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Florida schools roundup: Budget, recess, ‘schools of hope’ and more

Education budget: The Legislature approves a massive education bill that would, among other things, require 20 minutes of recess daily for traditional public elementary schools, provide $140 million in incentive money for charter schools – called “schools of hope” – to move into areas with struggling schools, allot $234 million for bonuses to teachers and principals, and make changes in the standardized testing process. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, calls it “the greatest education K-12 policy we’ve passed in the history of the state.” Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, calls it a “piece of junk,” and others acknowledge parts of the bill will have to be “fixed” in the 2018 legislative session. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. Associated PressPolitico Florida. redefinED. Accountability measures for charter schools that were proposed early in the legislative session disappeared from the education bill that was put together last Friday. Miami Herald. More school districts lobby against the education budget, urging Gov. Rick Scott to veto it, but also start preparing for the cuts they say will be required. Gradebook. Florida Times-Union. The state’s largest teachers union joins those calling on Scott to veto the bill. Miami Herald.

State budget: The Legislature approves the $83 billion budget bill, which now goes to Gov. Rick Scott. Included in it were the nearly 300-page education bill that expands charter school options, among other things, but not many of Scott’s priorities. Tampa Bay Times. Sun-Sentinel. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Naples Daily News. Sarasota Herald-TribunePolitico Florida.

Testing practice: Orange County students say online practice tests are boosting their test scores when they take the SAT college admissions exam. College Board officials attribute the average 115-point gain from the PSAT to the SAT to the Khan Academy’s free online practice tests. The College Board partners with Khan to provide the tests. Orlando Sentinel. Associated Press. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Final day of the session, charters and testing and more

Education bill: Most of the legislative session’s major education issues are tied into a single bill that lawmakers will vote on today as part of the state’s overall budget. Testing reforms, teacher bonuses, mandatory daily recess and expansion of charter schools are all part of the bill, which can only pass or fail. No amendments are permitted. Miami Herald. Politico Florida. Sunshine State News. News Service of Florida. A guide to what’s in the 278-page, $414 million education bill. Politico Florida. The Florida Legislature is back in session today to vote on the state’s $82.4 billion budget. Tampa Bay TimesNews Service of Florida. Politico Florida. WFSU. Advocates for mandatory daily recess for elementary students are angry that the bill was lumped into the omnibus education bill and watered down with an exemption for charter schools. “This is not just about recess anymore. This bill is a mishmash of some policies that have never even been vetted before,” says Angela Browning of Orlando, one of the parents who have been fighting for years to get daily recess for students. Miami Herald. Other parents and school leaders also are urging that the Legislature reject the education bill. Miami Herald. Palm Beach County School Superintendent Robert Avossa often says his county is a “donor” to the state education budget. Here’s why. Palm Beach Post. State school districts say they will be hurt by the state education budget. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Panama City News Herald. St. Augustine Record. WJAX. Charter schools, school choice and universities are among the winners in this year’s legislative session. Ocala Star Banner. Sunshine State News.

Material challenges: Parents and members of the community will have greater power to challenge textbooks and other classroom materials used in schools under a bill passed by the Legislature. Supporters say the measure gives members of the community a say they weren’t always getting from local school boards. Critics contend the bill makes it easier for objections on religious and philosophical grounds on things like the Holocaust, slavery, climate change and evolution. Miami Herald.

Scholarships expanded: The Legislature approves a bill that increases scholarship opportunities for poor students and those with disabilities. The amount of money poor students receive under the tax credit scholarship program is increased, and more disabilities will be covered by the Gardiner scholarship. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer both programs. Miami Herald. redefinED. Associated PressPolitico Florida.

Sports choice: Private school students in Florida will be able to play sports at the public school of their choice, based on that school district’s open enrollment policy,  if Gov. Rick Scott signs a bill the Legislature has passed. redefinED.

Charters and testing: A report from the Florida Department of Education concludes that charter school students outperform their peers on state assessment tests in most subjects and for most age groups. And the report says most poor and minority students also perform better at charter schools. A little less than 10 percent of Florida’s students attend charter schools. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Education budget, a legislative to-do list and more

