Florida schools roundup: Scholarship oversight, tests, charter ban and more

Scholarship oversight: Florida’s school scholarship programs serve about 140,000 students and redirect almost $1 billion a year to private schools, but state regulation of those schools is so weak that many employ teachers who aren’t college graduates, falsify safety records but continue to stay in business, and fail to educate students without suffering the consequences public schools face, according to a newspaper’s investigation. The number of students using tax credit, Gardiner or McKay scholarships has more than tripled in the past decade. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit and Gardiner scholarship programs. Orlando Sentinel.

Testing the tests: The Florida Department of Education hires a company to evaluate whether the SAT and ACT tests can replace the state’s 10th-grade language arts Florida Standards Assessments and algebra I end-of-course exams. The Legislature required the review as part of the new education law, H.B. 7069. The assessment is expected to be finished in time for Education Commissioner Pam Stewart to make a recommendation on the substitution by Jan. 1. Meanwhile, Stewart says the department won’t decide on whether to delay the spring assessments testing window until after the hurricane season is over. Gradebook.

Charters schools: For the first time, the 50 or so charter schools in Palm Beach County were banned from this year’s “Showcase of Schools,” an event to show parents some of the most popular programs offered in county schools. School Superintendent Robert Avossa says the charter movement is “about spurring competition. So if that’s the case, why would you invite the competition to your event?” The incident is the latest in the escalating fight between district officials and charter schools. Palm Beach Post. The Florida Commission on Ethics rules that charter schools are not public agencies, but instead are more similar to business entities. Politico Florida.

More on lawsuit: More details on the lawsuit 13 Florida school districts have filed against the state over the constitutionality of the new education law, H.B. 7069. Gradebook. Politico Florida. redefinED. Florida Times-Union. The Pinellas County School District is one of 13 suing the state, but its officials continue to lobby for changes to the law. In a letter to the Pinellas legislative delegation, Superintendent Michael Grego urges legislators to reconsider the arguments against the law, and offers alternative solutions and suggestions on how to rewrite the statutes. Gradebook.

Superintendent search: Duval County School Board members agree to hire a consultant by January to help search for a new superintendent, with a goal of hiring the new school chief by mid-March. Patricia Willis has acted as interim superintendent since Nikolai Vitti resigned in late May to take a job leading the Detroit school system. Florida Times-Union.

School start times: Hillsborough high school students will start their day at 8:30 a.m. next year, with a 3:25 p.m. dismissal time. Elementary schools will be in session from 7:40 a.m. to 1:55 p.m., and middle schools from 9:25 a.m. to 4:25 p.m. The school board voted unanimously for the changes, which were prompted by persistent school bus problems that had an estimated 12,000 students arriving late to school every day. The district will also save money, and provide high school students the later start that research has shown to be beneficial to their academic achievement. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. WTSP. Hillsborough school bus drivers are upset about the new school start times, and also complain to the school board about overcrowded buses, working without being paid and substandard working conditions. WTSP.

Van alarms proposed: Bills are filed in the Legislature that would require day-care centers to install alarms in their vans to alert workers if a child has been left inside. The Senate bill was filed by Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, and the House bill was filed by Rep. Bruce Antone, D-Orlando. Florida Politics. Orlando Sentinel.

Contract negotiations: The Brevard County teachers union declares an impasse in negotiations with the school district. Last month the union rejected a 1 percent pay raise offer. Monday it rejected the district’s “best and final” offer of 1.5 percent. Teachers want the same 5 percent given to Superintendent Desmond Blackburn. The next step could be the appointment of a mediator or special magistrate to evaluate the offers from both sides and make a recommendation. Florida Today.

School conversion: Pasco County School Superintendent Kurt Browning is asking the school board to approve the conversion of Ridgewood High School into a magnet technical high school. Ridgewood has received D grades from the state the past two years, and would face a state turnaround process if it doesn’t approve this year. Tampa Bay Times.

