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Florida schools roundup: State budget signed, safety in schools and more

Scott signs budget bill: Gov. Rick Scott signs the $88.7 billion state budget, dismissing pleas from Florida’s school superintendents for a special legislative session to increase funding for schools. The budget includes new money for K-12 schools, mostly for school security and mental health counseling for students, and a boost in the amount Bright Futures scholars receive. Associated Press. News Service of FloridaMiami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. GateHouseCapitolist. Gradebook. Politico Florida. Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, says legislative leaders are considering allowing school districts that don’t want to arm school personnel to use any money left over from the marshals program to hire resource officers. Associated Press. News Service of Florida. The new funding formula takes $56 million in state money that in the past would have gone to larger school districts and is redirecting it to smaller ones. Miami-Dade, for example, will receive $7 million less. Tampa Bay Times. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, criticizes the state’s school superintendents for complaining about the state’s K-12 spending, saying those who are “grossly mismanaging their budgets” should resign. Bradenton Herald. Scott vetoed a $1 million item for Okaloosa County schools to buy buses that would help ease traffic congestion near Hurlburt Field, headquarters for the Air Force Special Operations Command. Here’s a full list of the $64 million in projects that Scott vetoed. Northwest Florida Daily News.

School shooting developments: Mental health records show that Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School officials were worried about Nikolas Cruz’s fascination with guns, and banned him from practicing his shooting with the Junior RTOC or carrying a backpack on campus 18 months before the massacre that killed 17 at the school. Sun-Sentinel. Associated Press. The Coconut Creek police officer who arrested Cruz describes his search and his shock when he found the accused school shooter. Sun-Sentinel. More than $4 million has been raised for the victims of the Parkland shooting and their families, and the Broward Education Foundation has appointed a steering committee to determine how to distribute the money and who will receive it. Sun-Sentinel. Deputies at Stoneman Douglas High are carrying AR-15 rifles at the school, but concealing them in backpacks so as not to alarm students. Sun-Sentinel. A Lighthouse Point man becomes the first person in Florida to have his firearms and ammunition seized under the state’s new law addressing gun restrictions and school safety. Sun-Sentinel. The fiancee of a teacher killed in the shootings still struggles to comprehend what happened. Palm Beach Post. A sculptor is planning a 15-foot memorial to the shooting victims at the Parkland school. Sun-Sentinel. Five Stoneman Douglas High shooting survivors appear on 60 Minutes and give Florida lawmakers a C or C-minus grade for their response to the tragedy. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. Three other survivors take their message for increasing gun regulation to the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press.

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Florida schools roundup: Shooting video, superintendents, CRC and more

Shooting video: Security video taken around the Parkland school building where a massacre was taking place Feb. 14 shows the school resource officer drawing his gun but staying outside the building. After the shooting ended, with 17 people dead, deputy Scot Peterson said he thought the gunshots were coming from outside. But later-released radio transmissions with other officers showed that Peterson had identified the building where the shooting was taking place. Peterson resigned after being suspended. “The video speaks for itself,” the Broward Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. Sun-Sentinel. Associated PressPalm Beach Post.

Superintendent faulted: An Okaloosa County grand jury investigating the school district’s handling of a child abuse case concludes that Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson “is responsible for the safety and well-being of 30,000 students. We find that she has failed to fulfill that obligation. We further find that she has not satisfied her obligations as an elected official.” No criminal charges were recommended against Jackson, but the grand jury encouraged the State Attorney’s Office to continue investigating her. Jackson would not comment on testimony, but expressed concerns “that the testimony presented may have been incomplete.” The grand jury also recommended that Henry Kelley, the district’s director of community affairs, be charged with a non-criminal violation of the Florida Sunshine Law. Northwest Florida Daily News. WEAR.

Superintendents push: The state’s school superintendents keep up the pressure on Gov. Rick Scott to call a special session to boost K-12 school spending. The superintendents say districts will receive just 47 cents per student to pay for such things as rising fuel costs, employee pensions, insurance, and state mandates. “Let’s do more for our students,” said Hillsborough Superintendent Jeff Eakins at a gathering of school leaders from Pasco, Pinellas, Manatee and Polk counties. “Florida can do more than 47 cents for our future.” Scott has said he’s satisfied with the education budget, and legislative leaders say a special session isn’t needed. Gradebook. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Florida Times-Union. Continue Reading →


How the Florida Constitution Revision Commission could tackle school choice

Several school-choice related proposals before the Florida Constitution Revision Commission could be in line for revisions.

The full commission has scheduled a marathon of meetings at the state capitol next week. All four of its school choice-related proposals could appear on the agenda. Three of them could see substantial changes.

Blaine Amendment

Commissioner Roberto Martinez has sponsored a proposal that would eliminate Florida’s ban on government support of religious institutions.

This week, he proposed an amendment that would merge it with another proposal, which would eliminate a provision allowing the Legislature to ban property ownership by “aliens ineligible for citizenship.”

