Voucher effects on public schools, pension plans, panic alarm bill delayed, dual enrollment and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

Voucher effects on public schools: A new study of Florida academic achievement concludes that outcomes for public school students improved as the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program expanded. The National Bureau of Economic Research study by David N. Figlio, Cassandra M.D. Hart and Krzysztof Karbownik showed that during the time that vouchers expanded, students attending public schools that were most affected by competition from private schools showed improvements in test scores and lower suspension and absenteeism rates. All students benefited, the authors said, but the effects on lower-income students were more pronounced. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the scholarship program. National Review.

Pension problems: The state’s Department of Management Services has recommended that school districts increase their contributions to the teacher retirement system by $232.7 million this year, or nearly $200 million more than the increase approved in the Senate and House budgets for the 2019-2020 school year. The money would come out of the state’s base student allocation, and some legislators said the problem could have an impact on plans to raise teacher salaries. The contribution rate is figured by a DMS actuarial study calculating the amount of funding needed to support all the obligations of the state’s two retirement plans. “We’re still getting our arms around it, quite frankly,” said state Rep. Travis Cummings, R-Orange Park. He said the entire shortfall does not have to be funded. Politico Florida.

Panic alarm and school security: Consideration for a bill that would require all K-12 schools in Florida to have panic alarm systems has been delayed while senators try to decide where the money will come from to help districts pay for them. “We’re doing everything we can to … fit it within our budget constraints,” said state Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, who chairs the Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee. The required alarms would be accessible to teachers and staff and would directly alert school and law enforcement officials with information about the type of emergency situation and the location on campus. Tallahassee Democrat. Officials from the U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center are touring the country to bring attention to the center’s report on school violence, which it released after studying dozens of attacks including the one in 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in which 17 people died. The report recommends that threat assessments should focus on student behaviors instead of a set of traits, and that attackers have interest in violent topics, extensive school disciplinary actions and turbulent home lives. WPLG. Sun Sentinel. Associated Press. A study by Florida International University researchers concludes that students who sleep four hours or less a night are more likely to carry guns and even take them to school. WLRN.

Dual enrollment: Bills that would give all Florida students free access to dual enrollment programs from colleges and universities won the approval of committees in the Senate and House on Tuesday. S.B. 1246 and H.B. 187 would give students two years to take dual enrollment classes instead of one, and would prohibit colleges and universities from passing on costs for tuition, fees and instructional materials to private schools. redefinED.

Moment of silence: A bill requiring schools to give students a moment of silence at the beginning of each school day was approved Tuesday by the House Education Committee. The bill calls for at least one minute of silence, but no more than two, right after the Pledge of Allegiance. H.B. 737 now goes to the full House for a vote. The Senate version has to clear one more committee before the full Senate votes on it. Florida Politics.

AP exams: Florida leads the nation in the percentage of high school students taking Advanced Placement exams, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran announced last week, citing a report from the College Board. “The amazing accomplishments of these graduates means they embrace the importance of education,” Corcoran said of the 2019 graduating class’ 56 percent participation rate. Florida ranked third in the passing rate, with 32.3 percent scoring at Level 3 or higher. Florida is also third in improvement over the past decade, bettering students’ success rate by 12.2 percentage points. The flip side is that just 51.4 percent of the Florida students who took an AP exam passed, which is below the national average of 57.6 percent for a ranking of 38th among the 50 states. Florida Phoenix.

City appeals ruling: The city of Jacksonville is appealing a circuit judge’s ruling that the Duval County School Board had the authority to hire outside counsel and sue the city over its refusal to place a tax referendum on the ballot. The school board wanted a measure on the ballot in November asking voters to approve an increase of a half-cent in the sales tax to raise money to repair and replace school buildings. The city council refused, leading to the lawsuit. City attorneys argued that the board does not have the right to sue because of the consolidated government charter, but the board said, and Circuit Court Judge Gary Wilkinson agreed, that it is not part of the consolidated government. Florida Times-Union.

Superintendent search: Sarasota County School Board members want the district’s next superintendent to have impeccable integrity, be able to foster relationships with the community and philanthropies, and have the capacity to lead several major initiatives. Board members hope to hire the new superintendent by July 1, before board elections and the new school year. Mitsi Corcoran has been the interim superintendent since November, when Todd Bowden resigned after an investigation concluded he mishandled a sexual harassment complaint against the district’s chief operations officer. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Hillsborough County School Board members formally hire Addison Davis as the district’s next superintendent, and will pay him $310,000 a year through 2023. WUSF.