Education budget: Leaders in the Florida Senate and House agree over the weekend to an increase of about 1.2 percent in K-12 per-student funding, from $7,196 to $7,220. They also agreed to provide $200 million to recruit charter school networks – the “schools of hope” plan – and $214 million for the teacher bonuses program. Legislators are expected to decide today what schools will get for construction projects. A tentative agreement would give about $69 million each to traditional public schools and charters for construction and maintenance. Universities would get $116.6 million for construction projects. Naples Daily NewsPolitico FloridaNews Service of Florida. Associated PressMiami HeraldFlorida Politics. Legislators are considering adding money for social services at struggling traditional public schools to the “schools of hope” bill. Politico Florida. The Legislature begins its final week with such high-profile education issues as mandatory daily recess and standardized testing still on the list of things to do. Orlando Sentinel. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Miami arts high school that produced the creators of the Oscar-winning movie Moonlight and the Broadway hit Hamilton gets a reprieve when the Legislature reverses a decision to withhold state grant money. Originally, funding for the New World School of the Arts was slashed from the budget. After news of the cut was made public, $500,000 for the school was put back into the budget. That’s still $150,000 less than the school received this year. Miami Herald. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, tweets that the problem getting mandatory daily recess in the state’s elementary schools rests with Gov. Rick Scott, not the Legislature. He did not elaborate, and a spokeswoman for Scott said she has “no idea what that tweet means. We have continued to say that we will review it if it passes.” Miami Herald.

Drug-testing students: The Monroe County School Board agrees to drug-test athletes and other students involved in extracurricular activities for a year. After the test, results will be reported to the board, which will decide if it wants to continue. Drug-testing of athletes was halted in 2014 after a parent complained that her daughter was pulled from class, taken to a drug-court facility and tested without her knowledge. Keynoter.

K-12 sexual assaults: There were about 17,000 reports of sexual assault in K-12 schools in the United States between 2011 and 2015, according to state education records and federal crime data. And that number is considered low because many students don’t report sexual assaults and some states don’t track them. Associated Press.

Teaching acceptance: Chris Ulmer, a special education teacher at Mainspring Academy in Jacksonville, is traveling the country filming interviews with children who have conditions such as autism and Down syndrome. He says each interview teaches an appreciation and acceptance for the differences in people. “No matter their level of communication, some are verbal, some are nonverbal, that doesn’t matter,” Ulmer says. “That’s not indicative of intelligence. Everybody is understanding the world in their own way and through these videos … You can see that in each one.” ABC News. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Schools of hope, state budget, Title I and more

Education bills: House leaders are considering changing the so-called “schools of hope” legislation to allow school districts to compete with charter school companies for part of the $200 million fund created by the bill. Originally, the bill was conceived as a way to recruit highly regarded charter companies to open schools in areas with persistently low-performing traditional public schools. “What we’re arguing for is an equitable playing field, where we would have the ability to be able to compete for the dollars that are set aside,” said Broward School Superintendent Robert Runcie, who helped pitch the plan to legislators. Politico Florida. A Senate committee spent just nine minutes to describe, amend and approve its version of the “schools of hope” bill. “These issues have been discussed around here, and we’re just putting them in the conference posture,” says Senate Appropriations chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. Miami Herald. School officials expect the “education train” bill to continue to morph in the final days of the legislative session, which could mean further changes to the state’s standardized testing. St. Augustine Record.

Budget discussions: Negotiations continue between Senate and House leaders on an $83 billion budget, and details are slowly emerging. The proposed deal allots $200 million for the “schools of hope” proposal and $200 million to expand the Best and Brightest teacher bonuses program, but won’t allow increases in property tax revenue for schools. Per-student spending would be increased only slightly. But, says Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, “It would be a mistake to only count in the education budget what comes directly through the FEFP (Florida Education Finance Program, the formula that determine per-student spending). I think there are other educational opportunities that we’ll give to our constituents, and I think that improves the overall quality of our system.” Florida Politics. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. The budget agreement comes only after extensive one-on-one talks between Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes. Tampa Bay Times.

Title I concerns: School officials and educational consultants have concerns about the way the Florida House education bill would distribute federal Title I funds, which are intended to help low-income students. The House bill calls for Title I funds to be spread more evenly among schools, including charters. Cheryl Sattler, a Tallahassee consultant on federal education funding, says the bill would mean fewer dollars for children in low-income schools and fewer resources for preschools. “Low-achieving schools couldn’t expect help,” she says, “so they will stay low-performing.” Gradebook.

