Florida schools roundup: Education lobby, vouchers and the top court, and more

Jim Booth

The education lobby: With big money at stake and big changes in the works, lobbying for education in Tallahassee is a booming business. There are lobbyists for nearly every Florida school district, and several for some, for charter schools and private schools and companies that do education work and companies that administer scholarship programs that allow students to attend private schools with taxpayer money. Step Up for Students, which hosts this blog, uses 11 lobbyists, according to state records. “Everybody is trying to get a piece of that pie,” says Ronald Meyer, a lawyer who lobbies for the Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers union. Florida Phoenix.

Court and education: The new school voucher plan being considered in the Legislature could be a test case for the new-look Florida Supreme Court. A scholarship has been proposed that would draw from general revenue funds instead of tax credits. When a similar idea was enacted in 2006, the state Supreme Court struck it down as unconstitutional. But three of the justices who supported that decision are no longer on the court, having been replaced by conservatives who have previously supported voucher programs. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit and other state scholarship programs. GateHouse.

Coach, wife electrocuted: The Liberty County High School baseball coach and his wife were electrocuted Sunday in a freak accident at the school’s baseball field. The accident happened when Corey Crum, his wife Shana and son Chase and some players were trying to replace the scoreboard at their field after it was knocked over by Hurricane Michael. Crum was operating a lift and made contact with electrical lines. Shana Crum was killed when she tried to help him. Chase was seriously injured. Tallahassee Democrat. Panama City News Herald.

Hat flap on bus: Martin County school officials are investigating a school bus aide who was seen on video yelling at a student to take off a “Make America Great Again” baseball hat. The aide threatened the 14-year-old Hidden Oaks Middle School student with a referral, then took the hat off his head. The aide told deputies that “I was personally offended,” and that “I totally regret doing this.” WPTV. TCPalm.

School security: Brian Katz, the new director of safety for the Broward County School District, says he intends to create a layered security approach to prevent an attack in schools, and to be better prepared if one does happen. “What I need to do as the highest priority is the engagement with law enforcement, particularly local, to increase and improve our response in the event of an emergency,” says Katz. WPLG.

Outsourcing custodians: The Hillsborough County School District is considering outsourcing custodial work to a private company to save money. The 1,500 district custodial workers are paid about $38 million a year. The district is asking for bids from cleaning companies. Gradebook.

Teacher turnover: The Lake County School District teacher turnover rate at schools is about 24 percent, which is average for Florida. But at five struggling, high-poverty schools, the rate is more than 40 percent, and at two others it’s more than 50 percent. School officials have put more specialists into helping English-language learning and special education students, and are watching the Orange County School District’s decision to invest $20 million into children’s services in nine low-income zip codes. Daily Commercial. School officials in Alachua County say stress and working conditions are making it hard to fill teaching vacancies. Five years ago the district had 4,000 applicants. At the beginning of this school year, there were 585. Gainesville Sun.

Educators honored: Six Lee County teachers are chosen to receive Golden Apples. They are: Amanda Rose, an English teacher at Dunbar High; Stacey Anderson, a middle school math teacher at the Alva School; James Rose, a 4th-grade teacher at Ray V. Pottorf Elementary; Courtney Black, a 5th-grade science and social studies teacher at Allen Park Elementary; Kristina Gale, a 3rd-grade teacher at Gulf Elementary; and Kristina Caudill, a kindergarten teacher at Heights Elementary. Fort Myers News-Press.

School start times: Leon County school officials are asking for community feedback for changing the school start times to 8 a.m. for most middle and high schools, with elementary schools and a couple middle schools moving to 9 a.m. Current times for most schools are 7:30 a.m. for high schools, 8:30 a.m. for elementary schools and 9:30 a.m. for middle schools. Tallahassee Democrat.

Truancy response: Marion County school officials say they are now filing truancy petitions against parents directly to circuit court instead of referring them to the State Attorney’s Office. That office hasn’t filed a truancy petition court in almost two years, and school district officials decided to go directly to court instead. Ocala Star-Banner.

District audit: Manatee County school officials are considering ways to address problems with student record-keeping that were pointed out recently by the Florida Department of Education and the district’s internal auditor. One potential solution is to create an online database for student records. District officials also say they plan to require that the enrollment officer be notified when students codes are changed from withdrawn for home-schooling. Bradenton Herald. The internal auditors and the Audit Committee, formed to oversee spending of the proceeds from a tax referendum, question some of the items purchased with the tax money. Bradenton Herald.

School funding: Several Sarasota County School Board members are lobbying legislators to keep the current property tax rate instead of reducing it, as they have in the past three years. Past Legislatures have looked at any increase in revenue through higher property taxes as a tax increase. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Charter school funds: Charter schools in south Florida should get a share of money generated from voter-approved tax increases, says state Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah. Both Miami-Dade and Palm Beach school districts have been criticized for refusing to share the proceeds to raise teacher pay in charters. WLRN.

Bible course bill: A Hindu activist wants the proposed bill requiring school district to offer a Bible study course expanded to include three Hindu texts for “academic enrichment.” The bill currently mentions only classes in classes in the Old Testament, New Testament and Hebrew Scripture. A request to add the Qu’ran to the bill was denied last week. Florida Politics.

