Author Archive | Livi Stanford

Fla. Senate advances its version of ‘Schools of Hope’

Sen. Aaron Bean

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved two bills today aimed at providing aid for struggling schools and attracting nationally recognized charters to their neighborhoods.

Together, the bills are similar to the House’s ‘Schools of Hope,’ a $200 million plan to move students from struggling public schools into new schools operated by nationally recognized charter school operators.

But at the same time, the Senate bills have key differences — including an uncertain price tag.

The committee approved SB 796, by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, which aims to attract “high-impact” charter schools to Florida.

The legislation requires charter  school organizations to prove to the state Board of Education they have a track record of achieving results with low-income students. Continue Reading →

0

Revised house bill would expand options for charter and virtual schools

Rep. Manny Diaz

The Florida House Education Committee revised a testing bill today to include an amendment that would help charter and virtual schools.

Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, filed a 76-page amendment to HB 773, adding certain aspects of several education bills.

The amendment includes a portion HB 7101 by Rep. Bob Cortes, R-Altamonte Springs that would allow high-performing charters to replicate more than once per year if they open in an area served by a persistently low-performing school.

It also includes provisions from HB 833, by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, allowing all students to have access to online courses.

Sullivan’s bill — and the companion bill by Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala — would give students in second through fifth grade who did not attend public school the ability to enroll in part-time virtual instruction.

Diaz also added terminology from HB 1111, which would give charter schools more freedom to train teachers and get them certified. The bill would create a new mentorship-based path to a Florida teaching certificate, and allow charter schools and charter school management companies to create their own teacher mentorship programs.

Rep. Larry Lee, D-Port St. Lucie, joined colleagues from both parties who approved the revised bill.

“I am going to be supporting this bill,” he said. “It needs a little bit of work. I am of the opinion that let’s not let perfect get in the way of good.” 

0

Fla. House ‘Schools of Hope’ backers hope for compromise

Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, is a key backer of the Florida House’s charter school legislation.

Two key architects of the Florida House’s “Schools of Hope” plan said a compromise with the Senate might be within reach.

But at the same time, they said continuing to simply pour money into struggling schools will not yield results. They argue Schools of Hope present a new approach.

“These kids that are sitting in schools that have failed five, seven, and 10 years,” Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, said in an interview. “We can’t wait anymore. Some of the solutions are going to work for particular communities. Let’s provide all of the solutions. Let’s not say ‘No,’ just because we don’t like who is providing the solution.”

Diaz, the chair of the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee, said the state needs to address the issue immediately, calling it an “emergency.”

The Florida House and Senate are wrangling over the House’s $200 million plan to move students from struggling public schools into new schools operated by nationally recognized charter school operators. Continue Reading →

0

In the face of threats, lawmakers look to enhance Jewish schools’ security

Rep. Randy Fine

When considering whether to re-enroll their children in the Hebrew Academy of Tampa Bay, several parents expressed reservations to Sulha Dubrowski, the school’s educational director.

The parents were concerned about security following bomb threats at 167 Jewish community centers in 38 states since the beginning of the year, Dubrowski said.

“They feel more secure in a public school because their kids won’t be singled as Jewish,” she said. As a result, one family ended up disenrolling their child because of security concerns, according to school officials.

Dubrowski said Hebrew Academy, Tampa Bay’s only Montessori Jewish day school, was the target of a bomb threat in January 2016. Since then, it tightened security, but because of budget constraints she is unable to hire a security guard, a request parents have made.

She said she hopes to install gates around the entire school property.

In the coming weeks, as they negotiate differences in their rival spending plans, state lawmakers will decide whether to offer security funding for similar measures at Jewish day schools across the state. Continue Reading →

0

Fla. Senate panel backs expanded Gardiner scholarship eligibility

Leon County parent Jeanne Boggs testifies before the Florida Senate Education Committee.

The Senate Education Committee approved legislation today that would allow more children to qualify for Gardiner scholarships, which provide education savings accounts for children with special needs.

