Author Archive | Special to redefinED

Union challenges ‘Best and Brightest’ teacher bonuses

By Jim Saunders

News Service of Florida

The Florida Education Association teachers union has filed a potential class-action lawsuit alleging that the state’s controversial “Best and Brightest” bonus program discriminates against older teachers and minorities.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in federal court in Tallahassee, names as defendants the Florida Department of Education and school boards throughout the state.

Lawmakers approved the Best and Brightest program in 2015 to provide bonuses to teachers. But the program has been controversial, in part, because it uses teacher performances on SAT and ACT college-entrance exams — in some cases, exams that teachers took decades ago — to help determine eligibility for the bonuses.

The lawsuit, which also includes seven individual teachers as plaintiffs, alleges that the Best and Brightest program violates state and federal civil-rights laws because of the use of the SAT and ACT scores. Continue Reading →

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Devos calls for change during Fla. education pow-wow

By Jim Saunders

News Service of Florida

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos gathered Wednesday with about a dozen leaders of Florida business, higher-education and advocacy organizations to talk about reshaping the education system to offer more choices and to better prepare students for jobs.

DeVos, during an hour-long meeting in a conference room at the Florida Chamber Commerce, urged the leaders to “double down” on efforts to expand choices for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. DeVos has long been a major supporter of voucher programs and charter schools.

She pointed to the “notion that for too many years we’ve tried to have too many top-down approaches — be it from Washington or, in some cases, from the state level — to try to fit all children into one box.” Continue Reading →

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DeVos: Florida ‘a role model’ in education

By Jim Turner

News Service of Florida

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a supporter of voucher programs and charter schools, visited two Tallahassee schools, one a private religious school, the other a charter, for what she called a “learning” experience on Tuesday.

Democrats called the visit, which didn’t include traditional public schools, a “photo op” and “publicity stunt.”

After a tour of Holy Comforter Episcopal School, DeVos highlighted innovations she saw at the school while defending the educational approach of President Donald Trump.

“I think they’re examples of what a lot of schools should aspire to be and look for, opportunities to become more innovative,” DeVos told reporters. “I think that we need to recognize the fact that far too many schools have been stuck in a mode that is basically approaching things that have been done very similarly to 100 years ago. And the world today is much different. And we need to be acknowledging that and moving toward ways that really engage students and take their curiosity and really fire it up and stoke the curiosity to continue to learn.”

DeVos also toured Florida State University Schools, a charter school affiliated with the university’s College of Education. Continue Reading →

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Florida public schools to see modest enrollment growth

By Lloyd Dunkelberger

News Service of Florida

Florida public schools are expected to grow by 27,000 students in the next year, under an estimate approved by state forecasters on Thursday.

The 0.9 percent growth rate for the 2018-19 academic year is in line with an estimate showing the number of students in Florida K-12 classrooms will average less than 1 percent growth over the four subsequent years.

K-12 enrollment is projected to rise from 2.83 million students this year to 2.86 million next fall, an increase of 26,764 full-time students in the 67 school districts and the Florida Virtual School, according to Thursday’s forecast.

The K-12 population will rise to 2.95 million students by the fall of 2022, averaging an annual increase of 0.85 percent from the fall of 2018, the projection shows.

Next year, students enrolled statewide in standard education classes in grades 4-8 will increase by 1.5 percent, while standard high school enrollment will grow by 1.3 percent, the estimate shows. K-3 enrollment is projected to decline by 1.3 percent.

Among the major trends, the estimate shows a 3.4 percent increase in students enrolled in the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program, with 202,033 students projected next fall, an increase of 6,608 students from this year. Continue Reading →

Fla. judge sides with state on charter school standards

From the News Service of Florida:

Rejecting arguments from a group of mom-and-pop charter schools, an administrative law judge Friday upheld a plan that would make charter schools ineligible for state construction and facilities money if they have “D” performance grades in two consecutive years.

