Archive | Bipartisanship

Florida schools roundup: H.B. 7069, ESSA, school safety, recess and more

H.B. 7069: According to recently revealed text messages, state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, worked behind the scenes to try to kill H.B. 7069, the education bill that provides money for a major expansion of charter schools in Florida. The messages show that Latvala worked with Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, on a plan to derail the bill. Details of the plan were not discussed in the texts, and neither Latvala not Farmer responded to questions about it. Latvala, chairman of the Senate appropriations committee, is considering running for governor in 2018. Politico Florida.

ESSA proposal: A coalition of civil rights group is asking the Florida Department of Education to give due consideration to the needs of poor, at-risk children when it submits its federal education accountability plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). In a letter, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights says it’s critical that the plan uphold the spirit of the law, which pledges to provide “all children significant opportunity to receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education, and close educational achievement gaps.” The state has to submit its plan by Sept. 18. Gradebook.

School safety: Pasco County students are now being told to fight back against violent threats at their schools, instead of simply hiding. One of the key messages of the new approach is: “It is okay to do whatever you have to do to get away from Stranger Danger.” Superintendent Kurt Browning says “the decision to defend one’s self or others is a personal decision and will never be required.” But the district wants to give students options, he says, and to empower them “not to be victims.” Gradebook.

Recess rules: After hearing complaints from parents, Pinellas County school officials say they are reconsidering their idea to count student time in math and engineering centers toward the required 20 minutes a day for recess. Shana Rafalski, the county’s executive director for elementary education, acknowledged that “doesn’t necessarily reflect the spirit of (the law). … This probably is out of context in the teaching and learning handbook, and I’ll revisit this,” she says. Gradebook.

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Florida schools roundup: Education budget, a legislative to-do list and more

Education budget: Leaders in the Florida Senate and House agree over the weekend to an increase of about 1.2 percent in K-12 per-student funding, from $7,196 to $7,220. They also agreed to provide $200 million to recruit charter school networks – the “schools of hope” plan – and $214 million for the teacher bonuses program. Legislators are expected to decide today what schools will get for construction projects. A tentative agreement would give about $69 million each to traditional public schools and charters for construction and maintenance. Universities would get $116.6 million for construction projects. Naples Daily NewsPolitico FloridaNews Service of Florida. Associated PressMiami HeraldFlorida Politics. Legislators are considering adding money for social services at struggling traditional public schools to the “schools of hope” bill. Politico Florida. The Legislature begins its final week with such high-profile education issues as mandatory daily recess and standardized testing still on the list of things to do. Orlando Sentinel. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Miami arts high school that produced the creators of the Oscar-winning movie Moonlight and the Broadway hit Hamilton gets a reprieve when the Legislature reverses a decision to withhold state grant money. Originally, funding for the New World School of the Arts was slashed from the budget. After news of the cut was made public, $500,000 for the school was put back into the budget. That’s still $150,000 less than the school received this year. Miami Herald. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, tweets that the problem getting mandatory daily recess in the state’s elementary schools rests with Gov. Rick Scott, not the Legislature. He did not elaborate, and a spokeswoman for Scott said she has “no idea what that tweet means. We have continued to say that we will review it if it passes.” Miami Herald.

Drug-testing students: The Monroe County School Board agrees to drug-test athletes and other students involved in extracurricular activities for a year. After the test, results will be reported to the board, which will decide if it wants to continue. Drug-testing of athletes was halted in 2014 after a parent complained that her daughter was pulled from class, taken to a drug-court facility and tested without her knowledge. Keynoter.

K-12 sexual assaults: There were about 17,000 reports of sexual assault in K-12 schools in the United States between 2011 and 2015, according to state education records and federal crime data. And that number is considered low because many students don’t report sexual assaults and some states don’t track them. Associated Press.

