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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 →


Florida schools roundup: School safety, budget, new superintendent and more

School safety bill: After a second straight day of eight-hour debates, the Florida House approves the school safety bill by a 67-50 margin. The bill now goes to Gov. Rick Scott, who said he would review it line-by-line and talk to families of the Parkland shooting before deciding whether to sign it. The bill provides $67 million for a program to train and arm select school employees who volunteer for the duty, requires a three-day waiting period to purchase guns and hikes the legal age limit to buy rifles from 18 to 21. It also sets aside $300 million for mental health services and security programs in schools, and $26 million for tearing down the building at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where the shooting took place, and building a memorial on the site. Sun-Sentinel. Associated Press. Tampa Bay Times. Tallahassee DemocratPolitico Florida. Palm Beach Post. GateHouse. Officials in 10 of the largest school districts in Florida say that even if Scott signs this bill, they are not likely to take part in the program to train and arm school personnel. Tampa Bay Times. A cursory review of state records shows at least 19 times that school workers who could be armed under this bill have threatened or hurt students or used firearms illegally. In 13 of those cases, the workers threatened to shoot students. Tampa Bay Times. The Haines City Police Department and Florida Highway Patrol will provide officers for every school in Haines City through the end of the school year. Lakeland Ledger.

Budget deal: The House and Senate reach an agreement on an $87 billion state budget that boosts spending for education and school safety. The last hurdle to the deal was the Senate agreeing to adopt the House’s formula to reimbursing hospitals for Medicaid expenses. The final vote on the budget is expected Sunday or Monday, since the law requires 72 hours between an agreement and a vote to give legislators a chance to read the bill. The Legislature had been scheduled to conclude Friday. News Service of FloridaSarasota Herald-Tribune. Miami Herald. Associated Press. The deal also adds $25 million to provide Gardiner scholarships to more children with special needs. There are about 1,300 children on the waiting list. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the program. redefinED. The state’s K-12 schools will get $120 million in construction money for charter schools and $50 million for district schools under the budget agreement. Politico Florida.

New superintendent: Donald Fennoy is named superintendent of the Palm Beach County School District. The school board chose Fennoy, 41, the district’s chief operating officer since May 2016, over two other candidates to succeed Robert Avossa, who is leaving in June to take a job with an educational materials publishing company. The district is the 11th largest in the country with 190,000 students, and has 25,000 employees. Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel.

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Florida schools roundup: Carvalho stays, arming teachers, Hope schools and more

Carvalho staying: Miami-Dade School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho accepted an offer to be New York City’s chancellor of schools on Thursday. Then, after meeting with the school board and hearing from students and members of the community who pleaded with him to stay, Carvalho changed his mind. “I just don’t know how to break a promise to a child, how to break a promise to a community,” Carvalho said in explaining his decision. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had already announced the appointment, said his first response was just “profound surprise.” His press secretary, Eric Phillips, tweeted: “He was a Yes for a week+, until he was a No 15 minutes ago. Bullet dodged. Who would ever hire this guy again? Who would ever vote for him?” Miami Herald. Politico Florida. New York Times. Associated Press. According to a timeline of events, Carvalho appeared to mislead people in both Miami and New York City. Politico Florida. Chalkbeat.

Armed teachers: Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor warns legislators that their proposed school marshal program would turn black students into nothing more than “target practice” for “trigger happy teachers.” Leon School Superintendent Rocky Hanna called Proctor’s rhetoric an embarrassment to the community. Later on Thursday, Proctor was joined by the Legislature’s 28-member black caucus, which said arming teachers would only expose African-American students to more gun-related danger. “This is a recipe for disaster,” says Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens. Tallahassee Democrat. Miami Herald. Tallahassee Democrat. Gov. Rick Scott opposes arming teachers, but he and the family of one of the victims urge the Legislature not to let differences bog down the effort to act. Miami Herald. Politico Florida. GateHouse. News Service of Florida. The National Association for School Resource Officers does not support arming teachers. But if it happens, the organization is offering tips on what to do and not do. Gradebook. School board chairpersons around Florida get an email blast from the Pinellas County School Board, asking them to join Pinellas in supporting a ban on assault weapons. Gradebook. The Brevard County teachers union and most teachers in Lee County come out against the proposal to arm select school employees. Florida Today. Fort Myers News-Press. The subject of arming teachers draws strong comments at a community meeting in Martin County. TCPalm.

Schools of Hope: The Senate-House conference committee negotiating the final form of the education bill agree to spend $140 million to continue the Schools of Hope program. The program offers money for extra services at struggling public schools, and for recruiting highly regarded charter companies to open schools in areas with persistently low-performing schools. redefinED. The Senate and House are close to an agreement on funding for higher education, but are still trying to reconcile how to pay for mental health services, more armed school resource officers and teacher supply grants for K-12 schools. Politico Florida.

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School vouchers: Cost-effective college enrollment boost; grad rates remain low

School vouchers and tax credit scholarships may not always improve participants’ standardized test performance, but a growing crop of studies suggest they are cost-effective when it comes to encouraging economically disadvantaged students to pursue a college education.