Martinez would likely argue both proposals would purge outdated language rooted in bigotry from Florida’s governing document.

A rival amendment by Commissioner Anna Marie Hernandez Gamez would take a different approach, declaring the so-called “Blaine Amendment” cannot block Florida’s existing private school choice programs or “successor” programs lawmakers might create.

Some school choice advocates question whether the Blaine Amendment is truly a barrier to private school choice in Florida, as it stands.

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Florida schools roundup: Walkout, special session request and more

National walkout: Students from around the United States walk out of their classrooms to honor those killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland a month ago, and to protest against gun violence. Some also gathered at the White House, chanting for gun regulations, then marched to the Capitol for a meeting with sympathetic members of Congress. Associated Press. New York TimesPolitico Florida. GateHouse. The 74. Education Week. Chalkbeat. Thousands of students around Florida, including those from Stoneman Douglas High, also walk out of their schools. Sun-SentinelMiami Herald. Palm Beach PostTampa Bay TimesOrlando Sentinel. Florida Times-Union. Florida Today. Lakeland Ledger. Lakeland LedgerBradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-TribuneFort Myers News-Press. Pensacola News Journal. TCPalm. Gainesville Sun. Panama City News Herald. St. Augustine Record. Daily Commercial. Citrus County Chronicle. WUSF. WUFT. WJAX. WFLA. WTSP. WEAR.

Education budget protest: The state’s school superintendents are lobbying Gov. Rick Scott to call a legislative special session on funding for schools. They say the recently signed state budget won’t cover the rising costs of operating schools. The Legislature approved an $88.7 billion budget that includes a $101.50 increase in per-student funding, but the Florida Association of District School Superintendents points out in its letter to Scott that just 47 cents of that is free to cover such expenses as retirement contributions, employee health-care costs and utility bills. Most of the rest goes to school safety and improving mental health services. “We are grateful the state stepped up … to pass a school safety bill,” says Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie. “However, that I believe is being done at the expense of our core business.” News Service of Florida. Tampa Bay TimesPolitico Florida. Scott received the budget Wednesday, and now has 15 days to decide on line-by-line items and whether to sign it. News Service of Florida.

School safety: The U.S. House overwhelmingly passes a $75 million Secure Our Schools bill to improve school safety by making grants to school districts and states to train students, teachers and law enforcement officers on quickly recognizing and responding to warning signs, for technology, and to develop anonymous reporting programs. Associated PressPolitico Florida. Sun-Sentinel. Language in Florida’s new school safety bill that allows charges for any school threats, even ones that are not specific, can be traced to a 2014 Sarasota school threat that a judge ruled could not be prosecuted because it was a general statement not directed at any individual. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Brevard County School Board members say they are open to arming select school employees. Brevard is the only one of the state’s 12 largest districts that is open to the marshal program provision of the new school safety law. Florida Today. School resource officers are now in all 16 Indian River County elementary schools. TCPalm. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Death penalty, walkout, school safety, tests and more

Death penalty proposed: Broward County prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty against accused Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz. Cruz, 19, is accused of murdering 17 people at the school on Feb. 14, and wounding 17 others. Cruz’s public defender says he will not contest guilt, but will focus on his troubled past to try to convince jurors to spare his life. Miami Herald. Associated Press. Palm Beach Post. CNN. An attorney for Stoneman Douglas High student Anthony Borges, who was gravely wounded in the shooting, wants both the prosecutors and public defenders off the Cruz case because they endorsed a program in 2016 to “eliminate the school to prison pipeline.” Sun-Sentinel.

National School Walkout: Students at about 3,000 U.S. schools are expected to join the National School Walkout today to protest gun violence. The protest comes one month after the shootings at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Time. Associated Press. The 74. Education Week. Vox. Students around the state plan to participate in the walkout, and schools are deciding how they will deal with it. Palm Beach PostOrlando Weekly. Tampa Bay Times. Pensacola News Journal. Florida Today. Fort Myers News-Press. WLRN. WFTV. WJAX. WFLA. The Florida ACLU is urging superintendents not to interfere with students or punish them if they participate in the walkout. Gradebook. How young is too young to participate in today’s walkout? New York Times. A Lake County School Board member apologizes for calling a Stoneman Douglas student a “crisis actor.” Daily Commercial.

