Florida schools roundup: Testing cutbacks, religion in schools and more

Testing cutbacks: A new plan to cut back on student testing is gaining bipartisan support. The identical bills (S.B. 964 and H.B. 1249), filed by Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, and Rep. Halsey Beshears, R-Monticello, would eliminate several high school end-of-course exams, give districts the option to offer paper-pencil state testing, allow an alternative nationally recognized test to replace certain high school state tests, prohibit statewide language arts and math testing before the last four weeks of school, and remove value-added measures from teacher evaluations, among other things. Gradebook.

Religion in schools: The Senate education committee approves a bill that would give students the freedom to express their religious views at school. The bill specifically protects students who share religious views in school assignments, clothing or in activities. Critics say the U.S. Constitution already protects religious freedom. Miami HeraldOrlando Sentinel. Sun-Sentinel. Politico Florida.

Middle schools study: The Senate education committee also approves a bill directing the state Department of Education to study high-achieving middle schools in several states, then make recommendations on improving Florida’s middle schools. The bill was introduced by Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland. Orlando Sentinel.

Session preview: Educational issues will command attention during the legislative session, which begins today. Politico Florida. WFSU.

Teacher housing plan: The Lee County School District proposes a public-private partnership to build affordable apartments and homes for teachers at three district-owned properties. The district would own the properties, which would be managed by a third party. Construction of the first project could begin in six months. Fort Myers News-Press.

Dropouts query: The Florida Department of Education is expanding an investigation into how schools are classifying dropouts. And the Orange County School Board is asking the superintendent to look into allegations from ProPublica that public high schools are pressuring low-achieving students to move to alternative charter schools in order to improve their graduation rates. ProPublica.

Bathroom access: The U.S. Supreme Court won’t hear a Virginia case of a transgender high school student who sued his district school board to be permitted to use the boys bathroom. The case goes back to a lower court. Five other states have similar lawsuits pending. Associated Press. Education Week.

Commission choices: House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, appoints nine people to the state Constitution Revision Commission. Three have ties to education: Erika Donalds, a Collier County School Board member; and state senators Tom Lee, R-Brandon, and Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, who are both members of the Senate education committee. Gradebook. Miami Herald. Sunshine State NewsPolitico Florida.

Teacher bonuses: Clay County schools have 207 teachers eligible for bonuses under the state’s Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program. That’s 7.8 percent of all the district’s teachers, which is one of the highest percentages of any district in the state. Each teacher receives $6,816.91 before deductions. Florida Times-Union.

Budget requests: Northeast Florida legislators have made more than $46 million in education-related budget requests. Florida Times-Union.

Charter schools Q&A: Peter Bezanson, CEO of the BASIS.ed charter school network, talks about the possibility of opening schools in Florida. He says the state’s funding and teacher certification requirements are acceptable, but he’d like to see the authorization for charter schools moved from the districts to the state. Watchdog.

Rezoning schools: The Hillsborough County School Board will consider a rezoning proposal that would place several hundred students expected to move into a new upscale housing development from A-rated elementary, middle and high schools to ones with mediocre school grades. Officials say they need to transfer some students out of the higher-rated schools to ease overcrowding. Tampa Bay Times.

Open enrollment: Students who want to attend an Manatee County elementary school other than the one they are zoned for have until March 17 to apply for a transfer under the state’s new open enrollment law. The law allows students to attend any public school they want as long as there is space for them. Bradenton Herald. Open enrollment continues until March 31 for Bay County students who want to transfer schools under the new enrollment law. Panama City News Herald.

Attendance rules: The Pasco County School Board will consider changes in the way the district disciplines students with an excess number of unexcused or unexplained absences. Gradebook.

Union election: The Palm Beach County teachers union tried, unsuccessfully, to disqualify half of the eight candidates for president. The union removed four candidates in the past two months for supposed violations of campaign or eligibility rules, but reversed each decision after state union leaders called the removals “inappropriate and excessive.” The election was supposed to have been completed by the end of this week, but has been extended to April 7. Palm Beach Post.

Boy killed walking to school: A 12-year-old boy is struck by a car and killed while walking to Mayport Middle School Monday. Hunter Cope and two friends were crossing the street when Hunter was hit. Police are investigating. WJAX.

Student arrested: A 12-year-old Tavares Middle School student is arrested after allegedly beating up another child as they got off their school bus last week. Orlando Sentinel.

Opinions on schools: When the Legislature opens in session today, it should direct its focus on education and 11 other issues. Sun-Sentinel. Jackie Pons is the kind of public official who gave Florida’s Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) a very bad name. Florence Snyder, Florida Politics. Identifying and dedicating a revenue source for school maintenance should be the Legislature’s to-do list for the session that starts today. Ocala Star Banner.

Student enrichment: The Clay County School District opens its first children’s clothing closet at Orange Park High School in a partnership with the nonprofit Dignity U Wear. The closet provides free clothing for needy students. Florida Times-Union. Students at Pine Ridge High School in Deltona are the first in the state to receive a grant from the GreenpowerUSA Foundation to build an electric car. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Hinson Middle School history teacher Joseph Vetter dresses the part of Alexander Hamilton as he tries to parlay interest in the Broadway musical into greater student understanding of Revolutionary War history. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

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