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Florida schools roundup: Hope Scholarship, enrollment counts and more

‘Hope Scholarship’: Bullied and abused public school students could be eligible next year for a new school choice program being proposed by Florida House Republicans. Under the program, dubbed the “Hope Scholarship,” those students could apply for a transfer to a different public school or for a state scholarship to attend a private school. Nearly 47,000 incidents of bullying, hazing or abuse are reported each year in Florida schools, and most involve violence. The legislation has not yet been written, but House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, says the scholarship could be set up like the tax credit scholarship program, which provides scholarships for more than 100,000 low-income students to attend private schools. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer that program. Miami Herald. Orlando SentinelredefinED. News Service of FloridaGradebook. Politico Florida. Sunshine State News. WUSF.

Enrollment uncertainty: Legislators say the effects of the hurricane season are causing uncertainty in estimating K-12 enrollment for the next school year. Officials were working off an estimate of an additional 26,764 students for the 2018-2019 school year, but that was before several hurricanes swept through the islands and displaced thousands. “If you have more students (than the estimate), you spread it thinner,” says Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, talking about the school funding formula. “If you have less students, you don’t get the money.” So far, 12 districts and 19 charter schools are asking the state to delay the usual timetable for counting school enrollment, which is typically this week. If the requests are approved, the counts would have to be done no later than the week of Dec. 11-15. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Almost 150 Puerto Rican students displaced by Hurricane Maria already have registered to attend schools in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Sarasota, Manatee and Polk counties. About 440 have signed up in Orange and Osceola counties. Hundreds, if not thousands more, are expected. WMNF.

Local education agencies: Two charter school companies in Florida are applying to the state to be designated as local education agencies, which would allow them to directly receive federal funding for teacher training, supporting low-income students or helping children with special needs, and gives also them greater control over how they use the money. Somerset Academy, which recently took over the Jefferson County School District, and the United Cerebral Palsy schools, which serve special needs students in central Florida, want to join two other state charter school networks in getting the designation. redefinED.

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Florida schools roundup: Displaced students, budgets, charters and more

Displaced students: Almost 300 students from Puerto Rico already have enrolled in Orange County schools, and officials anticipate hundreds – if not thousands – more will follow. The district also has hired some bilingual Puerto Rican teachers and plans to hire more. Orlando Sentinel. The 74. The chairman of the Osceola County School Board thinks as many as 2,000 students from Puerto Rico and other islands displaced by Hurricane Maria will enroll in the county’s schools. The county has already added 130 students affected by hurricanes. WMFE. The Florida PTA joins educators and lawmakers in urging the state to relax the rules in order to make more money available for all school districts that take in displaced students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Gradebook.

District budget problems: An audit of the Duval County School District’s finances shows officials overspent last year’s $1.7 billion budget by about $17.8 million. That’s about $3 million less than originally thought. The auditor stressed there was no misappropriation of funds. The district spent $8.8 million more than budgeted on personnel, $8 million more in contracted services, and the state also cut funding to the district by $1.39 million. The overspending was taken from a reserve fund, which still exceeds the minimum required by the state. Florida Times-Union.

Charter school conversion: Jefferson County school officials are cautiously optimistic that their conversion to a charter school district – the first of its kind in Florida – is going well. Christian Steen, a student testifying before the Florida House Education Committee, says students are more focused and fewer of them are skipping school under the new Somerset Academy charter management organization. Committee chair Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, says he’s “encouraged” by the news from Jefferson County and wants to organize a field trip for a closer look. “This is a long-term effort,” he says. redefinED.

Charter application rejected: A charter school company’s application to build a 745-student school in Marion County is rejected by the Marion County School Board. Superintendent Heidi Maier told the board that while she favors “giving parents school choice,” the school proposed by the for-profit Charters Schools USA offers nothing new or innovative. The company can appeal the decision to the Florida Department of Education. Ocala Star-Banner.

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Florida schools roundup: A wave from Puerto Rico, recognition cash and more

Preparing for a wave: Five legislators are urging Florida education officials to relax their rules so schools can accommodate the expected influx of students who are fleeing the damage to Puerto Rico from Hurricane Irma. In a letter to Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, lawmakers are asking that the state make additional funding available to schools that enroll those displaced students, to exempt those schools from meeting the provisions of the constitutionally required class sizes, to delay the annual student head count that is traditionally taken in October, and to waive immunization and birth certificate requirements for early education enrollment. “It is extremely important for Florida to be prepared for a large number of evacuees from Puerto Rico,” said state Rep. Bob Cortes, R-Altamonte Springs. “So many Puerto Rican families have literally lost everything, and we must stand ready to do everything possible to help their children transition as seamlessly as possible to a new school and learning environment.” Miami Herald. WLRNOrlando Sentinel. Politico Florida. Daily Commercial. WFSU. The devastation in Puerto Rico has a personal connection for the Ocala Preparatory School in Marion County. redefinED.

