Archive | Education and the courts

Florida schools roundup: Private and charter school growth, lawsuit and more

Private, charter growth: Private school enrollment is up 6.5 percent in Florida, the sixth straight year of growth, and now makes up 11.6 percent of all pre-K through 12th grade students. There are 368,321 school students at 2,663 private schools in the state, according to the annual report from the Florida Department of Education. Miami-Dade County has the most at 76,022. redefinED. Hillsborough County school officials expect 21,626 district students to attend charter schools in the next school year, an increase of about 22 percent. Charter students now make up about 10 percent of all students in Hillsborough. Gradebook.

Students sue district: Two former Miami-Dade County School District students are suing the district after they found their Social Security numbers and test scores on the district’s website. District officials call the breach an isolated incident and say a forensic review is being conducted to find out where the information came from and whether it is authentic. Miami Herald.

District hires lobbyist: The Miami-Dade County School District hire Ballard Partners to lobby for the district’s interests in Congress and several federal agencies. The contract is for three years at a rate of $108,000 a year. It’s the first time since 2008 the district has had a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. “We’ve always had a very active presence at the federal level, but in light of the new players in the administration we felt it was prudent to seek assistance in being able to have additional access,” said Iraida Mendez-Cartaya, who runs the district’s office of intergovernmental affairs. Miami Herald.

Charter vendor arrested: Steven J. Kunkemoeller, charged with fraud and racketeering in connection with the operation of charter schools in Florida, is arrested in Pensacola. He operated two companies that allegedly sold school materials at inflated prices to Newpoint Education Partners. Newpoint founder Marcus May, who has also been charged with fraud and racketeering, has not yet turned himself in. Gradebook. An Escambia County commissioner accuses the school district of trying to hide misconduct at the counties’ three Newpoint charter schools. Jeff Bergosh says for a year, district officials ignored complaints about grade-fixing, organized cheating and student safety issues. School officials dismiss Bergosh’s allegations. Pensacola News Journal. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Project manager, budgets, charters and more

Managing the boom: The Palm Beach County School Board will consider a plan to hire a company to manage the district’s building boom, at a cost of $26.4 million over 10 years. California-based AECOM would act as the program manager in exchange for a 2.2 percent cut of the $1.4 billion the district is spending to repair old schools and build new ones. Voters approved a sales tax initiative in November to raise the sales tax for school infrastructure. “I think, at 2.2 percent, that is a terrific deal for the district,” says Mike Burke, the district’s chief financial officer. Palm Beach Post.

Financial problems: Hillsborough County School Superintendent Jeff Eakins acknowledges at a budget workshop that the district’s financial problems are even worse than previously known. The district’s reserve account lost $83.6 million between 2014 and 2015, and that was after the district transferred $55 million into it, and was on track to lose $130 million or more the following year. School board members brainstormed cost-cutting ideas, but no decisions were reached. Tampa Bay Times. Budget cuts could put the brakes on a proposed technology upgrade for the Pasco County School District. Chief finance officer Olga Swinson is recommending the elimination of $724,000 budgeted for new televisions and projectors to help teachers with presentations. She also suggests not spending the previously budgeted $642,000 for telecommunications upgrades and maintenance, and $310,000 in computer hardware, servers and software. Gradebook. Pasco County Superintendent Kurt Browning has been pushing the state to return to paper-and-pencil standardized testing, but he’s recommending the district continue to use computer tests because doing so will save money. Gradebook.

Sharing with charters: Under the new state education law, the Duval County School District will be compelled to turn over $16 million from its capital fund in the next five years to charter schools. School officials say the first payment will be $2.4 million for the next school year. Florida Times-Union. In Sarasota County, charter schools’ share of capital funds will be $9.3 million, up from the $5.5 million the board allotted this past school year. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Flagler County School District will have to send $570,000 from its capital fund to the county’s two charter schools. Flagler Live. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Fraud charges for charter founder, H.B. 7069 and more

Fraud, racketeering charges: The founder of a charter school company is charged with racketeering and organized fraud in connection with the operation of his schools in the Pinellas, Escambia, Bay, Hillsborough, Broward and Duval districts. According to a statewide prosecutor, Marcus May, who founded Newpoint Education Partners, took more than $1 million from the state, the six districts and the 15 schools he owned and used it to take trips, have plastic surgery, and buy homes and personal watercraft. Also charged is Steven Kunkemoeller, who owns two companies that allegedly sold supplies and furniture to May’s charter schools at inflated prices. The three companies also were indicted by an Escambia County grand jury a year ago on charges of grand theft, money laundering and aggravated white-collar crime. Tampa Bay TimesPanama City News Herald. Pensacola News JournalFlorida Times-UnionWJHG. WFLA.