School rezoning: Over the objections of parents, Hillsborough County School Board members approved a rezoning plan that would send 223 students from the A-rated Barrington Middle School in Lithia to nearby Rodgers Middle, a B-rated Title 1 school in Riverview.  Board members said they needed to alleviate middle school overcrowding in the rapidly growing south area of the county. Gradebook.

New charter school’s goals: Adrienne Campbell, principal of the Tallahassee Classical School that opens in August after a protracted dispute with the Leon County School District, talks about the school’s curriculum, the charter school model it’s following and its relationship with the school district. Tallahassee Democrat.

Presidents Day absenteeism: Absenteeism was double the usual rate Monday in Palm Beach County schools, according to district officials. Most state K-12 schools were closed on Presidents Day, and so were banks, government offices and the U.S. Postal Service, but the district chose for the second straight year to remain open. Teachers were greeted with half-empty classrooms, as absenteeism soared to about 10 percent. Sun Sentinel.

Notable deaths: Ernie Green, a teacher, coach and administrator at Fort Walton Beach High School for more than 30 years, has died at the age of 71. Northwest Florida Daily News. WMBB. Patrick Kronk, a teacher and head football coach at Leto High School in Tampa, died last weekend at the age of 28. WFLA. WTVT.

Allegations denied: The chief academic officer for the Polk County School District is denying that he used vulgar language and made threats to the president of the teachers union during a call Jan. 10. Michael Akes, who is on paid leave while the district investigates the allegations, said he asked Stephanie Yocum to call him to discuss a letter from the state warning of the possible consequences for teachers who missed school Jan. 13 to attend an education rally in Tallahassee. Yocum said Akes swore at her on the call and warned her against recording it. Lakeland Ledger.

Transgender issues debated: Transgender issues were at the center of discussion at the Flagler County School Board meeting on Tuesday. Students and community activists lobbied for the board to change its policies and offer them more protections. Others argued against the district making policy changes to accommodate such requests as honoring a student’s pronoun preferences. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Flagler Live. Spectrum News 13.

Board being sued: A former Collier County assistant principal is suing the school board, alleging that it discriminated against her because of a disability and violated the Florida Public Whistleblower Act. Linda Moise was a Corkscrew Middle School assistant principal when she was attacked by a student last year. She said she suffered impairment of “movement and thought processes,” and told the district she felt unsafe and no longer wanted to supervise the student. When she was ready to return to work she was offered “unsuitable” options and after rejecting them, was fired. Naples Daily News.

School employees and the law: A supervisor at a Pinellas County alternative school for boys ages 11-15 has been arrested and charged with failure to report child neglect and neglect of a child resulting in great bodily harm. Police said a staffer at AMIkids body-slammed a 12-year-old student for skipping the lunch line, causing him to vomit and drift in and out of consciousness. The supervisor, Jarvis Delon West, 28, didn’t call for help and kept the student at school, then did not contact the boy’s mother. She later took him to a hospital where he was diagnosed with a skull fracture, two subdural hematomas and a brain bleed, police said. He’s still in the hospital in serious condition. Police said they will be arresting the school employee who body-slammed the boy. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. WFTS. A former Orange County school resource officer has been charged with misdemeanor battery. Harry Reid, who had been at Westridge Middle School, was fired in November for using excessive force while taking a 13-year-old student into custody. A video of the incident showed Reid pulling her head backward by the hair as the girl screamed. Orlando Sentinel.

Opinions on schools: Term limits for local school board members are just another part of the Legislature’s war against local governments. Mark Lane, Daytona Beach News-Journal. Inflicting pain to disadvantaged students by bullying corporate donors to stop contributing to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program is no way to make progress. James Bush III, Lakeland Ledger.

Student enrichment: Madeline Feiock, a senior at Leon High School in Tallahassee, has won a 2020 Trailblazers award from the Oasis Center for Women & Girls for her work in registering students to vote. Tallahassee Democrat. Three Rutherford High School students are named National Merit Scholarship semifinalists. Panama City News Herald. Fifteen state K-12 schools have been designated as Green Apple schools by the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation for reducing waste and energy and water use. Florida Department of Environmental Regulation. The game room at the Roosevelt Academy in Lake Wales got a makeover thanks to donations from the Guardian Riders Association Caring and Empowering nonprofit organization and the local Walmart. Lakeland Ledger.

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