Florida schools roundup: Education budgets, schools of hope and more

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Education budgets: Leaders in the Florida House and Senate may be $538 million apart in their proposed education budgets, but both seem optimistic there’s enough middle ground to strike a deal. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, says talks are collegial and he expects the differences to be “smoothed over.” Senate PreK-12 Appropriations chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, praised several programs in the House budget, particularly the $200 million proposal to create “schools of hope” – charter school options for persistently low-performing schools. “We are all on the same team,” Simmons said. Meanwhile, the Senate passes its $85 billion spending bill. That’s $4 billion more than the House budget, which is expected to be approved in that chamber today. Gradebook. Politico Florida. Support for the “schools of hope” program are divided along party lines. Leading Democrats are blasting the proposal, saying it will shortchange struggling schools that are already burdened by Legislature-imposed restrictions the charter schools do not have. Republicans dismiss the objections, saying the state cannot be content with 70,000 students stuck for years in persistently low-performing schools. Miami Herald. redefinEDFlorida PoliticsSunshine State News. Politico FloridaCapitol News Service. WFSU.

Facilities funding: Two groups with different constituencies are lining up to fight the bill that determines how much state funding traditional public schools and charter schools get for facilities. Democrats are trying to amend Senate Bill 376, which would require school districts to share facilities funding with charter schools. They want to allow local districts to raise more money through property taxes, cap the amount charter schools can get and give local school boards the authority to decide on sharing. Meanwhile, charter school companies are fighting a clause denying funds to charter schools that receive D grades from the state for two straight years. Politico Florida. redefinED.

Chronic absenteeism: Kindergartners have the highest rate of chronic absenteeism of any grade in the Sarasota County School District. Students are judged to be chronically absent if they miss 21 or more days of schools. In the 2015-2016 school year, 8 percent of the district’s kindergartners had at least that many absences. “It really matters because kindergarten is where they’re really learning to read rather than reading to learn,” said Sarah Mickley, a kindergarten teacher at Bay Haven School of Basics Plus. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Millage increase: Anticipating rising infrastructure and personnel costs and flat funding from the state, the Manatee County School Board is considering asking voters to approve an increase in the millage rate. An increase of 1 mill would bring in about $33 million. “We shouldn’t shortchange our children or our employees,” said board member Dave Miner. “There is a great sense in this community that we should support our public education like neighboring communities.” Bradenton Herald.

Teacher bonuses audit: A state audit reveals that the Gulf County School District improperly spent almost $200,000 from the general fund on a state program that provides bonuses to teachers. Twenty-four of the 25 teachers received money in error, and the district gave money to four other teachers whose names were submitted after the application deadline. Port St. Joe Star.

School moves approved: The Leon County School Board approves Superintendent Rocky Hanna’s proposed campus swap involving the Adult and Community Education and Pace Secondary School. ACE will move into space at the Lively Technical Center, and Pace will move into the space vacated by ACE. Several board members were critical of the way Hanna handled the moves. Tallahassee Democrat.

School start times: Proposed changes to school times in Okaloosa County provokes spirited debate during the third and final community meeting. The School Start Times Committee has been working since February on options that would significantly push back start times for high schools. One plan discussed would start elementary schools at 7:45 a.m., middle schools at 8:30 a.m. and high schools at 9:20 a.m., requiring 27 more school buses and costing about $3.6 million. The other would start elementary schools at 7:45 a.m., middle schools at 8:15 a.m. and high schools at 8:45 a.m., requiring 77 new buses and costing about $10 million. Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson plans to present the school board with options in May. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Rezoning approved: The Citrus County School Board approves a rezoning proposal that will allow 173 students to remain at their previously zoned elementary and middle schools. Citrus County Chronicle.

Personnel changes: Josh Venable, who was national director of advocacy and legislation at former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Educational Excellence for almost two years and worked on Bush’s 2016 presidential campaign, is named chief of staff for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Washington Post. Chris Renouf, principal at Ashton Elementary School, is named executive director of the Sarasota County School District’s elementary schools. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Ex-administrators in court: A former assistant superintendent for the Leon County School District is sentenced to three years in prison and fined $50,000 for cocaine trafficking. Paul Byrd, 66, was arrested in 2014. Tallahassee Democrat. The former principal at the Lively Technical Center pleads no contest to charges of petty theft and is sentenced to 12 months of probation. Woody Hildebrandt, 59, was arrested in 2015, after he had been giving information to the FBI about how the Leon County School District was skirting the competitive bidding process. Tallahassee Democrat.

Charter company sued: A charter schools management company is being sued for not paying its rent on one of its now-closed schools. Newport Education Partners’ contracts to run five schools in Pinellas County were terminated in 2016 for a variety of problems. Gradebook.

School bus stop moved: Lake County school officials are moving a school bus stop where a student was hit by a car this week as a “precautionary measure.” Arthur Barreno, 15, was hit as he crossed a road on the way to the bus stop. He’s expected to be okay, and no charges were filed against the driver. Daily Commercial.

School fights:  Police use pepper spray to break up a large fight in the courtyard at Atlantic High School in Delray Beach. Police say the fight began among members of rival gangs. Five students were arrested. Palm Beach Post. Two 17-year-old students are arrested after a fight at Blake High School in Tampa. When they were taken to the principal’s office, a gun was found on one student and a knife on the other. Tampa Bay Times.

Opinions on schools: Today, state and federal laws presume that special education is the responsibility of public school districts. But if voucher programs continue to expand, there will be big policy debates about who is responsible for providing disability services. Dana Goldstein, New York Times. Proposed changes in Hillsborough County school start and finish times are guaranteed to save money and rile parents. Joe Henderson, Tampa Bay Times. The transfer of $200 million to charter schools stands only to weaken public schools, harm Florida’s students and potentially enrich connected lawmakers. Citrus County Chronicle. Let’s continue to have healthy debates about school choice, accountability and everything else. But let’s also remember that our common goals far outweigh whatever differences we may have. Jonathan Hage and Doug Tuthill, The 74 (disclosure: Tuthill is president of Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog and helps administer the state’s tax credit scholarship and Gardiner scholarship programs.). Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of the Duval County School District, seems to be the best choice to become superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools. The strong school choice options within the Florida district are encouraging and offer families an array of schools, including magnet, a high school acceleration program, a career academy and charter. This portfolio approach has long been floated for Detroit schools but never executed well. Detroit News.

Student enrichment: Niklas Ham, an 11-year-old fifth-grader at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine, shatters his school record by reading for more than 250 hours in braille. Babble. Caitlin Shannon, a 17-year-old junior at the Academy of Holy Names in Tampa, appears on the Harry Connick Jr. talk show today to discuss her nonprofit organization named Sparkle Power. It dispenses crayons, coloring books and more in gift bags to hospital patients. Tampa Bay Times. Forty Volusia and Flagler high school seniors are honored at the annual Medallion of Excellence awards ceremony for their academic performance, extracurricular involvement and community service. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Orange Park High School’s student engineering team wins second place in the open space design category in the 2017 Architecture, Construction and Engineering National Design and Construction Competition. Clay Today.