Archive | Education and the courts

Florida schools roundup: Education bill, autonomy for schools and more

Education bill: The Florida House Education Committee passes H.B. 733, the nearly all-inclusive education bill that would cut standardized testing and make significant changes to the state’s K-12 education system. The bill does not include mandatory recess time for elementary students, which is in the Senate’s proposal. Miami Herald. Sunshine State News. Florida Politics. Included in a 76-page amendment to the bill are several provisions to help charter and virtual schools. redefinED. The feud between House and Senate leaders over the state budget continues, though several still think they can reach an agreement before the session is scheduled to end May 5. News Service of Florida. Sunshine State News.

Autonomy for schools: A bill passed by the House would broaden autonomy for principals from a pilot program in seven districts to the highest-performing 20 percent of all public schools. Under the pilot program, principals at low-performing schools have greater control over hiring and would be freed from some state regulations. redefinED.

Teacher contracts: Two special state magistrates have issued different interpretations to districts about whether they can negotiate contract renewal guarantees for teachers who are rated highly effective or effective. In both cases, the districts told the teachers unions a 2011 law did not allow guaranteed teacher contracts. Unions in St. Johns and Pasco counties wouldn’t agree to a contract without that guarantee. In St. Johns, a magistrate agreed with the teachers union. In Pasco, a magistrate sided with the district. Gradebook.

High school rankings: Pine View School in Osprey is rated the top high school in the state in the latest U.S. News & World Report’s rankings. Design and Architecture Senior High in Miami is second, International Studies Charter High School in Miami third, International Studies Preparatory Academy in Coral Gables fourth, and Westshore Junior/Senior High School in Melbourne fifth. U.S. News & World Report. Miami HeraldNaples Daily News. South Florida Business Journal. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Tests, school laundromats, black teachers and more

Testing in schools: The Florida Senate and House remain divided on how to reform the state’s standardized testing process. Both chamber’s bills push testing toward the end of the school year and direct the Department of Education to see whether national tests such as the SAT and ACT can be used in place of the Florida Standards Assessments. But the broader Senate bill would cut back on the number of exams taken overall, allow districts to administer the tests on paper instead of computers, and remove a requirement that teachers be evaluated in part on the results. The House bill doesn’t reduce the number taken, calls for most tests to be taken in the final three weeks of the school year, requires the results be returned to teachers within a week and sets specific instructions on how the results are reported. Orlando Sentinel.

School laundromats: Reducing personal problems as a means to academic success now includes doing laundry for students at some Lake County schools. Laundry rooms have been installed at Eustis Heights and Triangle Elementary schools as part of the district’s School Laundry Program, based on an initiative started in Fairfield, Calif. Students apply for entry into the program. If they’re accepted, they can drop off their laundry in the morning. It’s done by volunteers in time for the student to pick it up at the end of the school day. “The more we can take care of our students’ basic needs, the more we can take care of their academic needs,” said Eustis Heights principal Chad Frazier. Daily Commercial.

Impact of black teachers: Having one black teacher in third, fourth or fifth grade reduces low-income black boys’ probability of dropping out of high school by 39 percent, according to a study of 100,000 black elementary school students in North Carolina. WUSF. Education Week.

School repairs: Repair projects begin this summer at 10 Palm Beach County schools, says Superintendent Robert Avossa. The projects are being funded by a penny increase in the county’s sales tax, approved by voters in November. The school district gets half the money generated, which is expected to amount to about $650 million over 10 years. First up are weatherproofing at six schools and paving of parking lots, tracks and basketball courts at four schools. Sun-Sentinel. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: DeVos Q&A, teacher evaluations, projects and more

DeVos Q&A: U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos talks about undocumented students, the variety of education options, Title 1 funding, bilingual education and more in a question and answer session during a visit to Florida last week. Miami Herald.

Teacher evaluation changes: The Brevard County School District is making changes in the way it evaluates teachers and administrators. The district is eliminating the Professional Growth Plans, cutting back on classroom observations and killing the deliberate-practice portion in evaluations of administrators. “We think there are much better ways to evaluate and assess instruction while giving teachers more time to focus on our babies,” says Superintendent Desmond Blackburn. Florida Today.

Making over schools: The Miami-Dade County School District is about halfway done with a $1.2 billion project to update the looks of schools and their technology. Glass walls, open spaces, interactive whiteboards and wi-fi are in, while rows of desks in boxy classrooms, narrow hallways and dim cafeterias are out. The changes are financed by a bond voters approved in 2012. Miami Herald.