Recognition funds: The Florida Department of Education is handing out $129 million in school recognition funds this week. Schools can use the money for employee bonuses, hire temporary staff or buy equipment and supplies. If schools can’t come to an agreement on how to use the money, it gets divided among current teachers. Gradebook.

Homeless students: A new study says 72,000 Florida students were considered homeless in the 2015-2016 school year. Chief causes are the recession and more training for teachers to identify homeless students, according to the study by the University of Florida and Miami Homes for All. WMFE.

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Florida schools roundup: Testing, charters, pay, makeup days and more

School testing: Florida students’ scores on the SAT and ACT tests continue to lag behind the national average. Eighty-three percent of the state’s high school seniors took the SAT last spring. The average score was 1,017 out of a possible 1,600, while the national average was 1,070. About 73 percent of the state’s seniors took the ACT. The average score of 19.8 out of a possible 36 trailed the 21.0 average nationwide. Orlando Sentinel. A five-year slide in testing scores by Marion County students is reversed in 2017, and Superintendent Heidi Maier attributes the improvement to new policies, new principals and new ways to deliver teaching materials to students. Ocala Star-Banner.

The charter fight: The political fight over the state’s new education law, H.B. 7069, is moving soon into the courtroom as well. One school district has already filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of one portion of the law, and a broader suit by at least 14 districts should be filed in the next few weeks. Supporters of the bill, which includes several provisions favorable to charter schools, plan to launch a public relations campaign that closely examines districts’ spending and start looking for school board candidates who will support the bill. Miami Herald. The Martin County School Board is expected to decide Tuesday whether to join 14 other school districts in suing the state over H.B. 7069. TCPalm. School choice continues to spread in Florida and nationally, but schools in south Florida districts are holding their own by improving their grades and offering a variety of program choices. Enrollment in charter schools is down so far this school year in Palm Beach and Broward counties, while enrollment in traditional public schools is up.  Sun-Sentinel.

Pay proliferation: The number of Palm Beach County School District employees being paid more $140,000 a year or more has nearly tripled in the past two years, according to an analysis of district salaries. The number of staffers making $120,000 a year or more has doubled, and the number of those earning $100,000 or more is up 45 percent. In that same time period, the number of teachers earning $50,000 or more has increased by 5 percent. Superintendent Robert Avossa has contributed to the surge by creating at least 16 new, high-level administrative jobs paying $120,000 or more. Palm Beach Post.

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Study: Florida’s schools show signs of ‘resegregation’

By Lloyd Dunkelberger

The News Service of Florida

Although Florida is becoming a more racially diverse state, its public-school system is becoming more segregated, a new study from the LeRoy Collins Institute shows.

“Student enrollment trends in Florida over the past decades show growing racial isolation for Hispanic and black students on some measures, with signs of continuous segregation on others,” the study said.

Some 32 percent of Hispanic students and 35 percent of black students in Florida attend “intensely segregated” schools, defined as have a nonwhite student body of 90 percent or greater, according to the study.

One out of every five schools was intensely segregated in the 2014-2015 academic year, about double the 10.6 percent of the schools that fell into that category in 1994-1995. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Resegregation, added students, makeup days and more

School resegregation: Florida’s public schools are resegregating, according to a study by the LeRoy Collins Institute. “Student enrollment trends in Florida over the past decades show growing racial isolation for Hispanic and black students on some measures, with signs of continuous segregation on others,” the study says. About 35 percent of black students and 32 percent of Hispanic students attend “intensely segregated” schools, defined as schools with a nonwhite population at 90 percent or higher. About 20 percent of the state’s schools were intensely segregated in the 2014-2015 school year, double the number in the 1994-1995 school year. News Service of Florida. WFSU. WLRN. Politico Florida.

Storm aftermath: Florida schools are bracing for an influx of new students arriving from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria battered the island. Expecting to get the most students are Miami-Dade, Orange and Hillsborough counties, all of which have a substantial number of residents of Puerto Rican descent. Tampa Bay Times. Gradebook. WOFL. NPR. Florida Politics. Several Florida colleges are offering in-state tuition to new students from Puerto Rico. Orlando Sentinel. Miami Herald. Setting up and cleaning up hurricane shelters cost the Duval County School District about $300,000, school officials estimate. They’re asking state legislators for the money. WJXT. Monroe County students are beginning to return to schools in the Florida Keys. WLRN. Miami Herald.

