandable report be sent to parents. It also directs the education commissioner to study the feasibility of replacing the Florida Standards Assessments with the SAT or ACT. If the changes are approved, the state would also have to renegotiate its contract with testing vendor American Institutes for Research. Bill sponsors Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami; Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah; and Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, say the goal of the bills is to reduce stress and anxiety among students, parents and teachers. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. News Service of Florida.

Per-student funding: Florida’s spending per student ranks well below the U.S. average among states, according to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics. In the 2013-2014 school year, Florida spent $8,714 per student. The U.S. average was $10,936. Miami-Dade County spent the most per student among districts, $9,106. Gradebook.

Teaching incentives: Senators on the Florida PreK-12 education budget committee react coolly to Gov. Rick Scott’s $58 million proposal for incentives to recruit and retain teachers. Specifically, senators criticized Scott’s proposal for $10 million in hiring bonuses for new teachers who score in the top 10 percent in their subject-area exam. “It concerns me that we continue to look for the best performers in college — and not the best teachers,” said Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze. Miami Herald.

Gun-free zones: Bills filed in the Legislature this week are aimed at ending gun-free zones in Florida – including at K-12 schools. Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, and Rep. Don Hahnfeldt, R-Villages, filed S.B. 908 and H.B. 803 to eliminate all restrictions on where people with concealed-carry permits can take their guns. Miami Herald.

Body cameras for school cops: The Miami-Dade County School District approves a study to determine the feasibility of buying body cameras for police officers in schools. Body cameras are called a useful tool to investigate complaints against police, but there are privacy and cost concerns. Miami Herald.

Constitution commission: Four people with educational backgrounds are appointed to the Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission, which will make recommendations for amendments to the state constitution. Appointed were Patricia Levesque, a school reform advocate and member of the state Taxation and Budget Reform Commission in 2007; Don Gaetz, former Senate president, Okaloosa County School Board member and superintendent; Sherry Plymale, former member of the State Board of Community Colleges and adviser to former education commissioner Frank Brogan; and Roberto Martinez, an attorney and supporter of former Gov. Jeb Bush’s education reforms. Gradebook. Pensacola News Journal.

Half-cent sales tax: The Santa Rosa County School District is pushing a proposed half-cent increase in the sales tax that’s on the ballot March 28. It would be a renewal of the 20-year tax, which raises about $7 million a year for the district. Pensacola News Journal.

Restraints policy: Marion County school officials want to cut back on the use of restraints and seclusions for mentally challenged students. The district’s rate is higher than the state’s, and Superintendent Heidi Maier is asking the state for help in reducing the number of incidents . Ocala Star Banner.

District priorities: Bay County School Superintendent Bill Husfelt tells the school board his top priorities for the next school year are improving student learning and graduation rates, increasing security and expanding pre-K programs. Panama City News Herald. The Bay County School District will advertise for several school security jobs as a first step in putting officers in elementary schools. Panama City News Herald.

Personal learning: Lake County school officials are considering cutting off funding for a personalized-learning program, saying it isn’t getting the results they had hoped and that grant money to fund the program is running out. School officials say test scores for some in personalized-learning classes are well over the district average, but in others the proficiency level is below the school and district averages. Daily Commercial.

Closed school fallout: Heaven Academy seemed like an answer to Mary Gutierrez’s prayers for a good school where she could send her autistic child. But problems sprang up almost immediately, and last week the College Park school closed when the co-owner and office manager were accused of making false Medicaid claims of about $4.5 million and taking scholarship money from Step Up For Students for children who were not enrolled. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the Gardiner scholarships for special needs children. Orlando Sentinel.

Turnaround school: Sabal Palm Elementary School principal Anisha Robinson tells a Senate education how the Tallahassee school improved its grade from the state. She says forming partnerships with community business and religious leaders, updating the school and paying close attention to attendance have helped bump the school from a D grade to a C. WFSU.

Fight for school: Polk County parents are lobbying the school district to keep the Roosevelt Academy school open for special needs students. The school was scheduled to lose its sixth grade, but that decision was reversed by parental pressure. Now those parents want to district to commit to keep the school open for special needs students as well. Lakeland Ledger.

School rezoning: The Citrus County School Board approves a change in school boundaries that will move about 300 students from three elementary schools and one middle school to alleviate overcrowding. Citrus County Chronicle.

Computer upgrades: The Hernando County School District is handing out 1,541 new laptops to teachers this month. The $950,000 price tag is the first phase in a five-year plan to upgrade the district’s technology. Tampa Bay Times.

Sports complex: The Monroe County School Board is searching for an architect to design a sports complex behind Marathon High School. The project could cost $4 million. Keynoter.

School’s dance mistake: The principal at Eisenhower Elementary School in Clearwater said a staff member erred by telling a girl she couldn’t attend a daddy-daughter dance with her mother. WFLA.

Shootings near school: Carol City High School is locked down after someone fired 13 shots near it. Last week, three teens were shot a few blocks from the school as they were walking home. Miami Herald.

Sexual assault at school: A female student at Lehigh Senior High School says she was sexually assaulted Feb. 7 in a school bathroom. Deputies are investigating. Fort Myers News-Press.

Aide put on leave: A teacher’s aide at Neil Armstrong Elementary School in Port Charlotte is put on leave after being accused of kicking an autistic student. Charlotte Sun.

Opinions on schools: I loved teaching. But I left it because the rules and regulations were draining my passion for the profession. Debbie Nostro, Orlando Sentinel.

Student enrichment: Fanny Ben-Ami, an 86-year-old who survived the Holocaust and is now the subject of the French movie Fanny’s Journey, speaks to students at Monarch High in Coconut Creek. Sun-Sentinel. The Braden River High School robotics club, 14th in the world last year, competes in the state-level robotics competition this weekend. Bradenton Herald. The Immokalee High School robotics team also competes in state competition. Naples Daily News. A Venice High School senior, Hannah Jae, performs as the opening act for Bon Jovi and Live Nation at the Amalie Arena in Tampa. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Six students at Flagler Palm Coast High School start a program to provide personal care items and other things to the families of hospital patients. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Orange Park High School opens a clothing closet to provide clean clothes for students in need. Clay Today.

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