Florida schools roundup: Bright Futures, Schools of Hope rules, statue and more

Bright Futures: The Florida Senate unanimously approves a higher education bill that includes the permanent expansion of the Bright Futures scholarships program. S.B. 4, which was sponsored by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, would provide full funding of tuition and fees for the 41,000 students who qualify for the Academic Scholar award. Those students must have a grade point average of 3.5 or higher and a score of at least 1,290 on the SAT or 29 on the ACT. Another 50,000-plus students who qualify for the Medallion Scholar award would receive 75 percent of tuition and fees. The bill also expands the Benacquisto Scholarship awards, which are full scholarships for out-of-state National Merit Scholar award winners. Sunshine State News. Associated Press. News Service of FloridaTampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. WFSU.

Schools of Hope: The Florida Board of Education is expected to start working next week on the rules that will determine how charter school networks can qualify to be “hope operators” under the state’s new “Schools of Hope” law. The draft rules would designate charter school organizations as a hope operator in any three ways: They have received a federal grant for the expansion of high-quality charters; received financial backing from the Charter School Growth Fund; or been chosen by a local school board to turn around a struggling district public school. Hope operators can apply to open charter schools within 5 miles of persistently struggling public schools. If the rules are approved, the process could be opened to charter school companies in February. redefinED.

Bethune statue: A Senate committee approves a bill that would place a statue of famed educator Mary McLeod Bethune in the U.S. Capitol. Her statue would replace the one of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith. The bill now moves to the full Senate for a vote. Associated Press. Florida Politics.

Bills on the move: The full Senate approves a bill that would require high school seniors to complete a financial literacy course in order to graduate. News Service of Florida. Several bills are approved by members of the House PreK-12 Quality subcommittee. Among them: A bill to count apprenticeships toward satisfying graduation requirements, and another that would end the use of restraints and seclusion on special needs students as a means of control. Gradebook.

Superintendent donates raise: The news that Brevard County School Superintendent Desmond Blackburn was getting a second raise this school year while teachers are protesting their low wages created such a backlash that Blackburn has decided to donate the money. Blackburn says he’ll donate the full amount of the second raise – about $3,300 – to the Supply Zone, which provides teachers with free school supplies. Florida Today.

Tax hikes considered: The Miami-Dade County School Board is starting a discussion that could result in voters being asked to approve a boost in property taxes so the district can raise teacher pay. “That is the only option, I feel, that is available to school boards,” says board member Lubby Navarro. Two groups will study ways to boost teacher pay and report to the board later this year. WLRN. The Lee County School Board is being asked to approve a special election to ask voters for a half-cent more in the sales tax to raise money for school construction. The vote could be held as early as May, and Superintendent Greg Adkins thinks it would raise as much as $58 million a year. “The reason is we really need a source of revenue,” says Adkins. “We are increasing student enrollment at 1,800 students; that’s approximately one high school per year.” Fort Myers News-Press.

Educators honored: Kate Sturman, a 5th-grade teacher at Rymfire Elementary School in Palm Coast, is named the Flagler County School District’s teacher of the year. Ariana Perez, who works for the district in the Government Services Building, is named support employee of the year. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Moments after changing a rule that banned the naming of school buildings after living people, the Lake County School Board votes unanimously to name the Leesburg High School media center after Tammy Jerkins. Jerkins, a graduate of the school and a math teacher there, is the current Florida teacher of the year. Daily Commercial. Tracy Bryson is honored with an Excellence in Volunteerism Award from the Consortium of Florida Education Foundations. Bryson is a volunteer with the Citrus County Education Foundation. Citrus County Chronicle.

Contract approved: The Marion County School Board approves a contract that boosts pay and picks up the cost for each of the district’s 5,500 employee’s health insurance premiums. The agreement with the Marion Education Association and Marion Essential Support Personnel union will cost the district about $5.4 million. Ocala Star-Banner.

