Author Archive | Special to redefinED

School boards ask high court to block wide-ranging Florida education law

By Jim Saunders

News Service of Florida

Raising the prospect of “irreversible damage” to the public-education system, nine school boards want the Florida Supreme Court to block a massive education law approved in May.

The school boards late Monday filed a constitutional challenge at the Supreme Court to the bill, which has become known in the education world by the shorthand HB 7069. The 274-page bill, spearheaded by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, dealt with a wide range of issues, including controversial subjects such as charter schools and teacher bonuses.

The challenge contends that the law violates part of the Florida Constitution that requires legislation to deal with single subjects. It alleges HB 7069 is a “prototypical example of logrolled legislation” — legislation that puts together a patchwork of issues.

School districts also have filed two lawsuits challenging HB 7069 in Leon County circuit court. But the new case filed directly to the Supreme Court involves different legal grounds and contends that immediate action is needed to block the law from moving forward. Continue Reading →

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Hurricanes leave uncertainty in Florida school enrollment

By Lloyd Dunkelberger

News Service of Florida

The impact of hurricanes may be a complicating factor as lawmakers try to figure out how many students are in Florida’s public schools this year and how many might show up next year.

An enrollment estimate will be critical as the Legislature creates a roughly $24 billion public-school budget for the 2018-2019 academic year. If more students show up than estimated next year, it will result in a reduction in per-student funding, as money will have to be pro-rated among the 67 school districts to account for the population increase.

“If you have more students (than the estimate), you spread it thinner,” Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, said about the public-school funding formula, which is known as the Florida Education Finance Program. “If you have less students, you don’t get the money.” Continue Reading →

Fla. House panel backs plan for Bethune statue

Editor’s note: See our take on Bethune here.

By Jim Turner

News Service of Florida

A statue of civil-rights activist and educator Mary McLeod Bethune moved closer Tuesday to replacing a likeness of a Confederate general in representing Florida in the U.S. Capitol.

The House Government Accountability Committee voted 20-1, with Jacksonville Republican Jay Fant opposed, to approve a measure (HB 139) that calls for a statue of Bethune to replace Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith in the National Statuary Hall.

Each state gets two representatives at the statuary hall, and Smith has represented Florida since 1922. Continue Reading →

Court overturns Fla. state board on charter school appeal

By Jim Saunders

News Service of Florida

Pointing to similar cases in other parts of Florida, an appeals court Wednesday overturned a decision by the State Board of Education that would have cleared the way for two charter schools in Indian River County.

The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal was a victory for the Indian River County School Board, which in 2015 denied two charter-school applications filed by Somerset Academy, Inc. Backers of the charter schools took the issue to the State Board of Education, which rejected the decision of the Indian River board and said Somerset Academy should be allowed to move forward with the schools.

Wednesday’s ruling by the appeals court said the Indian River board had “clear and convincing evidence” on a series of issues that supported the denial of the proposed charter schools. As an example, the appeals court said the Indian River board showed that the applications failed to meet financial requirements included in state law. Continue Reading →

Study: Florida’s schools show signs of ‘resegregation’

By Lloyd Dunkelberger

The News Service of Florida

Although Florida is becoming a more racially diverse state, its public-school system is becoming more segregated, a new study from the LeRoy Collins Institute shows.

“Student enrollment trends in Florida over the past decades show growing racial isolation for Hispanic and black students on some measures, with signs of continuous segregation on others,” the study said.

Some 32 percent of Hispanic students and 35 percent of black students in Florida attend “intensely segregated” schools, defined as have a nonwhite student body of 90 percent or greater, according to the study.

One out of every five schools was intensely segregated in the 2014-2015 academic year, about double the 10.6 percent of the schools that fell into that category in 1994-1995. Continue Reading →

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 →

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 →

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 →