Archive | Catholic education

Fla. governor signs massive education bill

Gov. Rick Scott signs major education legislation during an Orlando ceremony, as state Reps. Manny Diaz, Richard Corcoran, Mike Bileca and Erin Grall look on.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Big changes are coming to Florida’s public education system.

Flanked by House Republican leaders and special needs children, Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation that equalizes funding for Florida’s charter schools, transforms the state’s system for turning around struggling public schools, and boosts funding for special needs scholarships — among dozens of other provisions.

HB 7069 was at the center of a heated public campaign by parents, educators and political activists. The News Service of Florida reported this week that the governor had received 23,440 messages supporting the bill, and 22,734 calling for a veto.

Scott acknowledged the avalanche of “input” he’d received but said he’s convinced the massive 274-page package will help students.

House Education leaders Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah and Mike Bileca, R-Miami confer with former Senate President Andy Gardiner of Orlando.

“It addresses lots of key issues in our education system, and paves the way for every Florida student to receive the world-class education that every student deserves,” he said.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and a host of lawmakers who worked on parts of the bill joined the governor at Morning Star Catholic School, which educates children with special needs.

Mike Bileca, R-Miami and chairman of the House Education Committee, said some of the biggest changes would come in areas where public schools have languished with low academic performance.

The new law speeds up the timetable for districts to turn around struggling schools. It also creates a new Schools of Hope grant program aimed at attracting high-performing charter schools to struggling areas. It could also fund traditional public schools that want to provide wraparound services or create charter-like, college-prep, academics-plus-character cultures.

“We’re going to see our communities in high-poverty areas flourish, and we’re fundamentally going to change the state of Florida for the better,” Bileca said.
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Tampa Catholic grad going from one scholarship to another

Cheyenne Daphney and mom DJ Ruhland celebrate after the graduation ceremony in downtown Tampa.

When she walked across the stage as a freshly minted graduate of Tampa Catholic High School a couple of weeks ago, Cheyenne Daphney looked out at the audience cheering in the downtown theater and thought about all the help she got along the way.

Her mom, DJ Ruhland; her basketball coach, Matt Rocha; her teammates; and the rest of her Tampa Catholic family – they were all there giving a standing ovation.

Cheyenne also thought about the tax credit scholarship that made private school possible, and how she will soon start a new scholarship this summer at St. Petersburg College. (Step Up For Students administers the scholarships and publishes this blog.)

“I’ve got butterflies,” she said after the ceremony. “I’m so grateful. Tampa Catholic turned me around. I really don’t feel I would have made it to college without Tampa Catholic or Step Up.”

In ninth grade at her neighborhood school, Cheyenne’s grades slipped so badly her mom told the basketball coach to bench her despite being the best player on the team.

The discipline didn’t work and Cheyenne’s grades continued to slide. She even earned an F in one class and had to take an online summer course to make up for it.

DJ decided to make a change.

She secured a Step Up scholarship, which helps low-income and working-class students pay for private school tuition. Then she enrolled Cheyenne at Tampa Catholic, something she had always dreamed of but never thought she could afford.

Results were immediate. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Reading test scores, achievement plan and more

Third-grade reading results: Eighty-one percent of the state’s third-graders posted passing scores on the Florida Standards Assessments reading exam this year, according to the Florida Department of Education. Fifty-eight percent of students scored at Level 3 or high, meaning they met grade-level expectations, which is an increase from 54 percent last year. The 19 percent who scored at Level 1 – about 43,300 students – face retention if they can’t pass an alternate test or demonstrate proficiency through a portfolio of classroom work. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel. Sun Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Florida Times-UnionSarasota Herald-Tribune. Space Coast Daily. Brevard Times. Bradenton Herald. Associated PressNews Service of Florida.

New achievement plan: An agreement is reached on a 10-year plan to eliminate or greatly narrow the achievement gap between white and black students in Pinellas County. The Concerned Organization for the Quality Education of Black Students had been suing the Pinellas County School District, alleging that it was shortchanging black students throughout the educational process. The agreement, reached Friday, addresses the lingering issues on graduation, student achievement, advanced coursework, student discipline, identification for special education and gifted programs and minority hiring. District officials have committed to providing quarterly progress reports and responding in a more timely manner with reliable information. Both sides are calling the agreement a “turning point” for the district. Tampa Bay Times.