Teaching acceptance: Chris Ulmer, a special education teacher at Mainspring Academy in Jacksonville, is traveling the country filming interviews with children who have conditions such as autism and Down syndrome. He says each interview teaches an appreciation and acceptance for the differences in people. “No matter their level of communication, some are verbal, some are nonverbal, that doesn’t matter,” Ulmer says. “That’s not indicative of intelligence. Everybody is understanding the world in their own way and through these videos … You can see that in each one.” ABC News. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Schools of hope compromise, budget and more

Schools of hope: A compromise on the “schools of hope” bill is drawing support from previously opposed Democratic lawmakers. The $200 million measure was introduced by the House to offer incentives to highly regarded charter school companies to open schools in areas where traditional public schools are persistently low performing. While details of the compromise are not known, some Democrats involved in the process say it’s a mixture of the original House bill and a Senate suggestion that more money be made available to public schools before charters are recruited. “I think we’re 80 percent there” on a final compromise, says House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes. Miami HeraldPolitico FloridaWFSU. Teachers and education activists protest the legislation at a news conference in Tampa. “Diverting $200 million in our taxpayer money away from our children’s public schools to unaccountable private companies is a terrible plan,” said Michelle Prieto, coordinator for the group Mi Familia Vota. Florida Politics.

Budget agreement: Senate and House leaders announce a deal on an $83 billion budget that blends the educational priorities of both chambers. Details are being worked out in conference committee. Associated PressPolitico Florida. Public school leaders make a last-minute push for more K-12 funding. Politico Florida.

Virtual open enrollment: The House passes a bill allowing Florida students to attend any virtual charter school in the state that is authorized by a school district. Right now, students can only attend the virtual school in the district in which they live. Many consider the bill as the natural extension of the state’s new open enrollment law, which allows any student to attend any public school that has space available. redefinED. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Testing cutbacks, religion in schools and more

Testing cutbacks: A new plan to cut back on student testing is gaining bipartisan support. The identical bills (S.B. 964 and H.B. 1249), filed by Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, and Rep. Halsey Beshears, R-Monticello, would eliminate several high school end-of-course exams, give districts the option to offer paper-pencil state testing, allow an alternative nationally recognized test to replace certain high school state tests, prohibit statewide language arts and math testing before the last four weeks of school, and remove value-added measures from teacher evaluations, among other things. Gradebook.

Religion in schools: The Senate education committee approves a bill that would give students the freedom to express their religious views at school. The bill specifically protects students who share religious views in school assignments, clothing or in activities. Critics say the U.S. Constitution already protects religious freedom. Miami HeraldOrlando Sentinel. Sun-Sentinel. Politico Florida.

Middle schools study: The Senate education committee also approves a bill directing the state Department of Education to study high-achieving middle schools in several states, then make recommendations on improving Florida’s middle schools. The bill was introduced by Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland. Orlando Sentinel.

Session preview: Educational issues will command attention during the legislative session, which begins today. Politico Florida. WFSU.

Teacher housing plan: The Lee County School District proposes a public-private partnership to build affordable apartments and homes for teachers at three district-owned properties. The district would own the properties, which would be managed by a third party. Construction of the first project could begin in six months. Fort Myers News-Press. Continue Reading →

The state of education advocacy: Jim Blew, podcastED



All over the country, new private school choice programs are being created, more of the last remaining holdout states are beginning to allow charter schools, and a growing number of students are enrolling in educational options chosen by their parents.

But, on our latest podcast, Jim Blew, who served as the national president of StudentsFirst and will be focusing on California after a merger with the 50-state Campaign for Achievement Now (aka 50CAN), says it’s hardly time to declare victory.

“Creating high-quality alternatives to the traditional system is a very fragile effort that continues to be under attack every day,” he says. “… The reality of running a charter school is that you still feel, every day, that somebody is trying to snuff out your school, and anybody who’s been involved in the [private-school] scholarship programs will tell you the same thing.”

Look no further than current events in Florida.

