Archive | Education and the courts

Former Fla. Supreme Court Justice: Time to nix Blaine Amendment

Florida’s prohibition on public aid to religious institutions grew out of anti-Catholic bigotry. It’s also outdated, a former state Supreme Court justice told a panel working revisions to the state’s governing document. And it likely violates the U.S. Constitution.

Former Chief Justice Raoul Cantero, now a lawyer in private practice, urged the education committee of the Constitution Revision Commission to support a proposal that would erase Florida’s Blaine Amendment.

The “no-aid” provision has come up in lawsuits against voucher programs that fund scholarships to religious schools. It’s been used to challenge groups providing substance abuse counseling in state prisons. But a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year suggested federal justices think blanket prohibitions on public funding of religious institutions are unconstitutional. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Scholarships oversight, court challenge and more

Scholarship oversight: The Florida House Education Committee is proposing new rules governing private schools that accept state scholarships. The legislation, still in draft form, would require state visits to all private schools before they can participate in one of the state’s three K-12 scholarship programs, compel schools to provide a list of teachers and their credentials to parents, make it more difficult for the schools to falsify fire and health inspection reports, and increase financial oversight. But private schools could continue to to hire teachers without college degrees. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit and Gardiner scholarship programs. Orlando SentinelredefinED.

Argument against law: The school districts challenging six provisions in the new state education law argue in a motion for dismissal that even if some of the provisions are judged to be constitutional, they’re part of the larger package that unlawfully undermines the authority of local school boards. The districts cite several cases that they say affirms districts’ authority over Florida’s public schools, and forbids the Legislature from creating “parallel,” publicly funded alternatives. redefinED.

Proposed amendments: The Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) meets today to consider amendment proposals, including several that could affect the state’s school choice movement. Among them: one that would extend relaxed regulations now enjoyed by charter schools to traditional public schools that receive state grades of B or above for three straight years; getting rid of the state’s restriction on public funding of religious activity; eliminating limits on the Legislature’s authority to create educational programs; and allowing the Legislature to create non-district charter school authorizers. redefinED. By allowing members to engage in secret talks, the CRC risks the invalidation of all its work, according to a dozen open government advocacy groups. Those kinds of private policy discussions are “just part of the process,” says CRC member Erika Donalds. Politico Florida.

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Florida schools roundup: Cold again closing schools, pensions and more

Cold closing schools: A cold front is expected to bring freezing temperatures and icy conditions into north Florida today. The Walton, Escambia, Jackson, Holmes, Okaloosa and Santa Rosa school districts have closed all schools, and Bay County is limiting after-school activities. Northwest Florida Daily News. WMBB. WEAR. Pensacola News Journal. Destin Log. Panama City News Herald. The Leon County School District won’t be closing schools because of the weather today. Earlier this month the district closed for two days when cold weather, snow and ice moved into the area. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL.

Pension payments: Florida school districts will have to contribute an additional $54.4 million into the state pension fund this year, if a bill before the Legislature is approved. The state is forecasting a lower rate of return on the $160 billion pension fund, which would require school districts, colleges, universities, county governments and state agencies to pay a collective $178.5 million to ensure that there’s enough money to pay retirement benefits. News Service of Florida.

Computer coding bill: A bill promoting computer coding in schools, by allowing students to use it to satisfy foreign language requirements, is amended to include a requirement that a set percentage of schools in each district offer computer science courses, and providing financial incentives for teachers to become certified in the field. The amended bill is approved by the Senate Education Committee and now moves to the appropriations committee. Gradebook.

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Florida schools roundup: Adequacy suit, payments to charter schools and more

Adequacy review: Plaintiffs are asking the Florida Supreme Court to review a lower court’s decision denying their claim that the state doesn’t adequately fund public schools and therefore violates the state constitution. The lower court ruled that funding was adequate and that the lawsuit dealt with “political questions not subject to judicial review.” An appeals court agreed. The case, Citizens for Strong Schools v. Florida State Board of Education, was filed in 2009. Orlando Sentinel.

Payments to charters: The Palm Beach County School District’s request to block payments to charter schools is denied by a Leon County circuit judge. The district asked the court to temporarily block the provision of the new state education law that requires districts to share money district collect through local property taxes for school construction and maintenance. That law requires the Palm Beach County district to pay county charter schools $9.3 million by Feb. 1. School board chairman Chuck Shaw said, “We will continue to fight to protect local school board constitutional rights to control and operate our schools, and that includes making sure that every penny is properly spent with our oversight and not put into the hands of private property owners and managers.” Palm Beach Post. redefinED.

Teachers honored: Nicole Grebosz, a technology special area teacher at Citrus Grove Elementary School in DeLand, is named the Volusia County School District’s teacher of the year. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Cynthia Johnson, a music resource teacher for the Brevard County School District, wins the Florida Music Education Association Leadership Award. Space Coast Daily.

