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Florida schools roundup: Amendment 8 suit, charter schools, unions and more

Amendment 8 lawsuit: Amendment 8 is misleading and should be removed from the ballot, the League of Women Voters and the Southern Poverty Law Center argue in a lawsuit filed Thursday in Leon County. The lawsuit focuses on the part of the proposed amendment that would allow allow entities other than school boards to “operate, control, and supervise” public schools. “Voters will not recognize that the real purpose of the amendment is to allow unaccountable political appointees to control where and when charter schools can be established in their county,” says LWV president Patricia Brigham. The amendment would also limit school board members to eight years in office and require the teaching of civics in public schools. redefinED. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. GateHouse. News Service of FloridaFlorida Politics. Politico Florida.

Charter school appeals: The Florida Charter Schools Appeal Commission is recommending that the state Board of Education override the Palm Beach County School Board’s decision to deny two charter school applications. And Education Commissioner Pam Stewart is recommending the board go along with the appeal commission’s advice when it meets next week. Charters that don’t fill a specific niche have been getting turned down by the Palm Beach board for the past five years. But as Stewart points out in her memo to the state board, “The school board’s determination must be based on good cause.” Gradebook.

Union membership: Teachers unions in Orange, Lake, Osceola and Seminole counties say membership is on the upswing since the state passed a law requiring unions to have at least 50 percent membership of eligible workers or risk being decertified. Union officials in all four counties say the recent swell has pushed each past the 50 percent threshhold. Teachers unions in 13 districts have membership below 50 percent but most have been adding members, according to Joanne McCall, president of the statewide Florida Education Association. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →

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Groups challenge Fla. charter school ballot proposal

The League of Women Voters and the Southern Poverty Law Center are challenging the wording of a Florida ballot measure that could, among other things, overhaul charter school authorizing in the state.

The proposed Amendment 8 would do three things if voters approve it this fall. It would impose term limits on elected school board members, elevate the importance of civic literacy and allow entities other than school boards to “operate, control, and supervise” public schools.

That third part has drawn the most attention from critics. And it’s the focus of the lawsuit, filed this morning in Leon County court.

Florida is somewhat unique compared to other states. Its constitution creates 67 countywide school boards. Courts have held that, with certain, narrow exceptions, those countywide school boards have the exclusive power over public schools. That means statewide charter school authorizing boards, like the one that exists in Massachusetts, are unconstitutional.

The proposed amendment, drafted by the Constitution Revision Commission, would change that by adding the underlined words to the state constitution.

(b) The school board shall operate, control, and supervise all free public schools established by the district school board within the school district and determine the rate of school district taxes within the limits prescribed herein. Two or more school districts may operate and finance joint educational programs.

A proposed ballot summary, intended to explain the change to voters when they go to the polls in November, describes the change this way: Continue Reading →

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Charter schools back amendment effort

News Service of Florida

Companies with ties to charter schools and a controversial federal visa program are providing the bulk of contributions to an effort to pass a constitutional amendment that would impose an eight-year term limit on school board members.

Through June, the 8isGreat.org political committee has raised $54,532 in support of Amendment 8, state election records show.

The amendment, which was approved by the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, would impose term limits on school board members but would also provide more authority to the Legislature to create alternative public education initiatives, like charter schools. The amendment also would require civics literacy instruction in the public schools. Nearly three-quarters of the money raised by the 8isGreat group has come from companies involved with charter schools.

Red Apple Development, a Fort Lauderdale company that has helped develop more than three dozen charter school projects in Florida, donated $10,000 to the amendment effort. GreenAccess, a Jupiter company also involved in more than three dozen charter schools in Florida, donated $15,000.

Florida Overseas Investment Center, a Sarasota company, also made a $15,000 contribution to the amendment campaign, records show. GreenAccess and Florida Overseas Investment are both involved in the EB-5 investor visa program, which provides a path to U.S. residency for wealthy foreign immigrants.

Under the program, the foreign investors can obtain a “green card” for themselves and their families if they provide at least $500,000 for projects, such as schools, that are tied to job creation. Critics have said the visa program is loosely regulated, while supporters have defended it as a way to direct investments and jobs to under-served communities.

Amendment 8 is one of 13 state constitutional amendments on the Nov. 6 general-election ballot. Each amendment will require support from at least 60 percent of the voters to be enacted.