Bond projects database: The Broward County School District is launching a website in May that will have details about every school construction project in the district’s $800 million bond program. Listed will be projected costs, a completion date and any changes for every school project. Voters approved the bond to repair schools and update technology in November 2014, but construction still hasn’t started on many projects that were scheduled to begin in 2015. Sun-Sentinel. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Charter schools bills, reading, religion and more

Charter schools plan: State Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami, says the House proposal to turn over failing schools to charter schools “creates a separate but unequal system” that violates the Florida and U.S. Constitutions. The so-called “schools of hope” bill calls for traditional schools with D or F grades for three years to become charter schools. “These schools have failed these kids long enough,” said Rep. Manuel Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah. “These are kids trapped in generational poverty, and for us to create this illusion it [schools of hope] is a separate system? It’s not.” The House Appropriations Committee passed the bill, which now goes to the full House for a vote. Miami Herald. Politico Florida. redefinED.

Charter facilities funds: The House Appropriations Committee passes a bill that would nearly double the amount of money set aside from local property taxes for charter schools facilities. But a lobbyist for Charter Schools USA, Chris Moya, says the bill may actually reduce the money available for charters because districts can subtract the amount spent on debt service before the rest of the money is divided, and because sharing formula favors charters that enroll low-income students. Moya argues that the Legislature should “stop thinking about funding institutions or districts or even schools, and really think about funding the student.” The bill now moves on to the House vote. redefinED.

Extra reading narrowed: High-level readers at the 300 lowest-performing elementary schools in the state would no longer have to attend the extra hour of required reading under a Florida House bill that has been approved by the appropriations committee. Students who achieve Level 4 or 5 on the state language arts test would have the option of skipping the reading hour. Students who achieve Level 3 or below are required to attend. The bill would also give schools the option of fitting in that hour instead of requiring it to be an extra hour of school. The changes are at odds with the Senate version of the billGradebook.

Class sizes: The House approves a bill that changes the way class sizes are calculated to meet the requirements of a 2002 voter-approved amendment. If approved, schools could use a schoolwide average instead of counting individual classes. A similar bill is moving through the Senate. Associated Press. Continue Reading →


‘Schools of Hope’ and a judge’s ‘warning not to be complacent’

The Florida House’s effort to create new “Schools of Hope” in struggling areas has rocketed to the top of education agenda in this year’s legislative session.

Its backers may find support for charter school recruitment and aggressive school turnaround efforts in interesting places, like a “warning” flagged last year by a Leon County judge.

The legislative analysis of the House bill points to Ciruit Judge George Reynolds’ ruling that dismissed a wide-ranging “adequacy” lawsuit, which took aim at a vast swath of education policies, from funding to high-stakes testing to school choice.

Reynolds tossed out the claims en masse in a sweeping ruling hailed by education reformers as a vindication. But legislative staff note the one issue where the judge seemed most sympathetic to the plaintiffs’ claims that Florida was not meeting its constitutional oblication to provide a “high-quality” public education system.

He indicated the presence of schools that languish for years with low academic performance gave him pause. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Budget plans, improvements, HQ evacuation and more

Education budget plans: The Senate appropriations subcommittee approves a plan to increase preK-12 education spending by $535 million. The panel chairman, Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, says retaining current property tax rates would let localities collect hundreds of millions of dollars more as property values increase. “We don’t consider the additional amount of taxes they pay to be a tax increase. We consider it incidental to the increase in value in the property,” Simmons said, as a response to the House’s insistence that it is a tax increase. The Senate and House education budgets are now almost $540 million apart. The Senate budget also includes no money for the teacher bonuses program. Simmons implied the program would become part of negotiations between the Senate and House, which has $214 million set aside for the bonus program. News Service of FloridaPolitico Florida. Miami Herald. Naples Daily News. WFSU.

School improvement: The House Education Committee takes up a school improvement bill today that would set aggressive requirements for districts to turn around academically struggling schools. Turnaround plans would be required for schools receiving D or F grades from the state just a few months after the grades are issued. If the plans do not raise the school grade to a C within three years, the schools would be labeled “persistently low-performing” and districts would have to close them, convert them to a charter, or bring in an outside operator. Districts would no longer have the option of carrying out their own turnaround plans. redefinED. Gradebook.