Makeup days: Collier County students will make up four of the days lost to Hurricane Irma by attending school on previously scheduled vacation days. In Manatee County, students also have four days to make up. Two early release days will be converted into full days, two days during the Thanksgiving holiday break will now be full days, and 10 minutes will be added to several other days. Students in Palm Beach and Indian River counties will lose three vacation days, and Broward County students will likely have two vacation days converted into school days. Naples Daily News. Bradenton HeraldSarasota Herald-Tribune. Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel. TCPalm.

High school protests: A 6-year-old Pasco County 1st-grader took a knee during the pledge of allegiance Monday at Wiregrass Elementary School. His teacher instructed him to stand, angering the boy’s mother. “She told him right away, based on what he told me, to stand up and to stop it… That’s not her right,” says Eugenia McDowell. Wednesday, assistant superintendent Kevin Shibley issued a memo that said, in part: “Kneeling or other non-disruptive forms of non-participation should generally be considered as permissible alternatives” to reciting the pledge. WFTSGradebook. Palm Beach County school officials announce that students who kneel during the playing of the national anthem won’t be punished. Palm Beach Post.

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Florida schools roundup: H.B. 7069 suit, makeup days, choice gains and more

H.B. 7069 lawsuit: The Clay County School Board votes 3-2 to join 14 other school districts in suing the state over the new education law, H.B. 7069. The suit, which has not yet been filed, is expected to challenge the constitutionality of the law on grounds that it covers more than one subject, and that it redirects traditional public school money to charter schools while stripping local boards of authority over those charter schools. Florida Times-Union. Collier County School Board members decline to join the lawsuit, by a 4-1 vote. Next month the board will consider filing a separate lawsuit. Naples Daily News. At a Hillsborough County School Board finance committee meeting, several district officials express reluctance to join other districts in suing the state over the new education law. “Why is it that we just can’t we just go up there and talk?” mused Gretchen Saunders, the district’s chief business officer. The board will discuss the lawsuit at a workshop Thursday. Gradebook.

Makeup days: Palm Beach County school officials want to use three professional development days as makeup days for classtime lost to Hurricane Irma, and will ask the state to waive two more makeup days. Students were out of school seven days, and the state has already waived two of those days. In Broward County, officials are proposing that two early-release days be converted to full days. Schools must be in session for 180 days, or 720 hours for K-3 and 900 hours for grades 4-12. Palm Beach PostSun-Sentinel. WPBF.

Gains for choice students: Low-income students who use Florida tax credit scholarships to attend private schools are more likely to go to college and get degrees than their peers in public schools, according to a study by the Urban Institute. The college enrollment rate is 15 percent higher, but jumps to 40 percent among students who use a scholarship for at least four years. More than 100,000 students use the scholarships. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the program. redefinED. Associated Press. Chalkbeat. Politico Florida.

District budgets: The Collier County School Board approves a $1.05 billion budget, which is an increase of about $24 million over last year’s spending. Naples Daily News. The Brevard County School Board approves a $942 million budget over the protests of teachers who want a raise of more than 1 percent. Florida Today.

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Study: FL private school choice students more likely to get to college, get degrees

The “triply disadvantaged” students who participate in the nation’s largest private school choice program enroll in college and obtain degrees at higher rates than like students in public schools, and those rates climb the longer the students use the scholarship, according to a first-of-its-kind study released this morning by The Urban Institute.

The college enrollment rate overall is 15 percent higher for the low-income students who use Florida tax credit scholarships, the study found. That climbs to about 40 percent higher for students who use a scholarship at least four years.

The longer students participate in the Florida tax credit scholarship program, the more likely they are to enroll in college, compared to peers who do not receive scholarships. Chart by Step Up For Students, using data from the Urban Institute.

Meanwhile, scholarship students are 8 percent more likely to obtain associate degrees. That number rises to 29 percent for those who secured scholarships in earlier grades and used them at least four years.

Annual evaluations of standardized test results in the scholarship program have consistently found the average student who uses the program to attend a private school makes roughly one year’s academic progress in one year’s time.

They’ve also found students who use the scholarships tend to be more disadvantaged than other lower-income students who don’t use them.

Urban Institute authors Matthew M. Chingos and Daniel Kuehn describe scholarship students this way: “They have low family incomes, they are enrolled at low-performing public schools (as measured by test scores), and they have poorer initial test performance compared with their peers.”

Studies have looked at long-term outcomes for other programs that help disadvantaged students pay private school tuition.

They found students in Washington, D.C. and Milwaukee were more likely to graduate high school or attend college, respectively, if they received a voucher.

But researchers haven’t looked as much at college enrollment among students who received scholarships from big, statewide programs. The Urban Institute report is unprecedented in its scale. It looks at more than 10,000 students across the nation’s third-largest state. It uses data from the Florida Department of Education, as well as Step Up For Students, the nonprofit that helps administer the scholarships.

Unpacking the findings Continue Reading →