Blew says that when 50CAN and StudentsFirst join forces, the broad pillars of their agendas – expanding quality school choices and creating accountability policies for teachers and schools – will remain largely the same. But they’ll also vary state-by-state. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Education spending, interpreter bill and more

IMG_0001.JPGEducation budget: Gov. Rick Scott’s proposed $79.3 billion budget would boost spending for K-12 by $507.3 million, but only 15 percent would be provided by the state. The rest would come through higher property taxes on residents and businesses. Tampa Bay Times. Lake County school officials say the increase in education spending isn’t enough. Daily Commercial.

Interpreter standards: Bills filed by State Rep. Lori Berman, D-Boynton Beach, and State Sen. Thad Altman, R-Rockledge, would establish standards for interpreters for hearing-impaired students in grades K-12. Sunshine State News.

Stadium deal: Miami-Dade County Republican Party chairman Nelson Diaz says he’s hearing grumblings about the proposed deal between the school system and David Beckham to build a Major League Soccer stadium. The partnership would give the stadium a break on property taxes by putting ownership in the hands of the school board. Miami Herald.

Opinions on schools: It’s time voters correct a mistake, however well-intentioned, and return the education commissioner’s job to an elected Cabinet position, columnist John Romano argues. Tampa Bay Times.

School plan flexible: Duval County School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says his plan to revamp the system will continue to change as he gets input from parents and working groups considering his proposals, which include boosting enrollment by winning students back from charter schools, expanding choice and building new schools. Florida Times-Union. One of the working groups is proposing a new site for a single-gender middle school. Florida Times-Union. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: District changes, early education and more

IMG_0001.JPGSchool district changes?: State Sen. Jeff Brandes and State Rep. Matt Caldwell, both Republicans, support changes to the state constitution that could, among other things, allow the breakup of countywide school districts and end nonpartisan school board elections. Tampa Bay Times.

Charter schools: A Pinellas County charter school is being asked to account for a $75,000 federal grant or return the money to the district. Tampa Bay Times. The Palm Beach County School Board denies the applications of four charter schools. Palm Beach Post.

School testing: Joanne McCall, new president of the Florida Education Association, says the union will continue to fight against “testing mania.” Orlando Sentinel. Florida’s standardized assessment tests should be used as a baseline to measure progress, not to grade schools and teacher, the Bradenton Herald editorializes. Wendy Bradshaw talks about her very public resignation from a Polk County elementary school. Tampa Bay Times.

Early education: Bay County school officials and community leaders are launching an initiative to improve educational opportunities for children from the cradle to entering the workforce. Panama City News Herald.

Civics education: Two U.S. representatives from Florida, Republican Dennis Ross and Democrat Gwen Graham, are urging high schools to provide more civics education. Sunshine State News.

Lottery sales: Lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow lottery ticket sales by automated credit and debit card machines, saying it could boost the amount of money going to education. WFSU.

Social media policies: Most Florida school districts have no policies surrounding the use of social media by employees, a study by a University of Florida doctoral student reveals. University of Florida.

Financial audit: Here’s what Hillsborough school officials might be facing if they hire the Gibson Consulting Group to do a financial audit. Gradebook.

Literacy improvement: The literacy rate in Indian River County schools is up 12 percent, in large part due to Learning Alliance programs. TCPalm.

Superintendent shopping: Hernando County School Superintendent Lori Romano is applying for the top job in Osceola County. Tampa Bay Times.

School calendar: Lee County schools sets Aug. 10 as the first day of the 2016-2017 school year. Fort Myers News-Press.

Guns at school: A Miami Jackson Senior High student is arrested for bringing a gun to school. Miami Herald. A fifth grader’s toy gun leads to a lockdown at Orange Brook Elementary School in Hollywood. Sun-Sentinel. A 17-year-old Manatee High School student who brought a BB gun to school is barred from returning to school and will take online courses the rest of this school year. Bradenton Herald.

Educators die: Gulf Coast High drama teacher Scarlett LaVite, 51, dies during a snorkeling outing while on a cruise. Naples Daily News. Patricia Rouse, assistant principal at Ft. Braden Elementary School, dies at 45. Tallahassee Democrat.