More on graduation rates: The graduation rate in Lake County dipped from 78.1 percent last year to 77.8 percent in 2017, according to figures released this week by the Florida Department of Education. Orlando Sentinel. Bay County school officials attribute the drop in the district’s graduation rate from 81 percent to 78 percent in 2017 to the new Florida Department of Education policy that doesn’t count students who get a diploma through an alternate private virtual school. Panama City News Herald.

Rezoning decision impact: Pasco County students who were moved to different schools this year because of rezoning won’t be required to be moved back after a judge voided the new school boundaries. Superintendent Kurt Browning says parents have until Jan. 19 to tell the district if they want their students to remain in their current schools or move back to their previous school. “We believe it would be entirely disruptive for us to literally just give parents no choice, give students no choice,” says Browning. Gradebook.

District budget: Gulf County school officials are concerned with the impact the legislative session will have on their budget. “We are starting to pull our thoughts together on the budget now,” says Superintendent Jim Norton. “We can only go one school year at a time. We are not sure where things are going to be for the coming year.” Norton says if the funding trends from 2017 continue into this year, the district might have to lay off employees. Port St. Joe Star.

Displaced students: Eighty-four students displaced from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands by hurricanes last year have enrolled in Alachua County schools, according to the Florida Department of Education. The DOE says 11,207 students from those two islands have enrolled in Florida schools. Gainesville Sun.

New middle school: Manatee County commissioners approve a school board plan to build a middle school in the eastern part of the county, adjacent to B.D. Gullett Elementary, to alleviate overcrowding. The three middle schools in that area – Braden River, Nolan and Haile – are all over capacity. The new school is designed for 1,048 students and is scheduled to open in August 2019. Officials say the school would be built to withstand 160 mph winds, but it would not meet the specifications required to be a hurricane shelter. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Saving old schools: Graduates of the former Carver High School are campaigning to save the Delray Beach building from demolition. Carver was a segregated school that closed in 1970 and has most recently been used as a district service center. But the building is deteriorating, and district officials are planning to tear it down. Graduates created the Carver High School Historic Preservation Society to try to save the building, which they call an important link to the city’s African-American history. Sun-Sentinel. Parents express their frustration over the lack of news about Lee Elementary School in Tampa, which was heavily damaged by a fire last September. The school’s students remain at Lockhart Elementary, no decision has been made about what the district will do with the school, and the historic building continues to deteriorate. School officials say they still do not have an estimate from its insurance adjuster on what it will cost to repair the school, or if it even can be repaired. Tampa Bay Times.

School board election: Lawyer Tara M. O’Connor announces her candidacy for the District 5 seat on the Pasco County School Board. It’s currently held by Steve Luikart, who announced this week he would not run for re-election. Other candidates are Hudson Middle teacher Mike Aday and law student Kassie Hutchinson. The election is Aug. 28. Gradebook.

School threat: A man is arrested for threatening to “shoot up” Coral Springs High School. Police say David Jean-Baptiste, 28, called in the threat, and also made said in December he planned to kill a teacher at the school. The teacher, Joshua Simmons, says he and Jean-Baptiste dated the same woman at the same time at Florida Atlantic University in 2009 or 2010. Sun-Sentinel.

Chaos near school bus stop: When a child aboard an Orange County school bus is injured, the driver follows procedure by pulling over short of the normal stop, calling for help and not allowing students off or parents in. Angry parents began yelling at the bus driver and some pulled students off the bus through windows. WFTV. WESH.

Opinions on schools: Florida’s education “reforms” are a warning sign – not a model – for the nation. Walter Fernando Balser, The Progressive.

Student enrichment: Olivia DuBois, a 9-year-old Port Salerno Elementary School student, wins the 52nd annual Martin County School District elementary spelling bee. TCPalm. The 5000 Role Models of Excellence project celebrates its 25th anniversary. It’s a dropout prevention and mentoring program targeted at helping minority male students that began in Miami-Dade County and has since spread to Broward, Duval and Pinellas counties. Miami Herald.

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