School HQ evacuated: An infestation of vermin and blow flies has forced the evacuation of the Okaloosa County School District Administrative Complex  in Fort Walton Beach. The administration and school board members will work from the Niceville Central Complex until further notice. “I’m not going to have them stay some place that I’m not going to stay in,” says Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson. “We’ve tried to put Band-Aids on and fix it, but I’m afraid we may be a bit past that now.” Northwest Florida Daily News.

Charter school laws: Florida ranks eighth in the nation in a recent analysis of states’ charter school laws, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Indiana was rated No. 1. Florida ranks highly on autonomy and accountability, for not having caps on the number of charter schools allowed, and for providing a strong appeals process for applicants that are denied. The report notes that state still provides inequitable funding to charter schools. redefinED. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: K-12 funding, recess, choice, charters and more

K-12 funding: The Senate Budget Committee proposes a boost of $790 million in spending in the next school year for Florida’s K-12 public schools. Almost 68 percent of that would come through higher property taxes for local districts. Gov. Rick Scott has proposed an $815 million increase for K-12 schools, also with 68 percent of the boost coming from local property taxes. House leaders, who have said they won’t accept any tax increase, propose an increase of $251.3 million. The House budget’s chief priority is $200 million to attract charter school networks into areas where traditional public schools have struggled. News Service of FloridaPolitico Florida. Politico FloridaFlorida Politics.

Recess bill: The Florida House K-12 Innovation Subcommittee makes significant changes to the mandatory recess bill, then passes it. The original bill called for at least 20 minutes of unstructured but supervised recess every day for the state’s elementary school students. The amended bill changes the daily requirement to at least twice a week, lets schools count recess time toward physical education requirements, and removes the recess requirement for fourth- and fifth-graders. Miami HeraldSunshine State News.

School choice: The House Education Appropriations Subcommittee approves a bill that would increase the money students can receive through the state’s tax credit scholarship program. But removed from the bill was an expansion of eligibility and triple the money for Gardiner scholarships for students with disabilities. Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer both programs. The subcommittee also stripped the bill of a provision that would have allowed McKay scholarships for students with special needs even if they hadn’t attended a public school for an entire school year. redefinED. News Service of Florida.

Charter schools: The House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee approves a bill that could make it easier for high-performing charter schools to expand, give charter networks the ability to received federal funding directly, allow school districts an extra 30 days to review charter applications, and make public schools accountable for the academic performance of students who transfer to private or alternative charter schools. Ralph Arza of the Florida Charter School Alliance says his group supports nearly all the bill, but said alternative charters should be held responsible for students who transfer from traditional schools. redefinED. The committee also approves a bill that would require school districts to proportionately split local property tax revenues with charter schools after the money districts set aside for construction debts is deducted. The state’s 556 charter schools would receive about $148 million, or nearly double what they now get. redefinED. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Testing, facilities funding, coding and more

Testing bill stalls: The Senate Education Committee temporarily postpones a vote on SB 926, the so-called “Fewer, Better Tests” bill to revise the state’s assessments program. The bill would push all testing to the final three weeks of the school year, require results back in a week, and order the Department of Education to study whether the ACT and SAT tests could be substituted for the Florida Standards Assessments (FSA). Several critics of the bill says it would do nothing to eliminate tests, despite its nickname, and could force the student passing rate down by tying the FSA passing scores to those of the more rigorous National Assessment for Educational Progress test. Miami HeraldOrlando Sentinel. Tallahassee DemocratNews Service of FloridaSunshine State News. WFSUGradebook.

Facilities funding: A bill filed in the Florida House would require school districts to proportionately split local property tax revenues with charter schools after the money districts set aside for construction debts is deducted. An analysis of the bill indicates that the state’s 556 charter schools would receive about $148 million, or nearly double what they now get. To qualify, charter schools would either be required to have 50 percent or more of its students receiving free or reduced-price lunches, or avoid consecutive years with a school grade below a B. redefinED.

Computer coding: The Florida House Pre-K-12 Quality Subcommittee deletes mention of allowing computer coding classes to fulfill foreign language requirements from HB 265. It’s the second straight year the idea has run into opposition in the House. The amended version of the bill emphasizes ways the Department of Education can push computer coding classes in public schools. Miami Herald.

School material challenges: The Senate and House both pass bills (SB 1210, HB 989) that would make it easier for parents and community members to see what materials and books are being used in schools and to challenge them if they find the materials objectionable. Gradebook. Continue Reading →