School safety plans: School superintendents are lobbying members of Congress to revise the STOP School Violence Act so it won’t be extended to private schools. “We support a revision to ensure that any resources made available to non-public school settings be funneled through an ‘equitable services’ provision, already in place through the Every Student Succeeds Act,” according to a letter from the American Association of School Administrators. Politico Florida. U.S. House Democrats will hold a forum next week to review ways to prevent violence in schools. Politico Florida. Teachers can already carry guns in 14 states. USA Today. Parents of students murdered at Parkland urge the Constitution Revision Commission to let Florida voters decide on a three-day waiting period and on raising the age limit to buy guns. In Lakeland, the father of another murdered Parkland student asks the Polk County School Board to approve a plan to arm some school employees. Tampa Bay Times. GateHouse. Lakeland Ledger. Members of the public urge the Bay County School Board not to arm school employees. Panama City News Herald. A majority of the St. Johns County School Board members oppose arming school workers. St. Augustine Record. The Citrus County School Board is asking the sheriff to split the cost of adding five resource officers to schools for the rest of the school year. Citrus County Chronicle. Pinellas County School Board members vote to not arm any school workers other than law enforcement officers. Gradebook. Continue Reading →


What school choice bills passed the Florida Legislature in 2018

The response to a school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School overshadowed many other education issues before the Florida Legislature this year.

Appropriately so.

It’s also an election year, which brings an earlier start to the legislative session and can limit policymaking bandwidth. But that didn’t stop lawmakers from creating multiple new programs and pushing several long-standing school choice priorities over the finish line.

Here’s a breakdown of what passed and what didn’t, as far as educational choice is concerned. For comparison, it’s worth looking at the agenda before the session started.


Hope scholarships

Victims of bullying or violence will have the ability to seek a transfer to another public school, or a scholarship to attend a private school. HB 7055

Charter schools

Charter schools that hope to open similar schools in new locations will be able to replicate twice per year, rather than just once, if they hope to open in areas that aren’t served by persistently low-performing schools. Districts that want to shut down charter schools will have to appear before the state Division of Administrative Hearings. HB 7055

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Florida schools roundup: Shooting video release, walkout, new bills and more

School shooting video: A circuit court judge rules that video taken outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during the shootings Feb. 14 that killed 17 people must be made public. Several news organizations had sued the Broward County Sheriff’s Office and the school board for refusing to release the video, arguing that it was crucial in analyzing law enforcement’s response. The judge ruled that prosecutors didn’t prove how releasing the video could hamper the ongoing investigation, but delayed the release until Thursday to give the sheriff and school board a chance to appeal. Sun-Sentinel. Associated Press. Miami Herald.

Walkout Wednesday: At least 2,500 U.S. schools expect students to stage a walkout Wednesday to protest the shootings at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Feb. 14 and call for stricter controls on guns. The walkouts are expected to start at 10 a.m. and, in many cases, last 17 minutes to honor each of the 17 murdered victims. Sun-Sentinel. Students around the state plan to participate in the walkout, and schools are deciding how they will deal with it. Fort Myers News-Press. Bradenton Herald. Gainesville Sun. Northwest Florida Daily News. St. Augustine Record. The 74. Six things to know about the National Student Walkout. Education Week. About 500,000 people are expected to congregate in Washington, D.C., March 24 in the March For Our Lives rally calling for school safety and stricter gun laws, and other rallies will be held in cities around the country, including Parkland. Sun-Sentinel.

New education bills: The school safety bill and the K-12 and higher education bills got most of the attention, but other education-related bills also were passed in the Legislature. Here are some of them. Gradebook. Private schools that accept state scholarship students will have some new rules to follow under the new education bill, H.B. 7055. The state will now be permitted to visit all private schools, starting in 2019, and provisions will make it harder for those schools to hide criminal convictions of owners or file phony fire inspection reports. But they’ll still be able to hire teachers without college degrees. Orlando Sentinel. H.B. 7055 also boosts school construction funding for K-12 schools and higher education institutions. News Service of Florida. The Legislature created a scholarship program to help bullied students move to private schools. It’s the first program of its kind in the United States. Will it start a national trend? TrustED. U.S. News & World Report. Here’s a recap of the biggest issues in the Legislature this year, as well as some of the bills that passed and failed. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. News Service of Florida. Continue Reading →


Parents, charter schools hope to intervene in Florida HB 7069 lawsuit

Four charter schools and three charter parents from Southwest and Central Florida want to help defend last year’s wide-ranging education law.

Fourteen school districts have sued to strike six key parts of HB 7069 from the books. The parents and schools want to support five of them in Leon County court.

The potential intervenors want to help the state defend provisions that would:

  • Require local school districts to share property tax revenue with charter schools. This part of the law will be revised thanks to a new law signed by Gov. Rick Scott.
  • Shift control over most federal Title I funding from districts to individual schools, which benefits charters, and will also be revised under the new HB 7055.
  • Require districts to use a statewide standard charter school contract as the starting point for negotiations with charters they oversee.
  • Overhaul the state’s system for turning around low-performing public schools.
  • Allow charter school networks to form their own local education agencies.

Beth Schmude is a parent of five children who attended schools run by the Orange County district, according to an affidavit filed with the court.

One of her daughters, Meagan, has cerebral palsy. She attends a UCP charter school, which was one of the first networks to apply to form a local education agency after the law changed. That gave the charter school system more control over federal education funding, including funding for children with special needs. Continue Reading →