Florida schools roundup: Legislative issues, Trump’s visit and more

Legislative session: Vouchers, recess and capital funding for charter schools are among the hot education topics in this year’s legislative session, which begins Tuesday. Sunshine State News. School testing will again be a prominent issue during the session. Several bills have been filed to cut back on the number of tests, and to give options to the Florida Standards Assessments. News Service of Florida. Teacher bonuses are among the key education issues that will be debated by the Legislature. Tallahassee Democrat. The way the state calculates school funding may get another look from lawmakers this year. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Lake County school leaders say they oppose school vouchers, worry about recruiting and retaining teachers and don’t like the state’s current standardized testing process. Superintendent Diane Kornegay, school board member Kristi Burns and teachers union president Stuart Klatte made the remarks at an education forum last week. Daily Commercial. The Polk County School District is asking legislators to close the gap in per-student funding among districts. Polk ranked 64th out of 67 in per-student funding from the state this school year. Winter Haven News Chief. Senate and House leaders come to an agreement on the rules for the budget-making process for the legislative session. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida.

Trump’s visit: President Donald Trump praises students and educators at St. Andrew Catholic School during a visit Friday. Trump used the stop to promote school choice, and urged members of Congress to pass a bill to fund school choice for disadvantaged young people, including minority children. Orlando SentinelCatholic News Agency. Associated Press. WCSI. WFTV. Fox News. New York Times. News 13. redefinED. A profile of Denisha Merriweather, the University of South Florida graduate student who was held up by the president as an example of how school choice can help struggling students succeed. Washington Post.

Commission choices: Gov. Rick Scott appoints 14 people to the state Constitution Revision Commission. Several of the appointees have ties to education: Pam Stewart, Florida education commissioner; Marva Johnson, state Board of Education chairwoman; Nicole Washington, a trustee at Florida A&M University; Belinda Keiser, vice chancellor of Keiser University; Darlene Jordan, a member of the state university system’s Board of Governors; and Jose “Pepe” Armas, a trustee for Florida International University. Politico Florida. Gradebook. Orlando Sentinel. News Service of Florida. Miami Herald.

Teacher honored: Emily Sless, a fourth-grade teacher at Highlands Elementary School, is named the Seminole County School District’s teacher of the year. Orlando Sentinel.

Teacher shortage: Florida is short 5,708 teachers, according to the advocacy group Teachers of Tomorrow. The Florida Department of Education recently identified critical shortage areas in general sciences, physical science, education, mathematics, English for speakers of other languages, reading and special education. Watchdog.org. Escambia County is among the districts looking to hire teachers. Pensacola News Journal.

Repairs to schools: Consultants are telling Broward County school officials that delays in starting construction projects from the $800 million bond program approved by voters in 2014 has led to higher costs that could cut the amount ultimately spent on projects to $550 million. Sun-Sentinel.

Alternative schools: Graduation rates at most Duval County charter and alternative schools are going up, but are still a drag on the overall county rate, school officials say. One school in particular, SALTech, is cited for its plunging graduation rate and may have $90,000 withheld by the district. Florida Times-Union. St. Johns County school officials say two alternative schools, Gaines Alternative School and the Transitions School, are doing a good job redirecting students with problems so they can get back to their schools. St. Augustine Record.

Fight over WLRN: The Miami-Dade County School District has backed off a proposal to have WLRN employees work directly for the district. School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said that is no longer the district’s position. “I recognize that it was harsh. Hindsight is 20-20,” he now says. “It’s not language that moving forward I would support.” Miami Herald. The Miami-Dade County School District says it budgeted $4.4 million for WLRN this year. The Friends of WLRN, the public radio station’s nonprofit fund-raising arm, disputes that, saying it can find no more than $1.6 million from the district. Miami Herald.

Superintendent upheld: The state Department of Education’s inspector general decides that Hillsborough County school officials are not bending the rules to accommodate a member of the school board. An adult education teacher alleged that a grandchild of board member Susan Valdes was getting free day care, that Valdes hired an unqualified friend and that the district communications officer was fired because he wouldn’t protect Valdes from the media. Superintendent Jeff Eakins denied the allegations, and he was backed last week by inspector general Oscar Restrepo. Gradebook.

Superintendent’s start: Marion County School Superintendent Heidi Maier and her two top aides talk about their accomplishments in their first 100 days, and about the things that still need to be addressed. Ocala Star Banner.

New schools: The new Bonita Springs High School is $14.9 million over budget, and the construction has yet to begin. Design changes, a labor shortage and a surge in the price of building materials have driven up costs. School officials plan to reduce capacity and conserve in some construction areas to reduce costs. Fort Myers News-Press. The Latin Builders Association Construction and Business Management Academy Charter High School opens in Hialeah Gardens. The school gives students a chance to earn industry certification while they work toward graduation. Miami Herald. The L.E.A.D. Academy Classical School in Pace has grown out of its building and will relocate to a 30-acre site. Officials at the Christian school hope to start construction this summer. Pensacola News Journal.

Notable deaths: Dave Wheeler, a longtime baseball coach in central Florida, has died of cancer at the age of 60. He was coach at Freedom High School for six years, and before that for 17 years at Bishop Moore High School. Orlando Sentinel.

School threats: An 18-year-old man is arrested and accused of making a bomb threat to Naples High School. Grayson Alexander Barry was charged with making a false report of a bomb threat, which is a felony. Naples Daily NewsWBBH.

Students arrested: A 14-year-old boy is arrested after getting into a fight with a substitute teacher at West Orange High School in Winter Garden. The boy has Asperger’s Syndrome, ADHD and bipolar disorder, according to his father, who questioned the way the school handled the situation. WFTV. A 17-year-old Riverdale High School junior is arrested for bringing a knife to school. He told police he needed protection against a student who had been bullying him. Fort Myers News-Press. A 20-year-old Blake High School student is arrested for bringing a loaded gun to school. Malik Dixon told police he had the gun because he was afraid someone was going to beat him up. Tampa Bay Times.

Baseball hazing: At least a dozen baseball players at the Inspiration Academy in Bradenton are suspended after a hazing incident in the locker room. Bradenton Herald.

Opinions on schools: Orange County School Board members need to wake up on the issue of later starting times for high schools and find the political courage to do what’s best for students. Orlando Sentinel. A special magistrate should be cheered for agreeing that Manatee County teachers are undervalued in his ruling against the school district over the contract impasses on salaries and health insurance premiums. Bradenton Herald. The proposal for a study of student achievement in Florida’s middle schools is quite modest, but it will still be significant if the bill is eventually signed by Gov. Scott.  Maybe it will provide the first step toward genuine improvement in the achievement of the state’s students. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: Sreeniketh Vogoti, an eighth-grader at Fruit Cove Middle School in St, Johns County, wins the Florida Times-Union Regional Spelling Bee to earn his second consecutive trip to the Scripps National Spelling Bee May 28-June 4 in Washington, D.C. Florida Times-Union. Nine northwest Florida high school students are named National Merit Scholarships finalists. Northwest Florida Daily News. A video on literacy made by Booker T. Washington High School students is named the best in the nation among high schools. The school wins $30,000 and now competes for $60,000 in the Follett Challenge. Pensacola News Journal.

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