Judge Darren Schwartz, in a 20-page order, sided with the Florida Department of Education and the State Board of Education in the dispute with two Miami-Dade County charter schools and the Florida Association of Independent Charter Schools. Continue Reading →

Quality of schools confronts Fla. appeals court

By Brandon Larrabee

News Service of Florida

A Tallahassee-based appeals court wrestled Tuesday with what standard should be applied to Florida’s education system, with judges sounding skeptical that courts were even a proper place to hear the issue.

At least two members of a three-judge panel from the 1st District Court of Appeal directed sharp questions at Jodi Siegel, an attorney for a coalition of advocates and parents who sued the state eight years ago for allegedly failing to provide a quality education system.

While the judges questioned both sides, even Siegel conceded afterward that they seemed skeptical about courts’ ability to referee the fight.

“They did, and we hope we made our argument,” she said.

The central issue in the appeal is whether courts can evaluate the state’s obligation under a 1998 constitutional amendment that declares it is a “paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.”

The amendment fleshed that out, in part, by saying adequate provision will be made for a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system” of public schools.

But Leon County Circuit Judge George Reynolds ruled last year that the judiciary should be hesitant to wade too deeply into the issue and give deference to the Legislature under the separation of powers. The judges at Tuesday’s hearing seemed more likely than not to agree. Continue Reading →

School districts to take Fla. to court over massive education law

By Brandon Larrabee

News Service of Florida

The Broward County School Board voted Wednesday to move ahead with legal action against a sweeping new education law, an initial step toward a court clash over one of the legislative session’s most controversial bills.

During a special meeting called to discuss the potential lawsuit, board members voted unanimously to allow the district to hire an outside lawyer to help handle the case. Broward County expects to be followed by other districts — including Miami-Dade County — in mounting a challenge to the law.

The legislation (HB 7069), signed by Gov. Rick Scott last month, would overhaul a vast swath of state education law. It deals with everything from mandatory recess for elementary school students and standardized testing to charter school funding and teacher bonuses.

In a memo given to the Broward County board ahead of the meeting, the board’s general counsel outlined five grounds to challenge the 278-page, $419 million measure. The grounds include an argument that the massive legislation violates the Florida Constitution’s requirement that each bill deal with a single subject.

But it also launches broadsides against some aspects of the legislation that are friendly to charter schools. The new law makes it easier for charter schools to open near academically struggling traditional public schools, something the Broward County board says infringes on its authority over schools.

The law, championed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, also requires school districts to share with charter schools construction funds raised by local property taxes, something that could weaken the districts’ credit outlook. Continue Reading →

Fla. Gov. Rick Scott faces increasing pressure on school funding

By Brandon Larrabee

News Service of Florida

The chorus of voices calling for Gov. Rick Scott to veto a controversial education bill — and perhaps part of the state budget for public schools — grew Tuesday, even as supporters tried to push back.

Two of the state’s major education organizations — the Florida School Boards Association and the Florida Association of District School Superintendents — sent letters to Scott on Tuesday asking him to nix a wide-ranging schools bill (HB 7069) unveiled on the next-to-last business day of the 2017 legislative session.

The superintendents went a step further and called on Scott to use his line-item veto to strike the Florida Education Finance Program, or FEFP, a move that would essentially force the Legislature to pass a new education budget. The FEFP comprises the majority of state and local funding that flows to public schools.

The letters from the two organizations came on top of calls from the Florida Education Association, the state’s main teachers union, for Scott to take dramatic action on HB 7069, a sweeping measure covering everything from school uniforms and sunscreen to teacher bonuses and recess.

The measure is perhaps best known for its inclusion of a funding program for “schools of hope,” including charter schools in areas with academically struggling traditional schools, and an expansion of the “Best and Brightest” teacher bonus system.

The school boards association was particularly blistering about the way that the bill was put together in budget negotiations between the House and Senate. The legislation emerged as a “conforming bill,” tied to the budget and essentially subject only to an up-or-down vote. Continue Reading →