Florida schools roundup: Hope Scholarship, enrollment counts and more

‘Hope Scholarship’: Bullied and abused public school students could be eligible next year for a new school choice program being proposed by Florida House Republicans. Under the program, dubbed the “Hope Scholarship,” those students could apply for a transfer to a different public school or for a state scholarship to attend a private school. Nearly 47,000 incidents of bullying, hazing or abuse are reported each year in Florida schools, and most involve violence. The legislation has not yet been written, but House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, says the scholarship could be set up like the tax credit scholarship program, which provides scholarships for more than 100,000 low-income students to attend private schools. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer that program. Miami Herald. Orlando SentinelredefinED. News Service of FloridaGradebook. Politico Florida. Sunshine State News. WUSF.

Enrollment uncertainty: Legislators say the effects of the hurricane season are causing uncertainty in estimating K-12 enrollment for the next school year. Officials were working off an estimate of an additional 26,764 students for the 2018-2019 school year, but that was before several hurricanes swept through the islands and displaced thousands. “If you have more students (than the estimate), you spread it thinner,” says Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, talking about the school funding formula. “If you have less students, you don’t get the money.” So far, 12 districts and 19 charter schools are asking the state to delay the usual timetable for counting school enrollment, which is typically this week. If the requests are approved, the counts would have to be done no later than the week of Dec. 11-15. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Almost 150 Puerto Rican students displaced by Hurricane Maria already have registered to attend schools in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Sarasota, Manatee and Polk counties. About 440 have signed up in Orange and Osceola counties. Hundreds, if not thousands more, are expected. WMNF.

Local education agencies: Two charter school companies in Florida are applying to the state to be designated as local education agencies, which would allow them to directly receive federal funding for teacher training, supporting low-income students or helping children with special needs, and gives also them greater control over how they use the money. Somerset Academy, which recently took over the Jefferson County School District, and the United Cerebral Palsy schools, which serve special needs students in central Florida, want to join two other state charter school networks in getting the designation. redefinED.

Subcommittee priorities: Mental health issues, early education and failing schools are top priorities for the Florida Senate PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee, members say during an organizational meeting. Also mentioned are hurricane preparedness, data security, special education and increased per-student funding. Gradebook.

Parental choice ratings: Florida leads the nation in giving parents opportunities for school choice, according to a recent study by the Center for Education Reform. The “Parent Power! Index” has Florida’s score at 89.2 percent, while Indiana is at 89.1 percent and Arizona 89 percent. The rankings are compiled by comparing states in access to choice programs, charter schools and online learning, plus teacher quality and making education data easily available. Sonoran News.

District defense criticized: Two Palm Beach County School Board members criticize the district for arguing for 12 years in a lawsuit that four 3rd-grade girls were to blame for allowing a teacher to sexually abuse them at school in 2005. “I don’t think a child can ever consent to being sexually abused,” said board member Frank Barbieri, whose district includes the elementary school where the abuse took place. “The school board never authorized such a defense.” Another board member, Erica Whitfield, says district officials told her the defense was a mistake. The board is expected to approve a settlement of more than $3.5 million to the girls and their families. Sun-Sentinel.

Board members squabble: Two Hillsborough County School Board members get into a heated argument at a Florida School Boards Association’s training event intended to help board members become more effective through listening and respect. Two hours into the first day, board members Tamara Shamburger and April Griffin turned on each other. By the end of the day, instructor Tina Pinkoson says the Hillsborough board members had made some progress. Gradebook. Volusia County School Board members are split in the way Superintendent Tom Russell’s evaluation was compiled and announced, even as four of the five say Russell is meeting or exceeding expectations. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Turnaround plan: A school improvement plan for Governor’s Charter School is approved by the Leon County School Board. The school received a D grade from the state last year, and was ordered to prepare a turnaround plan. Part of the plan offers free after-school tutoring on two weekdays and on Saturdays. During the testing season, after-school tutoring will be expanded. Tallahassee Democrat.

Resegregation reaction: Members of the Leon County NAACP say the school district should redraw school boundaries and offer diversity in school programs as a step toward stopping the resegregation of the district. Earlier in the week, Leon County was named one of the five most-segregated school districts in the state. “I recognize it’s not overt racism where administrators are re-segregating black children; that ain’t happening – that’s all illegal,” says Wilson Barnes, an executive committee member of the NAACP Tallahassee branch. “But what we do have here is a heck of a lot of institutional racism.” Tallahassee Democrat.

Personnel moves: Geoff McKee, instructional superintendent for the Palm Beach County School District, is transferred to a temporary post in the transportation department. No reason was given for the move, but court records indicate McKee is the subject of a district investigation for allowing a Boca Raton High School student to take a leadership class without having the grade count on his transcript. McKee was principal of the school at the time. Palm Beach Post. Valerie Freeman, who has been principal of Chiles Elementary School since 2015, is named the Alachua County School District’s first educational equity director. Freeman’s charge is to help close the racial achievement gap by working with teachers to understand students’ different cultures and backgrounds. Gainesville Sun.

Hurricane relief: A relief fund for Monroe County teachers and students is started by the the Monroe County Education Foundation, with the help of an $80,000 donation from the Edward B. and Joan T. Knight Foundation. About 100 county teachers and 300 students were displaced by Hurricane Irma. Keynoter.

Insurance waivers: The Bay County School Board tentatively approves a policy that would exempt school, booster and parent-teacher clubs from buying insurance for their functions on school properties. A public hearing will be held, and a final vote by the school board is expected in November. Panama City News Herald.

Testing calendar: Clay County School Board members and Superintendent Addison Davis clash over the adoption of a testing calendar for the district, which was due to the state by Oct. 1. The source of the disagreement is the use of two assessment programs, iReady and Achieve 3000. Teachers think the programs add to the testing barrage on students, while Davis says they help predict which students will have trouble passing the state tests. Clay Today.

School board elections: Brevard County School Board member Andy Ziegler says he will run for re-election, and wants the district to review its investigation procedures. Ziegler was recently cleared of sexual harassment allegations. He already has two opponents, Dean Paterakis and Daniel Wall-DeSousa. Florida Today.

Ex-teacher arrested: A former Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps instructor at Astronaut High School is arrested and accused of sexually assaulting a former student between 2014 and 2016. Dodd Mitchell, 55, resigned in November 2016. Florida Today.

Students arrested: A 16-year-old Dwyer High School student is arrested for allegedly bringing a gun on a school bus. An anonymous tip led Riviera Beach police to the bus. Palm Beach Post. A 16-year-old Navarre High School student is arrested and accused of making a social media threat to kill several students. Pensacola News Journal.

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