Two recent Urban Institute studies, one on Milwaukee and the other on Washington, D.C., continue that trend. The reports follow similar results from a 2017 Urban Institute study of Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship program.

Students in Milwaukee using vouchers to attend private schools were more likely to attend college, while students in Washington were no more or less likely, to attend college than their public-school peers. Past Urban Institute research in Florida showed modest positive college attendance and associate degree gains among school choice participants.

Researchers Patrick Wolf, John Witte and Brian Kisida found Milwaukee voucher students were 6 percentage points more likely to attend a four-year college than their public school peers. Milwaukee choice students were 1-2 percentage points more likely to graduate college, but that difference was not statistically significant.

The researchers conclude, “students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program tend to have higher levels of many measures of educational attainment than a carefully matched comparison of Milwaukee Public School students.”

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Florida (still) an Advanced Placement course leader

Florida ranks no. 4 in the country for its percentage of high school students who have scored 3 or higher on at least one AP exam. Source: College Board.

Florida remains a leader in pushing high school students toward college credit.

The Sunshine State keeps its no. 4 ranking in the latest report on Advanced Placement courses from the College Board. Only Maryland, Connecticut and Massachusetts had a larger percentage of students pass at least one AP course. And only Massachusetts has made faster improvements over the last 10 years.  Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: School transportation, textbooks and more

Bill for school buses: A bill that would make more Florida students eligible for transportation to school gets the approval of the Senate Education Committee. The proposal would allow students who live 1.5 miles from school – instead of the current standard of 2 miles – to be eligible for busing, redefine hazardous walking routes as four-lane roads instead of six-lane ones, and provide busing to all students instead of just those in K-6. The changes could cost the state $58 million and local districts $100 million, according to a staff analysis. Gradebook. News Service of Florida.

Textbook adoption bill: The Senate Education Committee approves a bill creating a process for the public to comment on textbooks and instructional materials and recommend them for adoption. Right now the education commissioner approves materials from a list put together by state instructional materials reviewers. Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, says this bill is “simply an opportunity for the citizens to have a voice.” The House version of the bill would require the Florida Board of Education to allow public comment on materials at any meeting where they’re up for adoption. Politico Florida.

District investigation: A grand jury has been convened to hear “evidence of all aspects of the (Okaloosa County) school district that have become public issues,” according to state attorney Bill Eddins. An elementary teacher has been charged with child abuse of a special-needs student, and three other district employees have been charged with failure to report child abuse. But Eddins says the grand jury will hear testimony that goes beyond the child abuse investigation and the district’s record on disciplining employees. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Teacher honored: Jason Lancy, an 8th-grade math teacher at Windy Hill Middle School in Clermont, is chosen as the Lake County School District’s teacher of the year. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Charter funds, gay teacher fired, Baker Act and more

Charters get payments: Under protest, Broward and Orange school districts distribute about $15 million in local construction funding to charter schools after being ordered to do so by the Florida Department of Education. The districts wanted to hold the money in escrow until their lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law requiring the payments is decided. DOE officials said the pending decision was not a basis to withhold payment. Both districts allege the state threatened to withhold regular school funding if the payments were not made, a charge the DOE denies. WLRN.

Gay teacher fired: A Miami Catholic school 1st-grade teacher says she was fired from her job after marrying her girlfriend. Jocelyn Morffi was apparently asked to resign after officials at Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic School found out about her marriage. When she refused, she was fired. Now her story is being turned into an issue in the Democratic primary for Florida’s 27th Congressional District, according to Politico Florida. Miami New Times. Miami Herald. Associated Press. WPLG.

Baker Act policy: A widely seen video of a 7-year-old boy being taken away from a school in handcuffs prompts a change in the way Miami-Dade County schools will handle children with behavior issues. School officials have been instructed to exhaust all options in dealing with a student before calling police and using the Baker Act for an involuntary psychiatric exam. When called, police officers also will need clearance from a high-ranking officer before transporting a child under the Baker Act. Miami Herald. Children under the age of 18 were taken for an involuntary psychiatric evaluation under the Baker Act about 32,000 times between the summers of 2015 and 2016, according to a report by the Florida Department of Children and Families. WLRN.

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How thousands of Florida parents are customizing education for children with special needs

Florida’s newest private school choice program is no ordinary voucher, a new report finds.

The analysis, released this week by EdChoice, found that in the first two years of the Gardiner Scholarship program, roughly four out of ten parents used the scholarships to pay for multiple educational services — not just private school tuition.

The scholarship program is available to children with specific special needs. It has grown to become the nation’s largest education savings account. The accounts allow parents to control the funding the state would spend to educate their child. They can spend the money on a range of education-related expenses, from textbooks and school tuition to tutoring and therapy.

Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer the scholarships and provided the data used in the report.

During the 2015-16 school year, 42 percent of parents were “customizers” who used their scholarships for multiple education-related expenses. Source: EdChoice

Educational choice advocates have embraced ESAs because they’re more versatile than conventional vouchers. Lindsey Burke,  director of the Center for Education Policy at the Heritage Foundation and one of the report’s authors, said data suggests parents appreciate that flexibility.

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