Archive | Education and the courts

Florida schools roundup: Graduation investigation, charter schools and more

Graduation investigation: The Florida Department of Education launches an investigation to see if school districts are dumping struggling students in their senior years into alternative schools to improve the graduation rates at traditional high schools. Last month, the investigative news website ProPublica reported that alternative schools in the Orange County School District are used as “release valves” that take in students unlikely to graduate. State Board of Education member Gary Chartrand described the report as a “very serious allegation,” and Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said, “It’s critical that every decision is made with the best interest of the students in mind.” Associated Press. Orlando Sentinel. WFSUPolitico Florida.

Charter capital funding: The Florida Board of Education adopts rules that would deny construction funds to charter schools that received two consecutive grades below a C from the state, starting in the 2017-2018 school year. Board members say they are simply trying to follow state law, which requires charter schools to show “satisfactory student achievement” to be eligible for capital funding from the state. Members of the Florida Association of Independent Public Schools, who challenged the rules before with state’s administrative law court, don’t like these revisions either. “This seems like deja vu all over again,” said Mark Gotz, the president of School Development Group. “Charter schools are public schools and need to be treated equally and equitably.” redefinED. Gradebook. Politico Florida.

Charter district: The plan to turn over operations of the struggling Jefferson County School District to a charter company is approved by the Florida Board of Education. The Jefferson board and Somerset Academy are expected to finalize a contract in April, with the charter company opening the county’s elementary, middle and high schools at a single location in August. Jefferson will become the first all-charter district in the state. WFSU. Tallahassee DemocratPolitico Florida.

More from state board: Department of Education officials tell the Florida Board of Education that they are proposing several amendments to the state’s rules on English-language learners (ELL) to adjust to new federal standards. One of the changes would lower the proficiency levels required for ELL students, which some critics think could push those students out of the program before they are ready. The board will vote on the proposed changes at its next meeting. Gradebook. The state board also approves a pilot program that would give select principals in seven counties greater autonomy over the operations at their schools. Broward, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Duval, Jefferson, Madison and Seminole counties will participate. redefinED. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Charter district, tests, home-schooling and more

Charter district: The Jefferson County School Board agrees to turn over operations of the district’s struggling schools to the charter school company Somerset Academy. The proposed deal will be taken to the Florida Board of Education today for approval. If the deal is approved, Jefferson would become the first charter district in the state. In its application, Somerset said it will operate an elementary, middle and high school on a single campus led by a single principal, bring in a rigorous curriculum, including Advanced Placement classes, pay teachers 7 percent more than they can get in surrounding counties, pay competitive benefits, and work to bring students attending the alternative school back into the traditional schools. redefinEDWFSU.

Testing debate: The debate over the state’s standardized testing intensifies at a Senate Education Committee meeting Tuesday. Supporters of former Gov. Jeb Bush are backing a moderate revision of the current system, while others want more significant changes, including fewer tests. Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, who is leading the committee in the medical absence of Chairwoman Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, said no decision has been made on what direction the bills will take, and that Hukill will make that call. News Service of Florida.

Help for home-schoolers: Students who are home-schooled would have greater access to college classes and career education courses offered by school districts in a bill approved by the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee. Districts also would be required to accept home-education registrations as long as parents and their children meet the state’s requirements. redefinED.

Religious expression bill: The Florida Senate moves the so-called “religious expression” bill to a third and final reading. If approved, the bill would be sent to the House, which has a slightly different version. The bill would give students more freedom to express religious thoughts in public schools. Gradebook. News Service of Florida. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Construction funds, Bright Futures, testing and more

School construction funds: Florida will be $36 million short for school construction funding in the next year if legislators do not agree to borrow money. The latest revenue estimates suggest the Public Education Capital Outlay revenue for the 2017-2018 school year will be $337 million. But state education officials have requested $373 million for projects. Gov. Rick Scott has historically been averse to such borrowing, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, has spoken out against new PECO bonding. Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has said he is open to a “reasonable” amount of bonding. News Service of Florida.

Bright Futures: A House education subcommittee approves a higher education bill that is substantially different than the one approved by the Senate. But both bills expand Bright Futures scholarships by covering full tuition and fees for qualifying students plus $300 for textbooks and other costs. Both would also allow recipients to use scholarship money for summer classes, though the Senate version restricts use to “academic scholars” while the House bill offers it for all Bright Futures recipients. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida.