More on H.B. 7069: One financial safeguard that was discussed early and often for inclusion in an education bill did not make it into H.B. 7069. There are no provisions to make sure that state funds for charter school construction aren’t pocketed for profit by charter company owners. Instead, charter companies will automatically get a proportion of funds based on enrollment, not need. Gradebook. H.B. 7069, and its push for school choice and charter schools, is now the law of the state. But the debate about it hasn’t ended. Critics of the bill say the “state-money-should-follow-the-student” catch-phrase many Republican legislators have adopted violates the state Constitution and a 2006 court precedent that outlawed state vouchers for private school tuition. Tampa Bay Times. Opponents of H.B. 7069 say they expect one or more districts to file a legal challenge to provisions of the bill. The Capitolist. Hillsborough County school officials should quit blaming the Legislature for their financial problems, says House Speaker Richard Corcoran. “It’s their bloat, inefficiency and gross overspending. Their problem is their mismanagement.” Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: S.B. 374 veto, charters, new report cards and more

S.B. 374 veto: Gov. Rick Scott vetoes the Legislature’s higher education bill, S.B. 374, saying it shortchanges community colleges. “While the bill makes positive changes to several State University System programs, and there are many provisions I think would be good for students, it does so at the expense of the Florida College System,” Scott wrote in his veto letter. The bill, the top priority for Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, also includes a significant expansion of the Bright Futures scholarship program. That and other programs that expand financial aid won’t be affected this year because they’re also embedded in the overall budget bill, says Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. Scott is urging legislators to make the Bright Futures changes permanent during next year’s session. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. News Service of FloridaFlorida Politics. Politico Florida. Sunshine State News. The governor signs 28 other bills, including a measure to study school crossings for potential safety improvements. Palm Beach Post.

H.B. 7069: Despite reports that Gov. Scott will sign H.B. 7069 today in Orlando, State Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, is holding out hope that the bill will be vetoed and reworked. Gradebook. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a Republican candidate for governor, says he remains troubled by the secret process used to put together the education bill. Tampa Bay Times. Here’s a summary of some of the things that will happen if H.B. 7069 is signed. Palm Beach Post. Brevard County school officials say they’re behind in the budget process because they still doesn’t know how much money they’ll be getting from the state. Florida Today. The Volusia County School District should receive about $4.5 million more than expected from the state, after the increases approved in the legislative special session, but school officials say they still face a $2.42 million budget deficit. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The Charlotte County School District will receive about 1.7 percent more per student than originally expected from the state. Charlotte Sun.

Charters win in court: A circuit judge rules that five charter schools in Indian River County are entitled to their fair share of a tax approved by voters and collected by the school district for operations. The charters have received about 5 percent of the tax since the 2013-2014 school year, as determined by the school board, but contended they deserved 12 percent. The judge agreed, saying the charter schools should receive a proportional amount based on enrollment. The school board will have to decide whether to appeal. TCPalm. The ruling could have implications for Palm Beach County. Palm Beach Post. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: H.B. 7069, district tapping reserves and more

H.B. 7069: The controversial K-12 education bill H.B. 7069 has been sent to Gov. Rick Scott for consideration. He must make a decision on the bill by June 27, though there are reports that he intends to sign the bill Thursday in Orlando. The bill creates a fund to recruit high-performing charter schools into areas with persistently struggling schools, requires 20 minutes of recess a day for traditional public elementary school students and sets aside more than $200 million to provide bonuses for teachers and principals, among other things. Orlando SentinelGradebook. Gov. Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, were in Miami to make the first of five stops in a “victory tour” of Florida to celebrate the budget agreement. Miami Herald. Tampa Bay Times. Sun Sentinel. Sunshine State News. Hundreds of teachers protest the education bill at Gov. Scott’s rally in Jacksonville Beach. Florida Times-Union. WJCT. WJXT. Supporters and opponents of the education bill continue to pepper Gov. Scott with emails and calls. News Service of FloridaWKMG. WBBH. Florida Politics.

