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Florida schools roundup: Rules for scholarships, special session and more

Scholarship rules: The Florida Department of education proposes rules for two new state scholarships. A one-page set of rules is proposed to determine eligibility for bullied students to receive state scholarships to attend new schools. The Hope Scholarship would be available for students who report being bullied or attacked. If they win approval, students could take the scholarship money and enroll in a private school or use it for transportation to another public school. A requirement that families substantiate the incident for which they are seeking a voucher has been removed. The other scholarship provides tutoring help for struggling elementary school readers. The Florida Board of Education has a public workshop June 6 to discuss the rules. Gradebook. Politico Florida.

Special session polling: Early polling results show a lack of support among legislators to call a special session to deal with education funding, according to Department of State officials. As of late Monday afternoon, 27 Florida House members supported a special session, while 36 opposed. Seven senators back the move, and six do not. Three-fifths of each chamber must support the request, made by two Democratic representatives, in order for a special session to be called. That means 70 yes votes in the House and 23 in the Senate. Polling ends Thursday at noon. News Service of Florida.

Virtual teachers out: Twelve out-of-state Florida Virtual School (FLVS) teachers and support staff were dismissed Friday. FLVS officials announced earlier this month that they intended to bring all jobs back into Florida, and gave 33 out-of-state employees a few days to decide if they would relocate. FLVS spokeswoman Tania Clow says some employees “decided to relocate, others retired and others took positions with FLVS Global.” WKMG. A technical glitch takes FLVS offline for hours on Monday. WKMG. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Superintendent named, tests, 47 cents, appeal and more

New superintendent: Diana Greene is chosen as the new superintendent of the Duval County School System. Greene, who has been superintendent of the Manatee County district since 2015, was unanimously approved by the school board. She replaces Nikolai Vitti, who left last summer to take the top job in Detroit. Greene started her teaching career in Duval before moving into administration. At Manatee, she is credited with turning around a difficult financial situation while improving student achievement. In Duval, Greene will immediately have to contend with a $62 million budget deficit. Greene’s start date and salary have yet to be negotiated. Florida Times-Union. WJXTBradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Smooth testing season: Florida Standards Assessments testing ended last week, and Florida Department of Education officials say there were few reports of problems with the test. Students took 4.2 million computerized tests and another 1.2 million with paper and pencil, and the only issues reported were local Internet and power outages. Results are expected in June. Gradebook.

Ad rebuts 47-cent claim: Florida House Republican leaders are fighting back against the claim by educators that the Legislature’s funding for schools amounts to just 47 more cents for each student. Calling it the “47 cent myth,” the lawmakers contend in a 5-minute online ad that they bumped per-student spending by $101.50, an all-time high, and that they put requirements on some of the increases to stop districts from squandering the extra money. “That’s why we put this $100 increase in per student funding directly into the classroom, bypassing the bureaucracy,” the narrator of the ads says. “To them [bureaucrats], it’s not about kids. It’s about control.” Gradebook. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Effects of ending tenure, special session and more

Tenure and achievement: When Florida legislators eliminated teacher tenure in 2011, they argued that making it easier to get rid of bad teachers could lead to better student academic results. Seven years later, a study finds that achievement by students in vulnerable schools has improved only slightly, and that there’s no conclusive way to tell if the elimination of tenure played a role in that modest success. “The intent (of the statute) was to raise student achievement by improving the quality of instructional, administrative and supervisory services in the public schools,” write researchers Celeste Carruthers, David Figlio and Tim Sass. “Whether (the law) or policies like it succeed in attracting and retaining high quality teachers remains an open question.” Brookings Institution. Gradebook.

Special session request: Democrats in the Legislature resort to an obscure rule to force a poll of all lawmakers on the idea of calling a special session to deal with educational funding. Ordinarily, Senate and House leaders decide if a special session is needed. But when they resisted, 35 Democratic members filed petitions with the secretary of state to conduct the poll; 32 are required to force the polling. They don’t expect to be successful, but say it will put legislators on the record in an election year. Answers to the poll are due May 24. Gradebook.