Making tests available: The House PreK-12 Quality subcommittee approves a bill that would require the Florida Department of Education to post state assessment exams online after they are taken. “So much is driven around these tests,” says Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay. “I think it makes sense for us to know what we’re evaluating.” The committee also approved a bill that would allow students to satisfy graduation requirements for an arts or elective credit with a trade apprenticeship. Gradebook. Politico Florida.

PTA praises Scott budget: The Florida PTA jumps into the legislative battle over education budgets by praising Gov. Rick Scott’s. In a statement, PTA officials said: “Florida PTA applauds the governor’s request to increase total funding for K-12 education to $20.99 million, and state funding to $11.55 million, both historic highs. We likewise consider his proposed record $7420.99 in per-pupil funding a good first step toward bringing Florida closer to the national average. Equally welcome is the governor’s commitment to increasing the budgets for early learning, voluntary pre-kindergarten, and school readiness.” Gradebook. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Trump’s budget, recess, charter district and more

Trump’s school choice push: President Donald Trump’s first budget calls for $1.4 billion to be set aside to expand school choice, even as it cuts the overall Department of Education budget by $9 billion, or 13 percent. The federal Charter Schools Program would be boosted by 50 percent, and Trump also calls for an increase of $1 billion in Title 1 spending for high-poverty schools to provide services for low-income students. Notable cuts are in teacher training, after-school and extended-day programs, and programs for students on military bases, Native American reservations and other federal lands that are not on local tax rolls. redefinED. U.S. News & World Report. Huffington Post. Education Week. THE Journal. Miami-Dade County schools would lose about $40 million under the Trump budget, says Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, and he figures Broward County would lose about $25 million. WTVJ.

Mandatory recess: The Senate Appropriations Committee approves a bill that would require 20 minutes of daily recess in the state’s elementary schools. The bill now moves to the full Senate for a vote. The House’s identical bill has yet to get a committee hearing. Gradebook. Florida Politics. Tampa Bay Times.

Charter district: The Jefferson County School Board votes Tuesday on a charter school company’s application to take over the operation of the struggling district schools. Somerset Academy was the only company that made a presentation that had “a record of effectiveness with similar student demographics” to Jefferson County, where most students are low-income minorities, according to the Florida Department of Education. Somerset is a nonprofit network associated with the management company Academica. It runs 50 schools with nearly 17,600 students. redefinED.

District audit: A state audit finds fault with the Brevard County School District on four points: paying $150,000 over three years to the Brevard Schools Foundation for administrative expenses, not performing routine background checks on 27 teachers, awarding state teacher bonuses to eight ineligible teachers, and allowing transportation employees unsupervised access to inventory. Superintendent Desmond Blackburn says state law does not prohibit payments to the foundation, and the other three items are being corrected. Florida Today. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Teacher pay, true costs, safe schools and more

Teacher pay: Prospects for a statewide $200 million raise in pay for teachers have dimmed after proponent Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, says he is no longer pursuing the hike. Instead, Simmons says, he is backing an expansion of the teacher bonuses program, known as the Best and Bright Teacher Scholarship. Both the Senate and House are considering bills that would increase the money for bonuses and widen eligibility. Naples Daily News.

Public education spending: The true cost of educating one public school student in Florida for a year is $10,308, according to a report from Florida TaxWatch. The Florida Education Finance Program funding formula expenditure was $7,178 per student for the 2015-2016 school year. But TaxWatch says other tax dollars spent by districts take the total spending per student to more than $10,000. redefinED.

Protecting undocumented: The Miami-Dade County School Board declares its district a safe zone for undocumented immigrant students, and will review what else it can do to protect those students from U.S. immigration officials. The intent, says board member Lubby Navarro, is “to ensure that our schools are safe havens for all students and that this message resonates throughout entire communities, our neighborhoods, our barrios, so that everyone knows that our schools are safe for our children and our families.” Miami Herald.

Teacher program: The Palm Beach County School District and Nova Southeastern University will partner to create a teacher-training program that promises students jobs in the district after graduation. Students will be paid substitute teachers during their senior year at Nova, and will be offered fulltime teaching positions when they graduate as long as they meet certification and other requirements. Nova is hoping to enter into similar partnerships with Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Sun-Sentinel. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Weapons, security bill, open enrollment and more

Weapons at schools: Two legislators file bills that would stiffen criminal penalties for people who carry guns and other weapons within 1,000 feet of a public school. Anyone breaking the law would be charged with a second-degree felony and could get up to 15 years in prison or fined $10,000, according to the bill filed by Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation. Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura, filed the House companion legislation. Sunshine State News.