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Florida schools roundup: Graduation rate up, charters, funding and more

Graduation rate rises: Florida’s high school graduation rate rose 1.6 percentage points in 2017, to 82.3 percent, according to figures released Wednesday by the Florida Department of Education. The rate has gone up steadily since the 2006-2007 school year, when fewer than 60 percent of students got diplomas. Gilchrist County had the highest rate in the state, at 93.4 percent. Nassau and St. Johns were next at 90.9 percent, and Suwannee (90.5 percent) and St. Lucie (90.1 percent) were the other districts over 90 percent. Gadsden’s 50 percent rate was the lowest. Florida Department of Education. News Service of FloridaOrlando SentinelWTXL. Palm Beach County’s graduation rate jumps by almost 3 percentage points to hit an all-time high of 85 percent. Palm Beach Post. Boca News Now. Sun-Sentinel. Duval, Baker and Clay counties all show gains in their graduation rates, while Nassau’s and St. Johns’ drop slightly. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. Escambia County’s graduate rate increases by 3.4 percentage points in the past two years, and Santa Rosa’s has gone up 0.7 percentage points. Pensacola News Journal. The high school graduation rate rises in St. Lucie County, but falls in Martin and Indian River counties. TCPalm. Graduation rates top 80 percent for the first time in all four Tampa Bay area counties: Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando. Tampa Bay Times. WUSF. WTSP. Polk County’s graduation rate jumped 3.6 percentage points, to 75.4 percent. Lakeland Ledger. The Manatee County graduation rate slips, but stays above 80 percent. Sarasota’s rises incrementally. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. SRQ Magazine. Alachua County’s graduation rate jumps 4.3 percentage points, to 82.7 percent. Gainesville Sun. The Bay County graduation rate dips more than 2 percentage points and is below 80 percent. Panama City News Herald.

Capital for charters: Florida charter schools will get $91.2 million from school districts as part of a capital funds sharing program approved by the Legislature last year. The money comes from local districts’ property taxes collected for building and maintaining schools. Districts with high debt service won’t have to share their funds. The fund-sharing is part of last year’s education bill, H.B. 7069Gradebook. The Flagler County School Board will vote next week on a mediation agreement that would require the district to share money with a charter school in the district. Imagine School at Town Center has been asking for money from the district since 2012. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

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Florida schools roundup: Funding for schools, cold weather and more

School funding: Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida House appear headed for conflict over education funding when the Legislature convenes next Tuesday. Scott wants to boost education spending by allowing local districts to collect more in taxes as property values increase. House leaders say that’s a tax hike, and they won’t let it happen. Ten years ago, the state provided 62 percent of public education funding. That slipped to 52 percent in 2007-2008 and is at 57 percent now. That 5 percentage point difference would have added $1 billion to the $20.6 billion spent on education this year. Gradebook.

Cold-weather cancellations: Alachua County schools remain closed today, but most others are open although some continue to curtail extracurricular activities. WEAR. Florida Times-Union. Gainesville Sun. Ocala Star-Banner. Daily Commercial. WFSU. WJAX. WKMG.

Education court fight: The legal battle between school districts and the state over H.B. 7069 is one of five potentially far-reaching Florida court fights that may be decided this year. News Service of Florida.

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Florida schools roundup: ESSA, active shooter training, bonuses and more

ESSA plan: After federal education officials recently raised questions about Florida’s plan to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act, the state asks for an extension beyond the Jan. 4 deadline to rework the plan. State officials say they are still reviewing the letter federal officials sent that questions the state’s plans to measure how individual groups of students perform and to consider progress made by English-language learners when holding schools accountable for student learning and progress. “We acknowledge that USED may not be able to provide a final determination within the 120-day period in the law,” Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart wrote in her request for an extension. “Our focus is the successful completion of the 2017-18 school year as school districts continue to recover from Hurricane Irma and embrace the nearly 9,000 students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as a result of Hurricane Maria.” Politico Florida.

Active shooter training: The University of Central Florida is using video game technology to help train teachers on how to react to an active shooter scenario. The $5.6 million technology was developed by the Homeland Security Department and the U.S. Army, and is similar to the program used to train soldiers in combat tactics. “With teachers, they did not self-select into a role where they expect to have bullets flying near them. Unfortunately, it’s becoming a reality,” says chief project engineer Tamara Griffith. “We want to teach teachers how to respond as first responders.” Associated Press.

Bonuses mistakenly paid: Twenty-seven Leon County School District employees wrongly received about $180,000 from the state’s Best and Brightest teacher bonuses program, according to a recent report from the Florida auditor general. The audit showed that 21 teachers who received $143,155 in bonuses were not rated as “highly effective,” a requirement to be eligible for the payments. Another six who received $40,902 weren’t eligible because they didn’t meet the state’s definition of a classroom teacher. All must repay the district, which in turn will send the money to the state Department of Education. The audit also raised concerns about a lack of competitive bidding to select health insurance companies and the security of personal information for students. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. WCTV.

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Florida schools roundup: ESSA plan needs revisions, grad rates and more

Feds order ESSA revise: The U.S. Department of Education says Florida is among 10 states that will have to revise their plans on implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act. The department’s letter to Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says the state’s plan does not fulfill ESSA requirements in three areas: identifying schools with large achievement gaps between student subgroups, including English-language learners’ proficiency scores in the state’s accountability system, and providing the state’s tests in students’ native language. The letter informs the state it has no choice but to change its plan to comply with ESSA. Education Week. Politico Florida.

Graduation rates: Florida school districts are expecting graduation rates for the class of 2017 to fall because the state’s new education law, H.B. 7069, won’t allow them to count students who left for private schools. Legislators fashioned the bill to stop districts that were suspected of funneling students who couldn’t pass the state’s test to alternative schools, where they could graduate without passing the tests. But many educators think the law unfairly penalizes schools that try to help students who struggle with the traditional graduation path. TCPalm.

Personalized learning: A pilot program on personalized learning would be opened to any school district in the state under bills filed by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, and Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. A 2016 law created the pilot program for school districts in Pinellas, Palm Beach, Lake Seminole counties, and the P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, to experiment with “competency-based learning” that allows students to progress at their own pace. The bills would also change the words “competency-based” to “mastery-based.” redefinED.

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