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Florida schools roundup: Scholarship reforms, Bright Futures bill and more

Scholarship reforms: School choice advocates recommend a series of reforms at a House education subcommittee hearing Wednesday called to discuss concerns about oversight of private K-12 schools that receive money from one of the state’s scholarship programs. Doug Tuthill, president of Step Up For Students, which helps administer two of the programs and hosts this blog, says the state should eliminate the cap on inspections of those private schools, have fire and inspection reports submitted directly to the state, and demand those schools adopt stronger financial reporting requirements. Orlando SentinelredefinED.

Bright Futures: The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approves a bill that would permanently expand Bright Futures scholarships. S.B. 4 would fully fund Bright Futures scholarships for about 41,000 students who have a grade point average of at least a 3.5 as well as a score of 1,290 on the SAT or a 29 on the ACT, and provide 75 percent funding to Medallion scholars. It now goes to the Senate floor. Sunshine State News. Meanwhile, a House committee approves a “Sunshine scholarship” proposal that would cover tuition and fees for students entering the Florida College System whose family income is less than $50,000. Politico Florida.

Virtual teachers’ union: Administrators of the Florida Virtual School are fighting back against a drive to unionize the school’s teachers. “We believe that a union is not needed here at FLVS and that bringing a union into our school can drastically affect our relationship with you,” CEO Jodi Marshall wrote in an email to the staff. “That is why we intend to oppose the union by every legal means available to us.” Gradebook.

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Florida schools roundup: Shelters, choice, turnaround schools and more

Schools as shelters: A bill is filed that would require any K-12 school that receives construction funding from the state to be available as an emergency shelter or, if it doesn’t meet the requirements to be a shelter, for any other use officials think is necessary. That requirement would include charter schools. H.B. 779 was filed by state Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa. No companion bill has yet been filed in the Senate. Gradebook.

School choice growth: New research suggests that the growth of Florida’s tax credit scholarship program has not led to a corresponding increase in the number of schools that perform poorly academically. Urban Institute researchers conclude: “This analysis indicates that participation in the [tax credit scholarship] program has not shifted toward schools with weaker track records of improving student outcomes, as measured by two broad categorizations. But it provides less guidance on the ideal level of government regulation in private school choice programs.” Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit scholarship program. The program has grown from 50,000 low-income students receiving scholarships in 2012 to more than 100,000 this year. redefinED.

District consultant: The Duval County School Board will spend $480,000 for a consultant to help turn around eight struggling schools. Turnaround Solutions Inc. was founded by James Young, a former Duval principal with experience in turning around failing schools. Three of the schools have less than a year to boost their grades from the state, while the others have until the end of the 2018-2019 school year. If they don’t improve to at least a C grade, state law requires the district to close the schools or allow them to be taken over. Florida Times-Union.

Panel: Turn over school: An oversight committee at Oscar Patterson Elementary School is recommending that the struggling school be turned over to an outside manager. The Bay County school has gotten poor grades from the state the past two years, and under state law the district has to contract with an outside entity to manage the school, close it and transfer the students, or close it and reopen it as a charter school. The recommendation now goes to Superintendent Bill Husfelt. If he agrees with the recommendation, the district must have a signed contract with a management company by Jan. 31, 2018. Panama City News Herald.

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Florida schools roundup: Governor’s education budget, H.B. 7069 and more

Governor’s education budget: Gov. Rick Scott’s $87.4 billion budget proposal includes a request to increase per student spending by $200, to $7,497, boost the state’s voluntary pre-kindergarten program by $12 million, add $23 million for Bright Futures scholarships, and give $18 million to help teachers buy classroom supplies. Scott would pay for the increases by keeping property tax rates the same and allowing increasing property values to drive up revenue. The proposal now goes to the Legislature for consideration. News Service of FloridaGradebook. Associated Press. Florida Politics. Orlando Sentinel. Politico Florida. Florida Times-Union.