School program: The Alachua County School District’s request to add a math honors course to its high school curriculum is being reviewed by the Florida Department of Education. The course is known as discrete math, and would be available to students who have already taken two calculus courses. WUFT.

Notable deaths: Bruce Brodney, a former Pinellas County School District teacher who later helped train generations of teachers as a professor at St. Petersburg College, has died at the age of 66. Tampa Bay Times.

Public comments cut: Pasco County School Board member Megan Harding apologizes to the public after the board cut short comments from the public at last week’s meeting. Board bylaws set aside an hour for comments, but last Tuesday, 75 people signed up to speak three minutes apiece. Board members voted 4-1 to stick to the bylaws. Gradebook.

Dress code survey: Principals at Volusia County high schools say the three-year-old dress code is not working as planned. On a district survey, high school principals say it’s hard to enforce, cuts into teaching time, creates antipathy in students toward school and is causing some disagreements between teachers. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Special education meetings: Okaloosa County school Superintendent Marcus Chambers concludes a week of meeting with parents of special-needs students by saying: “This is a complex topic, and there’s a lot to do. I think there is a lot that we do right in Okaloosa County … but there is still a lot that we can do much better.” The program has been scrutinized since a child abuse claim was made in 2017. Northwest Florida Daily News. One of the problems mentioned at the meetings: Some Okaloosa County special-needs student spend more than an hour a day on a school bus getting to school. Northwest Florida Daily News.

School board elections: Ed Shoemaker says he will challenge incumbent Billy Townsend for the District 1 seat on the Polk County School Board in November 2020. Shoemaker. a former teacher who now works with at-risk children and their families, unsuccessfully ran for the same seat in 2016 when Townsend was elected. Lakeland Ledger.

Administrators’ problems: An administrative law judge is recommending that a Manatee County principal lose his educator license for five years and be fined $2,400 for providing “misleading employment references” for a teacher who was under criminal investigation. Eddie Hundley, principal at the Lincoln Memorial Academy, made the reference in 2017. The recommendation now goes to the Florida Department of Education’s Education Practices Commission for a final decision. Bradenton HeraldSarasota Herald-Tribune. The former assistant principal at the Union Academy in Bartow chose to retire after being accused of calling his school’s teaches “hoes.” The educator license of Alonzo Williams Jr. was suspended for a year in February by the Florida Department of Education. Lakeland Ledger.

Teachers arrested: An Orange County teacher is arrested and accused of molesting a child. Julio Soto, 49, a 5th-grade teacher at at Castle Creek Elementary, is charged with lewd or lascivious molestation of a child, according to deputies. Orlando Sentinel. Christina Dobbs Lee, the drama teacher at Kathleen High School in Lakeland, is arrested and charged with leaving the scene of an accident after Polk County deputies say she ran a red light and hit another car. Lakeland Ledger.

Teachers accused: A Miami-Dade County teacher has been fired after several students allege that he grabbed students by the hair and head. The man, a Spanish teacher at Banyan Elementary School, was not identified by school officials. WSVN. A Volusia County middle school teacher is put on leave after being accused of encouraging students at Creekside Middle School in Port Orange to fight. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Student attacked: A 19-year-old man is arrested and accused of trying to stab a 16-year-old student at Key West High School. Police say the man is a former student at the school who dropped out and is not allowed on campus. Key West Citizen.

Student arrested: A 15-year-old student at the Success Academy in Tallahassee is arrested and accused of making a written threat against the school. Tallahassee Democrat.

Unwanted visitor: St. Johns County deputies trap a 6-foot alligator that made an unwelcome appearance in a pond at the Palm Valley Academy in Ponte Vedra Beach. Miami Herald.

Opinions on schools: The Pasco County School Board’s refusal to buckle under the pressure brought by people who want to dial back protections for transgender students is a great lesson for students. Sue Carlton, Tampa Bay Times. The Hillsborough County School District’s new initiative for improving struggling classrooms is appropriately ambitious, and off to a promising start. Tampa Bay Times. In the areas of home-schooling and private schools, Florida has struck a good balance between regulations and choice, but the public district and charter schools are overregulated. To achieve a more appropriate balance, public schools need less regulation and more consumer choice. Doug Tuthill, redefinED. With more than 140,000 children making use of the state’s four current school choice programs, Florida parents are ready for the expansion of the programs or the addition of new programs. Tim Benson, Heartland Institute. When I wanted my kids to learn to play the piano in addition to their ABCs, it didn’t occur to me to demand of government that teaching the most popular instrument in the world be part of the school curriculum. So, why would Florida taxpayers now have to subsidize, for the evangelical Christians among us, the teaching of the Bible in public schools? Fabiola Santiago, Miami Herald. From what I can tell, the most controversial thing about climate change is people saying it’s not controversial. So I wish Sen. Dennis Baxley’s bill to require schools to teach alternatives to “controversial theories” won’t automatically be laughed out of the Legislature. David Whitley, Orlando Sentinel. Teachers are taking a pass on teaching in Florida schools, and it’s easy to see why. How many people would spend four years in college to take a job that won’t pay their bills? Fed Ingram, Washington Post.

Student enrichment: Jesuit High School in Tampa will have a Saint John’s Bible on display through 2022. The bible, commissioned in 1998, is considered fine art. Only 299 were created. Tampa Bay Times.

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