SB 902, by Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, would expand eligibility for the program to include children who are deaf or visually impaired, as well as those with rare diseases or traumatic brain injuries. It defines rare diseases as those affecting populations of fewer than 200,000 in the United States.

In what became a theme for the meeting, Simmons said the program does not hurt public schools but assists them.

“The Gardiner scholarships have shown that there is no one size that fits all to helping these children and these families with these kinds of challenges,” he said. “These are extreme challenges, challenges which those who have faced them, most have stood up and met those challenges. This is one tool that we as a government can, in fact, help these children and these families.”

The scholarships are worth approximately 90 percent of the amount the state would spend to educate a child in public schools. Parents are able to use the money to pay for private-school tuition, homeschool curriculum, therapies, public-school courses, college savings and other approved education-related expenses.

Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer the program. It serves more than 7,700 students this school year, which makes it the largest education savings account program in the nation.
Continue Reading →

1

Why Florida lawmakers are targeting last remaining virtual education restrictions

Branden Ojeda, front, pictured with FLVS executives and his mother, Sherrie Johnson-Ojeda, far right.

Sherrie Johnson-Ojeda knew she had to find a solution for her son Branden.

The nine-year-old suffers from diabetes and was struggling in a public school in Lake County, Fla.

It became difficult on a day-to-day basis, as Branden was often ill.

“He would come home with pounding headaches and sweat was beating off his forehead,” Johnson-Ojeda said, due to blood sugar levels several times higher than normal.

As a result, she began looking for an alternative for her son and learned about Florida Virtual School.

FLVS functions like a statewide school district, enrolling students in online classes full- and part-time.

Johnson-Ojeda decided to homeschool Branden and enroll him in FLVS Flex, which offers part-time courses, during the 2016-17 school year. She said he made rapid progress.

“He is a straight-A student,” she said of her son’s progress in third grade. “Not only has my son benefited from my teaching, but the interactions with his Florida Virtual School teachers have had a huge impact and difference on my son’s education.”

FLVS gives Johnson-Ojeda more flexibility to schedule doctor appointments for her son and monitor his health more closely, she said.

But whether he can attend FLVS next year remains in question because state law restricts eligibility for virtual schools.

Based on current statutes, Branden is not able to take part-time FLVS courses for his fourth- grade year because he did not attend a public school last year. Continue Reading →

0

Fla. private school choice legislation ready for House floor

Sullivan portrait

Sullivan

After hearing from parents, a Florida House panel approved private school choice legislation unanimously.

With a few tweaks made this morning, HB 15 would expand the pool of children who qualify for Gardiner scholarships, which provide education savings accounts for children with special needs.

The bill, now ready for a vote on the House floor, would expand eligibility for the program to include children who are deaf or visually impaired, as well as those with rare diseases or traumatic brain injuries.

The bill would prevent double-billing for services families have already paid for using Medicaid or health insurance. It would also increase the per-student funding amount for Florida’s tax credit scholarship program. Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer both scholarship programs.

“This bill specifically helps our most vulnerable students,” bill sponsor Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, told the House Education Committee. “Those that find themselves in financial obstacles and also physical obstacles. This bill addresses both of those to set them up for success in the future.”

The provisions dealing with Gardiner scholarships were removed last week, but Sullivan put them back in. Continue Reading →

0

Fla. lawmakers propose opening virtual schools across district lines

A revised bill in the Florida Senate would allow students to attend virtual schools across district lines.

Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala

Sponsor Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said the measure would extend the state’s new open-enrollment policy for public schools “into the virtual arena.”

A law passed last year allowed Florida parents to transport their students to any public school in the state that had room for them. An amendment to SB 868, which passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously today, would extend that policy to “virtual charter schools, and district virtual programs.”

Florida Virtual School functions like a statewide school district, enrolling students in online classes full- and part-time.

But supporters of the change said right now, geographic boundaries still apply to Florida’s other online learning options, like virtual charter schools, school district-run Virtual Instruction Programs and local FLVS franchises. Continue Reading →

0