H.B. 7069 challenge: Nine Florida schools boards contend that the new education law, H.B. 7069, violates the law by dealing with more than one subject, and are asking the state Supreme Court to void it. Two other lawsuits have been filed against the law by school districts, but this one focuses solely on the single-subject issue and is asking for immediate action. “Waiting for a trial-court determination and its subsequent appellate review will allow irreversible damage to the function of the public education system to occur throughout the state of Florida,” the lawsuit states. The nine school boards are from Alachua, Bay, Broward, Hamilton, Lee, Polk, St. Lucie, Volusia and Wakulla counties. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. The Collier County School Board votes to join at least 13 other districts in suing the state over the education bill because it requires public school districts to share property tax revenues with charter schools. Naples Daily News.

ESSA plans: Florida’s accountability plan for complying with the Every Student Succeeds Act is weak in the category of encouraging schools to focus on all students, not just low performers, according to an evaluation by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank. Florida was one of 13 states considered weak in this area. The state was given an evaluation of strong in the other two areas weighed: in the clarity of the ratings to parents, educators and the public, and in the fairness of the rating system for all schools, including ones with high levels of poverty. The 74.

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Florida schools roundup: Hearing on scholarships, teacher pay and more

Scholarship hearing: Florida House leaders say they are planning a hearing into the state’s K-12 scholarship programs that provide money for students to attend private schools. According to a recent Orlando Sentinel investigation, private schools where students use the scholarships go largely unregulated by the state. Some hire uncertified teachers and administrators, and in some cases even continued collecting payments after being evicted. About 140,000 students receive money from the state’s three scholarship programs, and a fourth is being proposed that would allow bullied students to get money to attend private schools. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit scholarships for low-income students and the Gardiner scholarships for students with special needs. Orlando Sentinel.

Working the contract: Teachers in Hillsborough County will protest their contract dispute with the district by “working to the contract” for the week after Thanksgiving. They say that means no late meetings, no phone calls from parents, and no grading papers after school. “It’s to make a point that this is what things would be like if teachers really did that all the time,” says Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, director of the teachers union. Teachers are angry that the district says it can’t give them a pay raise promised in 2013. For about a third of the district’s 14,000 teachers, the district’s decision will cost them $4,000. Tampa Bay Times.

Redirecting pay: Lake County School Superintendent Diane Kornegay is proposing to use money that had been providing bonuses for teachers to work in high-poverty schools for bonuses to all teachers in lieu of a pay raise. The district now sets aside $1.6 million to pay teachers bonuses of $1,000 to $3,000 to work in the poorest schools. Kornegay’s plan is to use that money to give all teachers bonuses of $350 or $500. “The initial response was total disbelief,” says union president Stuart Klatte. “A lot of these schools recognize this as a pay cut.” School board member Bill Mathias says the problem is caused by going “into this year with basically flat funding.” Orlando Sentinel.

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Florida schools roundup: Schools of Hope, funds for displaced and more

Schools of Hope: The Florida Department of Education is reopening the process for schools to apply for an extra $2,000 per student under the state’s “Schools of Hope” program for struggling schools. The Legislature set aside $51 million in the new education law, H.B. 7069, to pay for the extra services at up to 25 schools. Fifty-nine schools applied for the grants, and 11 received them in the first round. Now the DOE is giving the other 48 schools, and other eligible schools that didn’t initially apply, until Dec. 1 to submit an application. Up to 14 more could receive the grants. Gradebook.

Displaced students: Three Florida members of Congress send a letter to FEMA officials asking for extra money for housing, schooling and other services for the more than 90,000 people from Puerto Rico displaced by Hurricane Maria. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, signed the letter along with Orlando Democratic representatives Stephanie Murphy and Darren Soto. They’re asking that Florida get reimbursement from FEMA’s host-state program. Florida Politics.

Searching for options: Parents who are given more school choice options tend to do more research for schools for their children, according to a recent study by researchers Michael Lovenheim and Patrick Walsh published in EducationNext. The authors looked at areas with newly expanded school choice options and found a correlation between more choice and an increase in the number of searches on the website Greatschools.org. redefinED.

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When given options, do parents become more informed?