Employee discipline: A spilled water bottle leads to a tirade that may get a Boca Raton middle school math teacher fired. Palm Beach Post. A Duval County schools police officer is suspended after a scuffle with a parent. Jacksonville Times-Union.

Teacher upsets PETA: A video of a Sickles High School teacher juggling three dead frogs during class leads to a call from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) for the state to ban animal dissection in schools. Tampa Bay Times.

Students and cell phones: Should parents monitor their child’s cell phone activity? A parent and teacher offers some guidelines. Miami Herald.

Racial slurs: Miami Palmetto Senior High School is reeling after racial slurs are posted on a social media chat forum. Miami Herald.

Student enrichment: A man born without limbs is sharing his anti-bullying message with students across Florida. Sun-Sentinel. Orlando Sentinel. Students at Dundee Elementary School are assembling 20 prosthetic hands printed by their 3-D printer to donate to other children. Lakeland Ledger. The Smiles Care a Van stops in Pasco schools to dispense free preventative dental services. Tampa Bay Times. An Orlando student who grew up in the foster care system and is now at Florida State University talks about his life. Orlando Sentinel. A Boca Raton ninth-grader creates an ocean energy probe to win the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. Palm Beach Post. Gulf Breeze High School drama instructor Margie Timmons is named Florida Association for Theatre Education’s teacher of the year. Pensacola News Journal. Patronis Elementary students get hands-on experience at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City. Panama City News Herald.

My school choice wish: Waking the sleeping giant

Jason Crye

Jason Crye

Editor’s note: This is the sixth post in our school choice wish series. See the rest of the line-up here.

My school choice wish is more children, particularly Hispanic children from low-income and working-class families, have access to educational options that will help them flourish. Unfortunately, statistics show there is a lot of rocky ground to plow before my wish is choice wish 2014 logo

Hispanics lag behind their counterparts in nearly every meaningful education statistic. For example, recent figures show the Hispanic graduation rate has improved to 76 percent, while the Hispanic dropout rate is the lowest it has been in decades at 14 percent. It is mildly encouraging that these numbers are heading in the right direction, but they are clearly not where they should be.

To achieve my wish, the education reform community, including organizations like my own, school leaders, elected officials, and other advocates, must continue to help parents engage in the public square. They must continue to stand up for the reforms that poll after poll shows are supported throughout the country.

This is exactly what I saw earlier this month at the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options conference in Miami. It was so heartening to see education advocates, community activists and business leaders from around the country all focusing on the crisis we are facing, and standing together for common-sense solutions. It was also gratifying to see how partisan political differences have been put to the side when it comes to policies that work for our children.

I heard Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, all supporting the expansion of school choice programs like charter schools, vouchers, tax credit scholarships and education savings accounts. One of them, Assemblyman Marcos Crespo of New York, a Democrat, spoke at a press conference after a student named Valentin movingly told us how a school choice scholarship changed his life.

Said Crespo: “I hope that as the rest of this conference progresses that we can continue to build this network and demonstrate that there are a lot of us who believe in real success and not just our own interests, or partisanship, or labels. Our goal is to be judged by the Valentins of the world, and not by you know, who our traditional political friends are, or how much they’ve invested in our campaign. It’s not about that. It’s about Valentin.”

There is a sleeping giant in American politics. It’s the parents, who, when armed with the facts, demand excellence from the schools their children attend; who, when necessary, will march to show their strength in numbers; and who will vote to change the status quo. Many of those voters are Hispanic. Indeed, 66,000 Hispanics turn 18 years old every month, and an increasing number of them have been affected positively by various education reforms.

I look forward to a future when voters are more informed about the positive impact of school choice. I look forward to a future when parents are made aware of their educational options and have the freedom to choose the school where their child can succeed.

In the meantime, I know it is my responsibility, and the responsibility of all education reform advocates, to do everything possible to engage parents and educators. We must help children today so we can achieve that brighter future together.

Jason Crye is executive director of Hispanics for School Choice.

Coming Monday: Wevlyn Graves, Florida parent of a tax credit scholarship student.