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Florida schools roundup: Amendment 8 funding, charters, dispensaries and more

Charters and Amendment 8: Charter school companies are providing the bulk of the financial support for Amendment 8, the proposed constitutional amendment that would impose a two-term limit on Florida school board members, require civics literacy and give the Legislature more authority to create alternatives to public schools, such as charter schools. The 8isGreat.org political committee has raised $54,532 in support of Amendment 8 through June, according to state election records. Amendments need the approval of 60 percent of voters to be enacted. News Service of Florida.

Charter school funding: Whether charter schools can expect an equal per-student share of school district money raised when voters approve an increase in property taxes hinges on a legal interpretation. State law requires districts to share “current operating discretionary millage levy” with charter schools, but the Palm Beach County School Board recently got a legal opinion that says it does not. The school board will decide next week whether to share increased revenue if voters approve an increase in property taxes. redefinED.

Schools and pot dispensaries: Duval County School Board members are asking local officials to add restrictions to keep medical marijuana dispensaries from opening near three-dozen schools. They say because the facilities deal in cash, they could become robbery targets. “We have had enough code red lockdowns in the past year,” says board member Warren Jones. “There’s no need to increase them because a marijuana facility was robbed.” Jacksonville City Council members say by law, dispensaries must be treated like pharmacies and can open in most commercial areas. Florida Times-Union. Continue Reading →

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Millions in Fla. charter school funding may hinge on the meaning of this phrase

Are charter schools entitled to an equal per-student share of the funding their districts raise from voter-approved property taxes?

Or can districts keep all the revenue for the schools they operate themselves?

The answer appears to hinge on the definition of this phrase in Florida statutes: “Current operating discretionary millage levy.”

The law requires school districts to share all the revenue described by that phrase with charter schools. Last year, an Indian River County circuit judge ruled voter-approved property taxes fit that definition, and charter schools were entitled to their fair share.

The Palm Beach County School Board, informed by a similar legal analysis, was poised to share any revenue from a proposed property tax referendum with the nearly 50 charter schools the district authorizes. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Hope Scholarship, Kavanaugh and more

Hope Scholarship delays: While the new state scholarship for bullied students technically begins when school resumes in August, funds for the Hope Scholarships won’t be available until after Oct. 1 and possibly not until later in November. The scholarships will be funded through voluntary donations of the $105 from the sales tax that drivers pay for vehicle transactions. The collections do not begin until Oct. 1 and car dealers have 20 days to report their previous month’s tax collections, which could delay the money being available until Nov. 20 or later. The scholarships are available on a first-come, first-served basis, and state analysts project a demand of about $27 million in the first year. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, will help administer the program. News Service of Florida.

Kavanaugh and education: U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has defended then-Gov. Jeb Bush’s Florida school vouchers program against a constitutional challenge in 2000, publicly praised attempts to break down the barriers between religious schools participating in programs financed with public funds, and supported the use of public address systems for student-led prayers at public school events in Texas. The 74. Miami Herald. Politico. Sun-Sentinel. Education Week. Continue Reading →

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The charter school turnaround that may not have been

A small, single-gender charter school in Bradenton, Fla. is celebrating a remarkable turnaround. In two years’ time, Visible Men Academy has improved its state letter grade from an F to an A.

The school’s improvement caught the attention of a local TV news station.

[T]wo years ago, the school switched to i-Ready: a widely-used learning program for Florida testing. Almost instantly, the growth parents were already seeing inside the classrooms was reflected outside on test scores, going from an F to a C last year, and another two-grade jump to an A in 2017-18.

“They are the most supportive people in this universe, that would help you out anywhere, anytime, any place,” says Breyon Peterson about faculty. Breyon has attended VMA since kindergarten, and will start 5th grade next year.

“My grandson went to local camp for the last two weeks, and halfway through the second week, he said when can I go back to school,” says Leesa Holmes, who chose VMA so her grandson would have male role models.

In addition to the work of its teachers, the school may have benefitted from a fortuitous bit of timing.

Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Charter school funding and more

Charter funding fairness. Emboldened by a new legal opinion that rebuts an Indian River County judge’s ruling in favor of charter schools, the Palm Beach County School Board may exclude charters from a proposed tax referendum, after previously thinking about including them. Palm Beach Post.

School security. Broward school officials can’t figure out how Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz slipped through the cracks when he should have been participating in a behavior intervention program. Sun-Sentinel. An investigative panel is set to receive a briefing on his mental health history. News Service of Florida. Armed officers on campus have become the new normal. Florida Phoenix.

Career prep. Collier County schools get a $3 million grant to boost a manufacturing program. Naples Daily News.

Census fears. A Miami-Dade school board member worries fears of federal immigration enforcement could lead to an inaccurate population count. WLRN.

Continue Reading →

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