Source: Education Next

Do parents try to become more informed when given the opportunity to choose a school for their child? Researchers Michael Lovenheim and Patrick Walsh try to answer that question in an article published today by EducationNext.

They reviewed more than 100 million searches and 3 million search terms on GreatSchools.org between 2010 and 2013. The website offers parent reviews, academic results, demographic data and other information about schools.

The researchers looked at areas where new school choice options became available. For example, under the federal No Child Left Behind law (NCLB), schools receiving Title I funds that failed to meet minimum requirements for standardized test performance for two consecutive years were required to offer students the option to transfer to local schools that did meet standards. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Displaced students, lunch segregation and more

Displaced students: More than 2,500 Puerto Rican students have enrolled in schools in Orange and Osceola counties since Hurricane Maria hit the island in September, and many more are expected. School officials are lobbying state lawmakers for more money and waivers from class-size rules and testing requirements, especially at the high school level. The state has yet to respond to the request. State laws don’t provide extra money unless a district’s enrollment is 5 percent or more than expected. Orange and Osceola schools aren’t likely to hit that benchmark, but say they still need financial help. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. Osceola News-Gazette. A displaced teacher is teaching displaced students at Lake Nona Middle School in Orlando. Fewer than 20 percent of Puerto Rico’s schools have reopened since Hurricane Maria swept through. CBS News. Hillsborough County has enrolled 326 students from islands devastated by hurricanes this year, and they’re spread all around the county. Gradebook.

Segregation at lunch: Students at Hudson High School in Pasco County are being segregated at lunch based on grades and attendance. Those who have a 2.0 or better grade point average with fewer than four absences are issued an ID and wristband, and receive special perks like eating lunch outside the cafeteria. School officials say the program is an incentive to get students on-track, but some parents say it’s unnecessarily creating division among students. WTVT.

Bullet-resistant backpack: Florida Christian School, a private school in Olympia Heights, is offering parents the opportunity to buy a $120 bullet-resistant backpack insert. The insert is made by Applied Fiber Concepts. In active shooter drills, students are taught to wear their backpacks on their chests, and the insert could help stop a bullet from a handgun. “We want to protect our students’ center mass,” says George Gulla, the school’s head of security. Miami Herald.

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Florida schools roundup: Charter schools, kids’ well-being, pay and more

Charter schools: The Florida Department of Education overrules the Manatee County School Board’s denial of a charter school application last year. Parrish Charter Academy’s application was denied because board members decided the school’s plan did not meet state standards in five areas and did so only partially in four others. Parrish appealed, and the department followed its charter school appeal commission’s recommendation to reverse the denial. Because of the delay, the school may not open until 2019. Bradenton Herald. Plans for the first charter high school in Volusia County have been withdrawn. Officials of the Ivy Hawn School for the Arts and Sciences decided not to present their application after it became clear that Superintendent Tom Russell would recommend to the school board that the application be denied. Ivy Hawn backers say they’ll apply next year. Russell also is recommending against approval for a K-8 charter school, Volusia Charter Academy. District officials had doubts about both schools’ abilities to handle special-needs students, among other things. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

State of children: Minority children will outnumber white children by 2024, but they continue to lag behind on indicators including reading proficiency, pre-kindergarten enrollment, and poverty by racial group, according to the latest Kids Count report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Florida ranks 29th in well-being of white children, 9th with Hispanic children, and 28th with black children. “We certainly have the data to say this is a national crisis and so many children are falling through the cracks at a faster rate than ever before,” says Florida Kids Count director Dr. Norín Dollard. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Tampa Bay Times.

Filling classrooms: The Hillsborough County School District is preparing a plan that would bring preschool students into empty classrooms. There are about 29,000 empty seats in the district, and Superintendent Jeff Eakins thinks retrofitting them for 3- and 4-year-olds would better prepare the children for school and also make better use of available space. Tampa Bay Times.

Bill would bump pay: A bill to boost pay for teachers and principals is filed by state Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park. Under the bill, H.B. 389, teachers and principals would get a $3,000 raise in 2018, then 3 percent increases in each of the next three years. News Service of Florida.

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