Florida schools roundup: School oversight, merit pay, testing and more

Private school oversight: A bill is filed for the legislative session beginning today that would tighten some standards for private schools receiving state scholarships. Under the bill, filed by state Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, private schools would be required to hire only teachers with at least a bachelor’s degree. The proposal would also tighten financial accountability, ban school owners with recent bankruptcies from receiving scholarship money, increase school inspections by the state and make it more difficult for schools to submit falsified fire or health inspection reports. Simmons says his bill is an attempt to strike a balance between too much regulation and not enough. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit scholarship and Gardiner scholarship programs. Orlando Sentinel.

Teacher merit pay: Two Republican legislators want to delete the requirement in state law that student test scores be used to evaluate teachers. The bills, filed by Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando, and Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, would give schools boards the option of using student test scores in evaluations. “We don’t think student test scores should be tied to our evaluations,” says Plasencia. “It’s frustrated many teachers, and it’s driven some really good teachers out of the profession, a lot of them early.” Orlando Sentinel.

Teacher test-taking: The rising numbers of teachers failing the state’s newly revised Florida Teacher Certification Exam prompts state Rep. Robert Asencio, D-Miami, to file a bill that would require the Florida Department of Education to appoint a task force to study whether the test is appropriately measuring teacher competency and other issues. “Whenever we have such a high failure rate we have to figure out what’s going on,” says Asencio. WPTV.

Legislative session: Gov. Rick Scott delivers his final state of the state speech today at the opening of the legislative session. It’s expected to contrast his first one in 2011, when he called for sharp cuts in education spending. News Service of Florida. Associated PressTampa Bay Times. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WCTV. Politico Florida. The Senate is expected to pass a higher education bill Thursday that would permanently expand Bright Futures scholarships, and will consider a bill that would require high school students to complete a financial literacy course in order to graduate. News Service of Florida.

Campaign donations: Groups on both sides of the school choice issue have been making campaign contributions to politicians who favor their cause. Charters Schools USA has given $50,000 to a political action committee led by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, and $25,000 to a committee headed by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. The Florida Education Association, which opposes most school choice programs, has given $15,000 to the Florida Democratic Party. Orlando Sentinel.

Achievement gap: An early report shows little improvement in closing the achievement gap in the Pinellas County School District, but leaders of the Concerned Organization for the Quality Education of Black Students say they are pleased with the effort the district is showing. Tampa Bay Times.

Another school board group: A third group representing school boards has been formed. The Florida Conservative School Board Members Association, which was launched by Escambia County School Board member Kevin Adams, is expected to support school choice, merit pay for teachers, accountability, fiscal responsibility and “traditional conservative values.” It joins the Florida School Boards Association and the Florida Coalition of School Board members, a smaller group that split from the FSBA over the issue of tax credit scholarships. Gradebook.

Contract negotiations: Sarasota County teachers are being urged by union officials to picket outside the school district’s administrative offices today to demonstrate their unhappiness over contract negotiations. The union wants a 2 percent pay hike for all teachers and a step progression for those eligible. The district is offering 1 to 1.5 percent and a $600 bonus but no step progression for more veteran teachers. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Constitutional amendments: Constitutional Revision Commission member Erika Donalds, who is also a member of the Collier County School Board, discusses the education-related amendments she is proposing. Among them: ending pay for school board members and removing local school boards from licensing and governing charter schools. Naples Daily News.

No charges for educators: No child abuse charges will be filed against Hillsborough County wife-and-husband educators, their attorney says. Michael Hoskinson was principal of Coleman Middle School and his wife Kimberly was an assistant teacher at Plant High School before their November arrest on child abuse charges. They resigned, but the state attorney determined the accusation was fabricated. Both are being reinstated in still-to-be-determined district jobs. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. WTSP.

Federal complaint filed: A former Sarasota County School District employee files a discrimination complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Lyna Jimenez-Ruiz says she was demoted as retaliation for filing a sexual harassment complaint against Superintendent Todd Bowden. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Personnel moves: Sarasota County School District communications manager Scott Ferguson is retiring Feb. 2. He had been with the district for 10 years as a communications specialist before being promoted to communications manager last June. Tracey Beeker was recently hired to be the district’s communications director. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Teachers arrested: An English teacher at Miami Arts Charter School is arrested and accused of having a two-year sexual relationship with a 17-year-old student. Valeria Ashley Costadoni, 30, is charged with lewd and lascivious battery on a child between the ages of 12 and 16. WTVJ. Miami Herald. WSVN. A music teacher at Trinity Christian School in Palm Beach Gardens is accused of molesting a young boy. Police say Terrence Garvin Dwarika, 38, has admitted to intentionally touching the 8-year-old boy in a lewd or lascivious manner. Palm Beach Post. WPEC.

School evacuated: A gas leak forces the evacuation of Anderson Middle School in Stuart, according to Martin County school officials. School is expected to resume today. TCPalmPalm Beach Post.

Opinions on schools: Placing additional counselors and social workers in schools would help educate about human trafficking and combat it, while building trust and emotional support with potential victims and other students. Brandi Davis, Gainesville Sun. The popularity of education savings accounts in Florida means the time has arrived for the state to expand on the success of the Gardiner scholarship program with the creation of a new universal ESA program that would be open to all K–12 students. Tim Benson, Heartland Institute. The Florida Legislature officially gets back to doing the people’s business today, at least that’s the hope. As always, there are tons of issues that will have an impact — for good or for ill — on Floridians’ quality of life. Miami Herald.

Student enrichment: Students at Atlantic High School in Port Orange are building a single-engine, two-seat airplane. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

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