Financial literacy: The Senate passes a bill requiring Florida students to take a financial literacy course to graduate from high school. Senators name it the “Dorothy L. Hukill Financial Literacy Education Act” to honor the Republican senator from Port Orange, who has missed the session as she has undergoes cancer treatment. “This has been a bill that Sen. Hukill’s worked on since the day she came to the Florida Senate. I can’t even count the number of conversations that I have had with her about this bill since she’s been here with us,” said Sen. Jack Latvala. Florida Politics. WFTV. News Service of Florida. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Schools of hope, budget, bonuses, statue and more

Schools of hope: The Florida House approves a $200 million plan to recruit charter schools as options to persistently low-performing public schools. The so-called “schools of hope” proposal creates a fund to attract charter school companies to enter areas where traditional public schools have received D or F grades from the state for three straight years. There are 115 such schools in Florida now. “This is our ‘Hail Mary’ to the kids of Florida to try to give them better opportunity and a better life,” says Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater. Miami HeraldNews Service of Florida. Sunshine State News. Florida Politics. Sun-Sentinel. Here are some specific details in the schools of hope bill. Politico Florida. The House passes an $81.2 billion budget, which is about $4 billion less than the budget approved by the Senate. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. Naples Daily News.

Educator bonuses: The Florida House approves a plan to expand the state’s teacher bonuses program, and include principals in it. The bill widens the pool of eligibility and adds $200 million to the program. The Senate has no money proposed for teacher bonuses, but has indicated a willingness to negotiate an expansion that both chambers can agree on. WFSU.

Capitol statue: The Senate Appropriations Committee approves a measure to place a statue of educator and civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune at the U.S. Capitol, replacing the one of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith. News Service of Florida.

Student screenings: Thousands of students in Duval and Clay counties never got the mental health screenings the state paid a Fernandina Beach company to do. Florida Psychological Associates was paid $1 million through Florida State University to do the screenings. The university is now offering to return $200,000 to the state for money it had held back for “indirect costs.” WJAX. Tallahassee Democrat. 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: Trump and choice, testing, vouchers and more

Trump and choice: President Donald Trump called education “the civil rights issue of our time” during his speech to Congress Tuesday. He urged legislators to “pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth, including millions of African-American and Latino children. These families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious, or home school that is right for them.” Education Week. Los Angeles Times. Florida’s Denisha Merriweather is cited during Trump’s speech as someone whose life was turned around because of school choice. redefinED. The 74. President Trump will visit Saint Andrew Catholic School in Orlando Friday, where he is expected to talk about school choice. Saint Andrew has 295 students who use the tax credit scholarship. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the scholarship. Orlando Sentinel.

Testing debate: Standardized testing will again be a focus of the legislative session that begins Tuesday. Critics want to cut back on the exams, or give students the option of taking different tests. Others think the testing system in place is necessary and needs to be preserved in some form. News Service of Florida.

Voucher study: A new study finds little evidence that school voucher programs significantly improve student achievement or school district performance. The study, written by Martin Carnoy, a Stanford University professor and research associate at the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute, included evaluations of Florida programs. He wrote that the lack of evidence “suggests that an ideological preference for education markets over equity and public accountability is what is driving the push to expand voucher programs.” Washington Post.

Teachers honored: Evangeline Aguirre, who teaches in the English for Speakers of Other Languages program at Palm Beach Central High in Wellington, is named the Palm Beach County School District’s teacher of the year. Palm Beach PostSun-Sentinel. Maria Torres-Crosby, a sixth-grade English teacher at Memorial Middle School. is named the Hillsborough County School District’s teacher of the year. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Recess, charters, alternative schools and more

Recess bill advances: A bill requiring mandatory daily recess of at least 20 minutes for all Florida K-5 students passes the state Senate Education Committee. Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, said the bill showed “the power of advocacy, of parents” who pushed legislators to act when local school boards would not. The bill now goes to the Senate PreK-12 Appropriations Committee for consideration. Miami HeraldAssociated PressFlorida Politics.

Charter facilities funding: The Senate Education Committee approves a bill that would send a proportional share of a district’s property tax revenue to charter schools based on enrollment, with more money attached for those schools that have large low-income or special needs populations. But a second bill that would have increase districts’ local tax authority is delayed. Supporters say the measures need to move forward together to allow districts to catch up on construction that’s been backlogged since the recession. redefinED. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida.

Hidden dropouts: Alternative schools increasingly are being used by public schools as places to hide struggling, problem students who might otherwise drag down a school’s graduation rate, test scores and grade, according to an investigation by ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative journalism website. The Orange County School District is one of 83 U.S. school districts that bumped its graduate rate by at least a percentage point between 2010 and 2014 by sending an increasing number of students into alternative schools. ProPublica.

Florida 4th in AP: Florida ranks fourth in the nation in the percentage of students taking and passing at least one Advanced Placement course, according to the College Board, the organization that runs the AP program. In Florida’s class of 2016, 29.5 percent passed at least one AP exam. That’s over the national average of 21.9 percent and 11 percentage points better than 10 years ago. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →