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Florida schools roundup: Tax hikes, testing results, school security and more

Tax vote scuttled: Brevard County School Board members don’t think voters will approve a property tax increase to pay for school security and employee pay raises, so they’ve decided not to ask. They say there’s not enough time to educate voters, and they worry that putting the referendum on the ballot will jeopardize the renewal of the half-cent sales tax surcharge. So now the board will be looking at layoffs and cutting expenses and programs. Pennie Zuercher, the district’s chief financial officer, estimated the budget deficit will be about $5.3 million. Florida Today.

FSA test results: More reports on how school districts around the state, and some struggling schools in particular, did in the Florida Standards Assessments testing for reading and math for grades 3-12, science for 5th- and 8th-graders and end-of-course exams in biology, civics and U.S. history. Testing results are part of the formula used to assign grades to individual schools and districts. Miami Herald. Florida Times-UnionWUSF. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando SentinelWJCT. WSNN. Bradenton Herald. Bradenton TimesSarasota Herald-Tribune. Island Reporter. WBBH. Naples Daily News. Flagler Live. Ocala Star-Banner. Northwest Florida Daily News. Vero News. WJHG. Lakeland Ledger. Charlotte Sun. Walton Sun. Highlands News-Sun. Marco Eagle. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Panama City News Herald. WLRN. Bridge to Tomorrow. WMBB.

School security: Miami-Dade school officials are asking city and county officials for help in putting school resource officers in schools that do not already have officers. The district has its own police force, and its officers cover all middle and high schools. But that leaves about 240 schools uncovered. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho plans to use $4 million from the state to hire 40 to 50 officers for the district force, and is offering $4 million to be distributed among the county and 34 municipalities. WLRNWFOR. Jupiter Police Chief Frank J. Kitzerow Jr. is chosen to become police chief of the Palm Beach County School District. Kitzerow, 61, has been chief in Jupiter since 2004. The school board is expected to approve the appointment at its Wednesday meeting. Palm Beach PostSun-Sentinel. The St. Johns County School Board authorizes Superintendent Tim Forson to negotiate and contract with law enforcement agencies to provide armed security at any district school not already covered by deputies from the sheriff’s office. St. Augustine Record. The Palm Beach and Martin county school districts have bought workplace violence insurance in case any of their schools are attacked by anyone with a weapon. WPTV. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Test scores improve, proposed tax hikes and more

FSA test results: Florida students improved their test scores in the state’s math, science and social studies exams, and in reading in some grades, according to results released Thursday by the Florida Department of Education. The Florida Standards Assessments measure reading and math for students in grades 3-12, science for 5th- and 8th-graders and end-of-course exams in biology, civics and U.S. history. Test results also show a narrowing of the achievement gap between white and nonwhite students in language arts, algebra 1 and geometry. Testing results are part of the formula used to assign grades to individual schools and districts. Orlando Sentinel. Sun-SentinelBridge to TomorrowFlorida Department of Education. More reports on how school districts around the state did in the testing. Ocala Star-Banner. Palm Beach Post. TCPalm. Tampa Bay Times. GradebookWJXT. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Gainesville Sun. Space Coast Daily.

Proposed tax hikes: If the Palm Beach County School Board agrees to the placement of a property tax increase on the November ballot, it would be the third school tax increase voters have been asked to approve in the past four years. This time, the request is for an extra $1 per $1,000 of taxable property value, which would be used for teacher salaries, school security and mental health care. The tax is projected to raise $200 million a year for four years. The board vote is scheduled Wednesday. Sun-Sentinel. A school tax referendum in Hillsborough County is likely to be delayed beyond November because it might take up to eight months or longer to get the financial audit that is now required by the state before voters can be asked to approve an increase in taxes. District officials say when they contacted the Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability to request the audit, they were told there might be a six-month wait and that the results would have to be posted for two months before a vote could take place. Tampa Bay Times.

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Florida schools roundup: School police chief, budgets, depression and more

School security: Paul Grohowski, who most recently worked as the director of public safety and chief of police for the Allan Hancock Joint Community College Police Department in Santa Maria, Calif., is hired as police chief for the Sarasota County School District. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Some of the everyday people being hired as school guardians in Polk County talk about their motives for taking the job. Lakeland LedgerCBS News. A survey shows that students in Boca Raton want improved active shooter drills, bulletproof windows installed and identification badges on campus enforced. Palm Beach Post. The Gulf County teachers union holds a community meeting to discuss school safety, motivating students and other issues. Port St. Joe Star.

Budget problems: The Volusia County School District is projecting a budget deficit of $4.49 million for the next fiscal year, and district officials and school board members have six weeks to close it before the scheduled board vote. Items unsettled include how much school security is going to cost, pay raises as the district continues to negotiate with the teachers union, and whether there will be money left over from the current budget year, which ends June 30. Dipping into reserves has been mentioned as an option to close the deficit. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Teaching with depression: Teachers who suffer from depression spend less time than other teachers in group instruction and explaining new assignments, according to research published in the Journal of School Psychology. Researchers studied 32 3rd-grade teachers and their 326 students in eight schools in north Florida three times over the course of a year, and theorize that depressed teachers may be choosing lessons that require less energy. Education Week.

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Florida schools roundup: School crime reporting, scholarships, suit and more

School crime reporting: The Broward County School District has failed to report many students’ crimes to the state as required by state law, according to records from the Broward Sheriff’s Office. For example, the district reported 193 weapons were found in schools during the 2016-2017 school year, but officials acknowledge they no longer were counting such things as ammunition, small knives, throwing blades, nunchucks, BB guns and combustible materials. District spokeswoman Cathleen Brennan says the data sent to the state is meant only to capture “the most serious of incidents, while other incidents are recorded and addressed locally.” Lisa Maxwell, executive director of the Broward Principals and Assistants’ Association, adds, “The state statute is really kind of unclear and open to interpretation, so it leads to subjective decisions.” Sun-Sentinel.

Scholarship oversight: Several legislators say they want to standardize education curriculum for all state schools. Sen. Victor Torres, D-Orlando, was among those calling for the change after a newspaper report detailing some of the materials used by some private schools that enroll students who get scholarships from the state. Among those lessons: people and dinosaurs lived on Earth at the same time, slaves who “knew Christ” were better off than free men who did not, and God intervened to prevent Catholics from controlling North America. The state doesn’t track curriculum used by private schools with scholarship students, and bars the Florida Education Department from regulating academics at those schools. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer two scholarship programs students use to attend private schools. Orlando Sentinel.

One lawsuit on hold: Leon County Circuit Court Judge James Shelfer rules that the Palm Beach County School Board’s challenge of the Legislature’s 2017 education law, H.B. 7069, is on hold until an appeal on a broader lawsuit against the law is settled. Palm Beach is challenging only the part of the law that requires the district to share local property tax revenue with charter schools it authorizes. The other lawsuit, brought by several districts, claims the law is unconstitutional because it has “encroached on the authority vested by the Florida Constitution in locally elected district school boards to operate, control, and supervise the local public schools located in their respective jurisdictions.” redefinED. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Private school curriculum, education lawsuits and more

Private school problems: Three Christian publishing companies provide some Florida private schools and homeschooled students with a curriculum that denies evolution, says humans and dinosaurs shared the earth, downplays the horrors of slavery and treatment of native Americans, and disparages religions other than Protestant Christianity and cultures that didn’t descend from white Europeans, according to a review of the materials. Experts from several colleges and school districts say the lessons also are easier than those required in public schools, and do not prepare students for college. Orlando Sentinel. The principal of an Osceola County private school says he knew about the felony convictions of the man he hired as athletics supervisor, but didn’t know hiring him was a violation of state law. Orlando Sentinel.

Education lawsuits: Lawyers for the state say 10 members of the 1998 Constitution Revision Commission should not be permitted to file a brief supporting the group Citizens for Strong Schools in its suit filed nine years ago that alleges the state has not adequately funded school education as required by the constitution. Those members, who include former attorney general Bob Butterworth, former Supreme Court justice Gerald Kogan and former House speaker Jon Mills, say they want to explain their intent in framing the constitutional amendment requiring the state to provide a high-quality public school system. Gradebook. News Service of Florida. State lawyers also argue that the appeal of the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Legislature’s 2017 education law, H.B. 7069, should continue in the standard appeals process instead of being certified quickly to the Florida Supreme Court, as the school boards that brought the suit are requesting. News Service of Florida.