From high school to med school: Four graduates of Florida Atlantic University High School have been admitted directly into the FAU College of Medicine. The four students will begin training as doctors in 2018 and be eligible for residency at age 22 or 23. It’s believed to be the only program of its kind in the United States. FAU High is a school where students can earn high school and college credits at the same time. Sun Sentinel. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Selling the bill, Title I troubles, a top teacher and more

Selling the bill: House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, posts a cartoon on YouTube to explain and defend the education bill that was passed last week. Corcoran calls it “#toontruth for anyone who likes the truth in animated video format.” Orlando Sentinel. How the education bills passed in Tallahassee on recess, testing and charter schools could affect St. Johns County schools. St. Augustine Record. Teacher bonuses would be smaller and many more teachers would earn them under the new education bill. Bridge to Tomorrow. The school choice movement is breaking into two camps: one that wants to use choice to improve public schools, and one that wants greatly expand choice by using tax money. Associated Press.

Title I, Medicaid concerns: The Legislature’s decision to distribute federal Title I funding directly to schools and spread it to more schools could have devastating long-term effects on poor students, say district officials. Districts will be forced to cut special programs for low-income students, including after-school and summer school, or shift money from other programs to make up the difference. “A number of our community members and parents are aware of the services we provide in our 63 Title I schools,” said Felita Grant, Title I director for Pinellas County schools. “It would be a shock to them, if this bill goes through, the number of services we would have to cut back on.” Tampa Bay Times. School districts around the country say proposed cuts in the Medicaid program will have a significant impact in schools. Associated Press.

Teachers honored: Diego Fuentes, who teaches music to students with severe disabilities at the Hillcrest School in Ocala, is chosen as one of five finalists for the Department of Education’s 2018 Florida teacher of the year award. Fuentes was awarded $5,000. The winner will be announced July 13. Ocala Star Banner. Palm Beach County’s teacher of the year and school-related employee of the year are surprised with free, two-year leases of BMWs. Palm Beach Post.

Teaching incentives: Experienced teachers are being offered up to $70,000 in incentive pay over three years to work at struggling Carver Middle School in Orlando. More than 100 teachers have already applied, school officials say. Those hired will get an extra $20,000 for the 2017-2018 school year, and $25,000 in each of the next two years. Carver has received two Fs and a D in school grades in the past three years, and nearly 80 percent of its students failed their Florida Standards Assessment exams. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Budget fight, choice, top teachers and more

Budget battle: Gov. Rick Scott again hints that he’s considering vetoing the $83 billion state budget, calling it the result of “backroom deals.” “I am beginning to review the budget and I have the option of vetoing the entire budget or vetoing the items that circumvented the transparent process and do not have an acceptable return on investment for hardworking taxpayers,” said Scott. Governors often use line-item vetoes, but not since Lawton Chiles in 1992 has a governor vetoed the entire budget. Scott began signing bills Tuesday. Palm Beach Post. Tampa Bay Times. WFSU. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham calls the budget “education-eviscerating,” and she joins school districts and officials in calling on Scott to veto it. Florida Politics. News Service of Florida. Florida PoliticsLakeland Ledger. Gradebook. Here are nine ways Florida schools will change if the education bill is signed into law. Tampa Bay Times. Several legislators missed the vote on the education bill because they were eating lunch or using the bathroom. Miami Herald.

School choice bills: School choice was a winner in this year’s legislative session. Among the bills passed were financial incentives to attract charter schools, more money for tax credit scholarships, broadened eligibility for scholarship money students with disabilities, and money to charters for construction. redefinED. WFSU.

Other education bills: Among the less-noticed education bills that were passed during this legislative session were measures to expand scholarship programs for low-income students and those with disabilities, a state study of best practices for middle schools, and rules allowing parents and community members to challenge classroom textbooks and materials. Some that didn’t pass include an attempt to allow computer coding class to be counted as a foreign language requirement, a move to bring minimum teacher salaries to the national average, and a bill to end mandatory retention of third-graders based on state reading tests. Gradebook. Lake County School Board members express disappointment that the Legislature didn’t provide more relief from standardized testing. Daily Commercial.

Budget-cutting: Changes in the way the state distributes federal Title I funds will force Duval County school officials to cut deeper than they’d like in programs at their high-poverty schools. Previously, the funds came into the district, which could then decide where best to spend the money. Under the education bill passed by the Legislature, the money will be spread around to more schools and go directly to the schools. Florida Times-Union. Volusia County school officials say they have a $7 million gap between expected revenue and expenses for the 2017-2018 school year. Daytona Beach News-Journal. School officials in Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties say they expect to cut 5 percent out of their budgets because of the education bill. WEAR.