Security at Jewish schools: The Florida House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee approves a bill that provides $1.5 million to boost security at all Jewish day schools in Florida. The bill would pay for bulletproof glass. Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, says the bill is a response to the increasing number of bomb threats to Jewish schools in the state. Florida has 35 Jewish day schools in nine counties. redefinED. Florida Politics.

Open enrollment: More than 3,000 students in Osceola and Lake counties want to transfer schools under the state’s new open enrollment law, which allows transfers to any public school that has openings. The Osceola school district has received 2,477 applications, and the Lake district about 900. Orange and Volusia counties are taking transfer applications now, and Seminole begins signups April 16. Officials in all four counties say there are limited spaces available in schools. Orlando Sentinel. The Clay County School Board is expected to vote April 6 on a proposed plan to deal with open enrollment. District officials say 11 schools are under the 85 percent enrollment threshold, and 1,557 spots at those schools will be available for transfers. Florida Times-Union.

That’s our satellite: A satellite built by students at the Weiss School in Palm Beach Gardens will be launched into space by NASA sometime in 2018, 2019 or 2020, according to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. The WeissSat-1 will study bacteria that has thawed after being trapped in ice. The Weiss satellite is one of 34 chosen by NASA, and is only the second built by elementary and middle school students. Palm Beach Post. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Capital funding, budget cuts, testing and more

Capital funding for schools: A bill that would allow school districts to raise local tax rates for construction and maintenance also would require those districts to share the money with charter schools. Now, Senate PreK-12 Appropriations chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, says if the bill passes, “there won’t be a need” for the state to provide money for capital funding. This year, that amount was $150 million. Miami HeraldPolitico Florida. redefinED. WFSU.

Education budget cuts: Senate PreK-12 Appropriations chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, releases a list of $46.3 million in cuts to education as “a starting point for our budget discussions.” The largest cuts are $14 million from the program for school uniforms, $13.95 million from teacher bonuses and $7 million from administrator professional development. Meanwhile, the Florida House identifies $485 million in education budget cuts in an exercise to meet Speaker Richard Corcoran’s call to trim $2 billion from the state budget.  Gradebook. Naples Daily News.

Testing bill: A bipartisan group of Florida state senators are urging the state to make a “common sense” decision to cut back on testing. Their bill would eliminate some tests, move the testing dates to the end of the school year and allow districts to give paper-and-pencil exams instead of online, among other things. Orlando Sentinel. Politico Florida. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Opt-out ruling, Legislature, scholarships and more

Opt-out ruling overturned: An appeals court overturns a ruling that some state school districts improperly retained third-graders who had opted out of the Florida Standards Assessment language arts test. The appeals court concluded that lawsuits against the state over the retention policy should have been heard in local courts instead of a circuit court in Tallahassee. In August, the Leon County judge ruled largely in favor of 14 parents from several districts who refused to let their children take the tests, then sued districts that held back those students. “The test can only achieve that laudable purpose (assessing reading skills to determine promotions) if the student meaningfully takes part in the test by attempting to answer all of its questions to the best of the student’s ability,” the appeals judges wrote in their opinion. “Anything less is a disservice to the student — and the public.” Orlando Sentinel. Tampa Bay Times. News Service of FloridaWUSF. Associated Press.

State of the state: In his State of the State address to open the 2017 legislative session, Gov. Rick Scott urges lawmakers to approve his increase in education funding for K-12 schools and colleges and universities while also cutting taxes. Sunshine State News. Florida Politics. Associated Press. The transcript of the speech. News Service of Florida.

Leaders’ priorities: Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, expands his priorities for the Legislature’s session to include the bill that protects students’ religious expression in schools. “I think it’s very important that students of any faith or no faith” have a right to free speech, Negron said in his speech on the opening day of the 60-day legislative session. Miami Herald. Negron also says charter schools should get a fair share of state funding for construction and maintenance. Politico Florida. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, says his top budget priority for the legislative session is to put an end to the state’s so-called “failure factories,” or underperforming public schools. While Corcoran has not detailed how he’d do that, he’s hinted that adding charter schools is part of the solution. Politico Florida.

Scholarships expansion: A Florida House education subcommittee approves a bill that expands scholarship programs for low-income and disabled students. The amount available for disabled students under the Gardiner and McKay scholarships would jump from $73 million to $200 million, and the number of disabilities covered would be expanded. The bill also increases the per-pupil amount for low-income students who qualify for the tax credit scholarship program. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the Gardiner and tax credit scholarship programs. Orlando Sentinel. redefinED. Continue Reading →

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