Florida schools roundup: Testing, vouchers, home-schooling and more

Alternative tests: The Florida Department of Education is proposing to toughen the passing standards for students who use alternatives to the Florida Standards Assessments 10th-grade language arts and algebra 1 exams in order to graduate. In 2017, more than 35,000 of the 168,000 Florida high school graduates used the SAT, ACT or other tests instead of the FSA. If approved by the Florida Board of Education, the higher standards could be in place as early as Aug. 1. Orlando Sentinel. Gradebook.

Voucher capital: Florida already leads the nation in the amount of tax money given to school voucher programs, and the expansion is continuing. The Legislature just passed a law to pay for students who are bullied to go to private schools, and spends nearly $900 million a year on various scholarship programs for almost 140,000 students. Ohio has the second-largest program, spending about $266 million last year, according to the school choice advocacy group EdChoice. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, recently said in a speech: “You voucherize the entire system and put that power in the hands of parents, you change education.” Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit and Gardiner scholarship programs. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Despite the charter-friendly atmosphere in the state, two additional voucher proposals won’t make it to the state ballot in November. redefinED.

Home-schooling bill signed: Gov. Rick Scott signs H.B. 731, which restricts the amount of information school districts can require from parents who want to home-school their children. Some parents had complained that certain districts were making it hard to register for home-schooling. Among the 17 other bills Scott signed were ones giving refunds to university students with excess credits who graduate within four years and establishing a statewide program accountability system for school readiness providers. redefinED. WKRG. Florida Politics.

Virtual school employees: Thirty-three out-of-state employees of the Orland-based Florida Virtual School are told they will lose their jobs July 1 if they don’t move to Florida. Company president Jodi Marshall says they have until May 15 to decide if they will comply. Some out-of-state positions are not affected by the announcement. Gradebook.

School security: Clear backpacks for students have arrived at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, but metal detecting wands are not yet ready. Sun-Sentinel. As the student-activists from Stoneman Douglas High return to the school, some say the increased security measures “feel like jail, being checked every time we go to school.” CNN. Eighteen years after being identified as a problem, classroom doors at nine Palm Beach County schools have been replaced with ones that can be locked. The cost was about $4,000 per door, a fraction of the original $40,000 estimate by school officials. Palm Beach Post. Pinellas County officials are rushing to train at least 156 new school resource officers this summer. Tampa Bay Times. School officials in Martin, Indian River and St. Lucie counties say they should receive about $2.8 million from the state for school resource officers, but that’s only half the amount needed to comply with the law requiring an officer in every school. TCPalm. Putting an officer in every St. Johns County school will cost an extra $1.1 million a year, and school officials don’t think the money they’ll get from the state will cover the costs. St. Augustine Record. Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams and Duval County school leaders disagree on allowing noninstructional school employees to carry guns in schools. WJXT.

School shooting developments: Gov. Rick Scott says he’s creating a high school mentoring program that pairs freshmen with an older student to help with the transition from middle school. The High School Student Mentoring Program was developed with input from students at Stoneman Douglas High. WTVT. Some Stoneman Douglas students who missed school on Feb. 14, the day of the shootings, may have survivor’s guilt, say counselors. Sun-Sentinel. Two Stoneman Douglas students write a song to benefit victims of the shootings. Shine was written by Sawyer Garrity, 16, and Andrea Peña, 15, and has gotten retweets from Paul McCartney and Britney Spears, among others. Miami Herald.

Walkout backs gun rights: About 75 students at Rockledge High School in Brevard County walk out of school Friday for about 20 minutes in a protest for gun rights. WFTV. Fox News. Florida Today.

CRC education issues: There are now four proposed education-related amendments that the Constitution Revision Commission will consider putting on the November ballot: Term limits for school board members, fewer legislative restrictions for high-performing public school districts, requiring a civics course completion to graduate, and creating a state charter school authorizing entity. Gradebook.

State challenge urged: Polk County School Board member Billy Townsend is urging his fellow board members to defy the state and refuse to accept the three choices the Department of Education provides for persistently struggling schools. Instead of hiring an outside operator for six schools, as Polk school officials are recommending, closing the schools or turning them into charter schools, Townsend wants to reject the contract for outside operators and force the state to “do its own dirty work.” Lakeland Ledger.

School impact fees: Seminole County commissioners are considering giving apartment developers a break on school impact fees, which are being increased on April 10. The change would let builders with projects already in the works pay the older, lower fees for up to two years. School officials oppose the change, saying it could cost the district about $18 million. Orlando Sentinel.

Law rallies unions: The Legislature’s move to allow decertification of teachers unions that don’t have half of eligible teachers as paid members seems to be re-energizing the unions and boosting membership. “I think when people realize what they could lose – the right to bargain for salary and more – I think it’s going to be a real recruitment tool for us,” says Terrie Brady, president of the Duval County teachers union. GateHouse.

Special education school: The Washington County School District is considering starting a school for special-needs students. The school, modeled after one in Jackson County, would be for students from pre-K to 22 years old and would be located in the 5th-grade building of Rouhlac Middle School. Washington County News.

Housing for teachers: The Lee County School District’s plan to build affordable housing for teachers is put on hold because the district’s finances are being stretched to build a new school, maintain current ones, rebuild or add other schools and upgrade security. WBBH.

Charter school moving: The Coral Springs City Commission approves the relocation of the city’s charter school to Tamarac. A two-story school that can take up to 2,500 students will be built on land at the Tamarac Sports Complex. The scheduled opening is April 1, 2019. Cape Coral Talk.

District audit clean: An audit of the Monroe County School District shows no alarming concerns or “material weaknesses,” concludes the Florida Auditor General’s office. Key West Citizen.

Teachers selected: Two Wakulla Middle School science teachers are chosen for NASA teacher liaison programs. Katrina Roddenberry is one of 31 teachers worldwide to be chosen for the U.S. Space Foundation’s International Teacher Liaison Program. Roddenberry and colleague Melissa Martin and their students were also selected for NASA’s Microgravity University for Educators 2018 Challenge. Tallahassee Democrat.

Teacher arrested: A Martin County teacher is arrested and accused of sexual battery on a 13-year-old student. Jeffrey Anthony Tomasulo, 29, a math teacher at Stuart Middle School, has been fired, according to school officials. TCPalm. WTVJ.

Opinions on schools: It’s too late to bring back those we have lost, but perhaps increased security will prevent any school in our community, public or non-public, from becoming the next Stoneman Douglas. Alan Goch, Sun-Sentinel. Well-meaning or not, the recently approved school safety plan is terribly flawed. It needs to be fixed. Or adjusted. Or overhauled. And if it takes a special session to do it, then the Legislature needs to act quickly. John Romano, Tampa Bay Times. House Bill 7087 could unravel the rights of voters in Collier and Lee counties to decide if they want to address Collier’s infrastructure and Lee’s school construction needs with an additional local-option sales tax. Naples Daily News. Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, is carrying the NRA’s luggage and he will continue to do so no matter how bloody our schools get. In voting against the school safety bill, he placed the NRA agenda over our children’s safety. For that, we give him a failing grade on this issue. Daily Commercial. Brevard School Board members must do what other responsible large school districts are doing and refuse to give in to pressure to opt into a program to arm school employees in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting. Florida Today.



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