Teachers honored: The Department of Education names two of the five finalists for the 2018 Florida teacher of the year award. Tammy Jerkins, a pre-calculus teacher at Leesburg High School, and Michael Miller, a fifth-grade teacher at Kissimmee Elementary School, each were awarded $5,000. The winner will be announced July 13. Orlando Sentinel. Daily Commercial. Continue Reading →

A scholarship to a rural Catholic school made this student’s turnaround possible

Eventually, Jodi Haley said, she had enough. She felt she had no choice but to remove her son Jessie from his neighborhood school.

She was fed up with his failing grades, crushed every time she saw him cry about school, bewildered by the mysterious headaches he came home with every day.

All of that went away when Jessie got back on track at a little Catholic school, where Jodi credits a scholarship for opening the door.

In their town of Frostproof, Jodi said, the neighborhood school just wasn’t working for Jessie, even though it had been a good fit for his three older brothers.

“He was really struggling and it was heartbreaking,” said Jodi, a divorced mother of six who works as a technician for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “(My fear was) that he would eventually quit school and then go down a bad path.”

At the end of Jessie’s third grade year, school officials told his mom he would have to be retained because he was so far behind. Around the same time, he was diagnosed with dyslexia. Jodi knew her son needed help, immediately.

From left, Pat Carrol, Dr. Anna Adam and Patricia Gutierrez celebrate Jessie Haley’s Turnaround Student award.

Coincidentally, she came across a flier for St. Catherine Catholic School in nearby Sebring. The principal at the time, Dr. Anna Adam, tested and evaluated Jessie.

Now principal at a Catholic school in New York City, Dr. Adam can vividly recall the anguish on Jessie’s face when she met him. He was sweet and polite, but the uncertainty in his eyes and smile revealed how quiet and painfully shy he could be in the classroom.

“He came in as pretty much a non-reader,” Dr. Adam said. “But I didn’t want to retain him. I think if he would have been retained he would have been absolutely crushed, and we would have lost him. That would have been the end of him. He just would have curled up in a hole and gone away.”

Dr. Adam was confident she and her staff could work with Jessie, and Jodi’s heart soared. Not only had she found the right school, but they also told her about the Step Up For Students scholarship that enabled her to afford the tuition. (Step Up For Students administers Florida’s tax credit scholarship program and publishes this blog.) Continue Reading →

Drexel Fund awards Cristo Rey Tampa $300,000

A venture philanthropy fund that aims to expand private schools that serve low-income and working-class students, has begun making investments in Florida.

One early grant will provide $300,000 over three years to help Cristo Rey Tampa — a Catholic college-preparatory high school — to support its four-year school build-out.

The Tampa school opened its doors to ninth graders earlier this year, and will add one higher grade level per year as it grows to fill a remodeled boarding school that had previously stood vacant.

Initially targeting the states of Florida, Arizona, Ohio, Louisiana, Wisconsin and Indiana, the Drexel Fund has set a long-term goal of raising $85 million to support the creation of 50,000 new spaces for low- and middle-income students in high-quality private schools over eight years. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Bonuses, science instruction, choice and more

Teacher bonuses: The Florida House education committee approves a revamped teacher bonuses program that would broaden the qualifying requirements and also make principals eligible. Rep. Manny Diaz, Jr., R-Hialeah Republican who chairs the House’s education budget committee, says the House could approve spending up to $125 million for the Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program. That’s about half of the amount the Senate is proposing. Miami Herald. WFSU. Politico Florida. Orlando Sentinel.

Teaching science: State Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, says his bill that sets criteria for classroom instruction materials is meant to require “quality instructional material” meeting Florida standards, and to provide a way for the public to challenge classroom materials they deem inappropriate. And, he notes, any curriculum changes would have to be approved by the local school board. Critics say the bill opens a door for climate change and evolution critics to influence how those issues are taught, or if they are taught at all. Naples Daily News.

Call for school choice: Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York City is calling for a nationwide school choice bill. Dolan, writing in the Wall Street Journal, urged President Trump to“push Congress to make scholarship tax credits available to working-class families.” Seventeen states have tax credit scholarship programs, including Florida, and Dolan said children in the other states “deserve the same opportunities.” Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the Florida program. Crux. Continue Reading →