Bittersweet graduation: Sunday’s graduation ceremony for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School seniors was a bittersweet affair, the excitement tempered with the memory of the Feb. 14 massacre of 17 people, including four students who would have graduated. Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon made a surprise appearance as a guest speaker, telling students, “When something feels hard, remember that it gets better. Choose to move forward. Don’t let anything stop you.” Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. Palm Beach Post. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Legislators graded, virtual schools study and more

Teachers grade lawmakers: The state’s largest teachers union, the Florida Education Association, releases the grades it’s given to legislators. Most Republicans got F’s, while most Democrats got A’s and B’s. The Senate grades are here, and the House grades here. The grades given were almost the inverse of those handed out in April by Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future. Unlike the foundation, the FEA calculated a grade based on the 2017 and 2018 legislative sessions, and also considered factors such as bill votes, committee work, lobbying and accessibility to union members. Gradebook. WFSU. Tallahassee Democrat.

Virtual schools: A study by the National Educational Policy Center questions the performance of the nation’s virtual schools, saying there’s “overwhelming evidence” they don’t work. The report finds that virtual schools have high teacher-to-student ratios, huge enrollments and underperform academically. Virtual schools run by districts perform far better than those run by charter schools, the researchers found. Enrollment in virtual schools have been growing steadily, and is now up to nearly 300,000 students. T.H.E. Journal.

Higher education offer: Walmart announces it will subsidize college educations for its 1.4 million U.S. workers, who will have to pay just $1 a day for 365 days a year as long as they’re enrolled in one of three universities – the University of Florida, Brandman University in Irvine, Calif., or Bellevue University in Bellevue, Neb. Walmart thinks as many as 68,000 of its employees could enroll under the plan. USA Today. Washington Post. New York Times.

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Florida schools roundup: Reading, bargaining, school security and more

Reading test results: More on how 3rd-graders performed on the Florida Standards Assessments language arts testing in districts around the state. Test results are a major factor in determining if students are promoted to the 4th grade. Miami Herald. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Gradebook. WUSFFlorida Today. Space Coast Daily. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Daily CommercialLakeland LedgerChipley Bugle. WMBB. State testing went smoothly for Sarasota County students, district officials say. More than 76,000 tests were taken this year. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Bargaining suit challenge: Officials of teachers unions around Florida say they will file suit against a new law that requires more than half of eligible teachers to be dues-paying members of a union or the union should be decertified. Teachers argue the law, which takes effect July 1, is unconstitutional because it defies a provision added to the constitution in 1968 after a teachers strike, and discriminatory because it targets only them. WLRN. Teachers talk about union membership and how they think it’s affected their paychecks and classrooms. WLRN.

School security: The Brevard County School District begins advertising to fill 28 school security specialist positions for the 2018-2019 school year. The pay is listed at $25,444 to $37,915 for the 10-month position, with benefits pushing the value of the package to about $40,400. The specialists, who will carry concealed weapons, will work at elementary schools that don’t already have a resource officer. Florida Today. Orlando Sentinel. WOFL. The executive director of the School Safety Advocacy Council says he has concerns about the Sarasota County School District’s ability to hire and train a police department by August, and has pulled out of a consulting role with the district. “We only lend our name and our expertise to processes that we have confidence are going to be 100 percent successful,” says Curt Lavarello. “At this point, I don’t have that feeling that this is on the path to success, from what I’ve heard.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: 3rd-grade reading scores down, housing and more

Reading test results: The state’s 3rd-graders posted slightly lower scores on the Florida Standards Assessments reading tests this year, according to results released by the Florida Department of Education. Twenty percent of the state’s 3rd-graders – more than 44,000 students – post a Level 1 score, which puts them at risk of repeating the grade. Last year it was 19 percent. About half of the affected students are promoted using the state’s retention law exemptions or by attending summer reading camps. Fifty-seven percent of the 3rd-graders posted a Level 3 score, which is considered at or above grade level, down from 58 percent last year but up from the 53 percent in 2015. The test scores also factor into the formula for school grades, which come out later this summer. Orlando SentinelGradebook. Ocala Star-Banner.

Housing for teachers: Suggestions in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties that affordable housing for teachers be built on school campuses is getting a chilly reaction from teachers. “I mean, who wants to live where they work?” asks Karla Hernandez-Mats, president of the United Teachers of Dade. Other teachers union officials agree, and suggest a better solution would be to pay teachers more so they could afford mortgages or rents in south Florida. WLRN. Continue Reading →