Florida schools roundup: Schools of hope, budget, bonuses, statue and more

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Schools of hope: The Florida House approves a $200 million plan to recruit charter schools as options to persistently low-performing public schools. The so-called “schools of hope” proposal creates a fund to attract charter school companies to enter areas where traditional public schools have received D or F grades from the state for three straight years. There are 115 such schools in Florida now. “This is our ‘Hail Mary’ to the kids of Florida to try to give them better opportunity and a better life,” says Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater. Miami HeraldNews Service of Florida. Sunshine State News. Florida Politics. Sun-Sentinel. Here are some specific details in the schools of hope bill. Politico Florida. The House passes an $81.2 billion budget, which is about $4 billion less than the budget approved by the Senate. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. Naples Daily News.

Educator bonuses: The Florida House approves a plan to expand the state’s teacher bonuses program, and include principals in it. The bill widens the pool of eligibility and adds $200 million to the program. The Senate has no money proposed for teacher bonuses, but has indicated a willingness to negotiate an expansion that both chambers can agree on. WFSU.

Capitol statue: The Senate Appropriations Committee approves a measure to place a statue of educator and civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune at the U.S. Capitol, replacing the one of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith. News Service of Florida.

Student screenings: Thousands of students in Duval and Clay counties never got the mental health screenings the state paid a Fernandina Beach company to do. Florida Psychological Associates was paid $1 million through Florida State University to do the screenings. The university is now offering to return $200,000 to the state for money it had held back for “indirect costs.” WJAX. Tallahassee Democrat.

Bring your own device: The St. Johns County School District is testing a “bring your own device” to school policy. District officials say buying an electronic device for every student could cost $92 million over five years, and they’d prefer using that money to improve wireless Internet service at schools. St. Augustine Record.

School report cards: ExcelinEd, a nonprofit school reform organization started by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush launches an online accountability system to make data about Florida school performance easier to access and understand. The website is KnowYourFloridaSchool.org. T.H.E. Journal. EdSurge.

Reading skills improve: A 12-year study concludes that today’s first-graders have “significantly better reading skills” than they did more than a decade ago. “Kindergarten is the new first grade when it comes to learning reading skills,” says Emily Rodgers, a professor at Ohio State University and a co-author of the study, which measured student learning from 2001 to 2013. USA Today.

Millionaire teachers: Some teachers are becoming millionaires by selling their lesson plans online. One of the largest websites that sell the materials, called Teachers Pay Teachers, has 80,000 teachers contributing. Those teachers earned $100 million, and at least a dozen have become millionaires in the 10 years the website has been online. Critics say the movement stifles the traditional free exchange of ideas among educators. Associated Press.

Recruiting internally: The Hillsborough County School District holds a job fair to recruit veteran teachers to switch to struggling schools. Tampa Bay Times.

Virtual schools expand: Virtual education is expanding in the United States despite poor performance, according to a study by the National Education Policy Center. The study says student performance lags behind traditional public schools, and that states’ oversight of the schools is inadequate. T.H.E. Journal.

Sunshine Law issue: The Sarasota County state attorney will look into complaints that the Island Village Montessori School has committed Sunshine Law violations. Jeff and Jenn Buck say their A-student son was dismissed from the school after they filed a public records request for the files of two administrators. They contend the school has violated the state’s open records laws and their First Amendment rights. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Charter schools growth: The Pasco County School District is projecting a 23 percent increase in enrollment at charter schools in the county in the fall. School officials expect 4,835 charter students, up from 3,930 this year. Gradebook.

Rezoning decision: A state administrative judge sides with the Pasco County School District in a dispute with parents over new school boundaries in the west part of the county. Judge D.R. Alexander said the district complied with state laws on the rezoning process. Gradebook.

Advisory committee: Charlotte County School Board chairman Ian Vincent suggests the district should create a citizen advisory committee that would report to the superintendent, not the school board. That way, he says, the meetings would not have to be open to the public. Vincent says the committee would be used to talk to community leaders and about the proposed property tax referendum. Charlotte Sun.

Contract vote: Manatee County teachers reject the contract offer from the school board in a symbolic vote. The board’s decision was imposed by state law after mediation failed to break the contract impasse between teachers and the school district. Teachers will get a small pay raise, but the raises are not retroactive. Bradenton Herald. A prankster sets up a GoFundMe page soliciting donations for “brave men and women” on the Manatee County School Board. “As you read this, another innocent school board member is being criticized, internet trolled, or forced to (sic) into accountability,” the page states. “The first step to creating positive change for these men and women is recognizing the cruel reality that threatens them.” The stated fund-raising goal is $100,000. So far $5 has been raised. Bradenton Herald.

Prom dress battles: Squabbles over prom dresses are leading to social media sites and stores creating ways to avoid duplication. Some stores keep logs and steer students away from dresses already chosen by another student. And some students are creating social media pages posting dresses claimed. “It’s your special night,” says Holly Renick, who started an Instagram page for girls at South Plantation High School. “You don’t want to wear the same dress.” Sun-Sentinel.

Students arrested: Two 14-year-old students are arrested for allegedly firing a pellet gun at a Flagler County school bus. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Opinions on schools: The single-sex classrooms experiment at South McKeel Academy in Lakeland deserves a chance to show results. Lakeland Ledger. Who is responsible for the excessive amount of time teachers spend testing their students — the state or school district? Naples Daily News. Unless a student wants to learn, the most innovative instructional techniques, most luxurious facilities and most charismatic teachers are insignificant. Bill Whitten, Gainesville Sun. As a nation we must not view children as objects to be saved, nor should we view them as the worst of their personality traits. We should also not view them, or our public schools for that matter, as “bad,” a static and demeaning marker that positions individuals and schools as incapable of change or growth. Stephanie Schroeder, Gainesville Sun. It is mind-boggling that Florida’s House of Representatives has forged ahead with the expansion of a teacher and principal incentive program that mostly ignores the needs of Florida’s most challenged schools. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. Isn’t there a more Christian way to handle school on Good Friday? Sue Carlton, Tampa Bay Times.

Student enrichment: Flagler Beach students get the chance to question city leaders directly at Mayor Linda Provencher’s Kids’ Town Hall meeting. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The marching band from Spanish River High School in Boca Raton will be the only Florida school performing in the Independence Day Parade in Washington, D.C. Sun-Sentinel. Precious Symonette, a creative writing teacher at Miami Norland Senior High School, launches the Florida Freedom Writers Foundation to stage performances and workshops for schools, colleges and various educational and charitable organizations in Florida and elsewhere. Miami’s Community Newspapers.