District finances: The Duval County School Board tentatively agrees to tap the district’s reserves to help make up the difference between the money it expected from the state and what it actually will get. The district was expecting an extra $16 million after the budget deal in the special session. But the state told the district that about half of that needs to be set aside for mandates and charter schools. Florida Times-Union. Polk County school officials say the district will struggle to maintain reserves and give raises to teachers and staff under the level of funding the state has approved for education. The district expects to receive $6,983 per student from the state, which is $110 less than it received 10 years ago. Lakeland Ledger. The Manatee County School Board asks its attorney to write a resolution for a special election in March to raise property taxes for schools by 1 mill. The increase would raise about $30 million a year for the district. Bradenton Herald. The Cape Coral Charter School Governing Board tentatively approves a budget for its four schools that gives employees a 2 percent raise but cuts the number of teachers and administrators by 14. Lehigh Acres Citizen.

Audit raps district: The Broward County School District greatly overpaid asphalt contractors for athletic tracks and playgrounds and didn’t get required permits, according to an internal audit. Forty-seven times between 2010 and 2017, the district paid $150 to $300 an hour for workers. In 2016, auditors say, the Palm Beach County School had similar work done and paid $15 to $45 an hour. The Broward district has a history of financial mismanagement in its facilities department, and is about to begin infrastructure updates covered by an $800 million bond approved by voters in 2014. Sun Sentinel. Continue Reading →

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The door to private school choice is already open

Once again, prohibitions on funding religion don’t stand in the way of school choice.

In the latest case, a Montana court ruled religious schools could participate in a tax credit scholarship program.

A group of moms backed by the Institute for Justice had challenged regulations that kept religious schools out of the program.

The Associated Press reported the ruling late last month:

[District Judge Heidi Ulbricht] found that the program is funded through tax credits, not appropriations, and the constitution does not address the use of tax credits. “Non-refundable tax credits simply do not involve the expenditure of money that the state has in its treasury,” Ulbright wrote.

Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Budget bill, textbooks suit, spelling bee and more

Scott gets budget: The Legislature has sent the $82.4 billion state budget to Gov. Rick Scott, who has until June 15 to decide if he will sign it, or veto all of it or parts of it. Scott has been especially critical of the education spending and cuts to his economic development agency Enterprise Florida and the tourism marketing agency Visit Florida. Scott has vetoed $1.9 billion in spending in his six years as governor. Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald. Sun Sentinel. News Service of Florida. Tallahassee Democrat. Sunshine State News.

District sued over textbooks: Three parents are suing the Collier County School Board over textbooks that they say have errors and omissions and were selected “behind closed doors to the exclusion of the public.” The suit asks for an emergency injunction against the textbooks and in the district’s selection process. Naples Daily News.

National Spelling Bee: Following the performances of the 15 Florida students competing in the 2017 Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. National Spelling Bee. Florida Times-Union. TCPalm. Miami Herald. Palm Beach Post. Naples Daily News. Tallahassee Democrat. Associated Press.

Zero tolerance: The Miami Beach Committee for Quality Education votes to lobby the Miami-Dade County School District to bring back a zero-tolerance drug policies for Miami Beach Senior High School and its feeder schools. The district phased out zero-tolerance policies years ago. Miami New Times. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Pre-K report, resegregation, private schools and more

Pre-K access, funding: Florida ranks second in the nation in providing access to pre-kindergarten programs, but just 40th in per-student funding, according to a report from the National Institute for Early Education Research. Florida enrolled about 76 percent of all eligible 4-year-olds, trailing only the District of Columbia, but its per-student funding amount of $2,353 is less than half the national average. Florida also meets just three of the 10 quality measures, the report concludes. Gradebook.

School resegregation: A study by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA contends that the proliferation of school choice programs is contributing to the resegregation of public schools in Florida and the rest of the South. The report says 34.6 percent of Florida’s black students and 32.1 percent of Hispanic students attended schools with 90 percent or more minorities in 2014, when the overall student population was 22.3 percent black and 30.9 percent Hispanic. Florida has one of the highest charter school expansion rates, according to the report. Gradebook.

Private school changes: Historically, private schools were often places where white students went to get away from public schools. Increasingly, that is changing, with many private schools now filled with low-income or disabled students who use scholarships from the state to attend. “The historically unfavored are now being favored, are now being accepted,” says Vernard Grant, director of the ACE Student Success Center with the Association of Christian Schools International. redefinED.

Education bill feedback: A slight majority of Floridians is now urging Gov. Rick Scott to sign the education bill. A week ago, about 75 percent of those who had contacted the governor wanted him to veto H.B. 7069. The change of sentiment is widely thought to be attributed to organized campaigns by school choice advocates. Miami Herald. Continue Reading →