Improvement plans: Two Sarasota County charter schools brief the school board on how they plan to raise their state grades. The Suncoast School for Innovative Studies, which got a D last year, wants to increase professional development and parental involvement, and add a social worker. The Sarasota Military Academy, which received a C from the state, says it will increase advanced course enrollment, identify struggling students earlier in the school year and improve in English Language Arts testing. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

DeVos’ school visits: U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has visited 33 U.S. schools in the past nine months. Sixteen of those visits have been to traditional public schools, nine have been to private schools, seven to charter schools and one to a school funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Education Week.

Personalized learning: Florida’s experimentation in personalized learning is beginning to change the way students approach and master subject matter, according to a report by the reform advocacy group ExcelinEd. The program allows students to advance in a subject as quickly as they demonstrate a mastery of it. redefinED.

VIP rides questioned: Miami-Dade County School District police officers racked up more than $5,000 in overtime providing rides for VIPs attending a conference last summer organized by the National Association of School Safety and Law Enforcement Officials. The rides were defended by district police chief Ian Moffett, but overtime policies have since been changed and district officials have ordered an audit. Miami Herald.

District exchange: The Hillsborough and Pinellas school districts announce they will partner to share ideas on early childhood, college and career connections and high school graduation rates. Gradebook.

District communications: Sarasota County School Superintendent Todd Bowden will hire a new communications director and start looking for a public relations firm to help the director as needed. Bowden’s recent PR firm hire backfired when it was revealed that the director made social media posts under different names to tout her clients. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Teachers honored: Four teachers win Governor’s Shine awards from the state: Renee Andrews, AP environmental and marine sciences teacher at P.K. Yonge Developmental School in Gainesville; and Esther Lynn Mauffray, Alachua County; Mia Burton, Bay County; and Sharon Walters, Jackson County, who all teach the visually impaired. Gainesville Sun. WJHG.

No term limits support: A request to express support for legislation to limit terms for school board members is rejected by the Lee County School Board. Fort Myers News-Press.

Principal investigated: A Manatee County elementary school principal who is also a pastor is under investigation after publicly encouraging his church to stand against homosexuality. Ronnie King is the principal at Oneco Elementary School and a pastor at Christ Way Church in Tampa. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Two students arrested: Two Pasco County students are arrested: a 12-year-old for allegedly bringing a gun to John Long Middle School, and a 15-year-old who is accused of threatening to launch a gun attack at a school dance. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA.

Ex-aide arrested: A former teacher’s aide at a private Palm Bay school is arrested and accused of having a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old boy. Alana Chasky, 35, was an aide at Riverdale Country Day School. Florida Today.

Security guard resigns: An Orange County school security guard who was put on administrative leave in September for talking with a student through Snapchat has resigned. Steven Woods, 47, was a guard at Edgewater High School in Orlando. WFTV.

Assaults in schools: Hundreds of south Florida cases of student-on-student sexual misconduct are filed with the Florida Department of Education every year. Broward County reported 480 in the 2015-2016 school year, Miami-Dade 132. WSVN.

Opinions on schools: Victim blaming shouldn’t be a lesson taught by the Palm Beach County School District. Yet the district has routinely defended itself against student sexual abuse lawsuits partly by blaming the children – some as young as 6 years old. Sun-Sentinel. The progress Florida has demonstrated in our laboratory of educational change has led other states to develop their own innovative school choice programs. The pace, however, remains far too slow given the challenges ahead. Jeb Bush, The 74.

Student enrichment: Springstead High School senior Joe Masotti is elected to represent students and their issues at Hernando County School Board meetings. Tampa Bay Times. Venice’s Garden Elementary School art teacher Joanna Davis and her students join the national rock-painting movement known as the Kindness Rocks Project. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. A science project on water pollution by Brock Womble, a former Deerlake Middle School student now at Chiles High School, is named one of the top 300 STEM projects in the country. Tallahassee Democrat. Altamonte Springs Elementary and Pine Crest Elementary in Sanford become the first two schools in Florida to use the national computer science program Code to the Future. News 13.

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