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Florida schools roundup: Culture of leniency, school security, pre-K and more

A district’s discipline: The Broward County School District has developed a culture of leniency that allows students to commit what could be considered criminal offenses with little or no punishment and treats students as first-time offenders even if it’s their 10th offense for the same thing, according to discipline records and people familiar with the process. The emphasis on promoting punishment alternatives, known as the Promise program, provides a public relations boost with fewer arrests, expulsions and suspensions for misbehaving students, but has led to a message that “the students are untouchable. Habitual negative behavior means nothing anymore,” according to notes from a recent faculty meeting. Sun-Sentinel. The district’s response to the siege it’s been under for the shooting and the discipline problems has been to try to withhold information and to release statements that are later shown to be incorrect. Superintendent Robert Runcie has even blocked parents from his Twitter account, saying he won’t tolerate “profanity, hate speech or false information.” Sun-Sentinel.

School security: With a deadline approaching and under financial pressure, the Pinellas County School District is now planning to hire armed guards for some positions as a “stopgap measure” to provide security to all schools. Some school board members say they prefer school resource officers, but that Superintendent Michael Grego’s latest plan is understandable as a temporary solution. Tampa Bay Times. Volusia County officials say the school district and sheriff need to develop a plan on school safety before the county commits any money to help pay for it. The agencies meet today to discuss how to proceed to get an armed officer in schools before they reopen in August. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Two months after it passed, the state’s gun reform law is still a focus of debates in school districts. WFSU. WUSF.

Student preparedness: About 45 percent of the students in the state’s voluntary pre-K program students are not ready for kindergarten, according to a report from the state’s Office of Early Learning. The report also concludes that about 42 percent of the state’s VPK providers should be put on probation for having fewer than 60 percent of their students pass the state’s readiness test, but the office is asking for one more grace year before implementing that provision. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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Florida schools roundup: School security, walkout, budgets and more

School security: The Duval County School Board approves a proposal to hire 103 armed safety assistants to guard elementary schools. The plan will cost the district about $4.18 million. WJXTWJAX. The Pasco County School Board approves hiring armed guards to be stationed at the district’s 47 elementary schools. Superintendent Kurt Browning says the program is a hybrid between the state’s guardian program, which allows arming school employees, and hiring sworn school resource officers. The district will have to find the $550,000 to close the gap between the actual cost and money it gets from the state from the guardian program. Tampa Bay Times. Hernando County school officials are considering asking voters for a hike in property taxes or the sales tax to help pay for structural changes to make schools safer. Tampa Bay Times. The Flagler County sheriff tells the school board it must come up with the $88,000 still needed to put a deputy at every school. Flagler Live. Residents argue on both sides about arming school employees during a second town hall meeting in Brevard County. Florida Today. Veteran Florida Department of Law Enforcement special agent Damien Kelly is chosen to lead the Florida Department of Education’s Office of Safe Schools. WKMG. Tampa Bay Times. Nearly two-thirds of the nation’s secondary public schools have sworn officers on site, but most are not present all day, according to a report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Center for Education Statistics. Pew Research Center.

Student walkout: Students across the United States are expected to walk out of more than 300 schools today to show their support for the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The pro-gun rights event is called “Stand for the Second,” and is scheduled to last 16 minutes. The 74USA TodayTallahassee Democrat.

Budget concerns: All major construction projects of the Martin County School District – including the plans to build a new administration center – are temporarily put on hold by the school board. The district is facing a tight budget, and decided to delay spending $25 million for several projects. The district is asking voters this fall to boost sales and property taxes to help pay for school construction, school security and teacher pay. TCPalm. Bay County commissioners approve placing a half-cent sales tax hike for schools on the Aug. 28 primary ballot. If approved, the tax will be used for construction and maintenance. Panama City News Herald. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Budgets, open enrollment, security, sex and more

Budget problems: A tiny increase in financial support from the state and more unfunded mandates have Florida school districts scrambling to cope. To make ends meet, some districts are asking voters to approve property and sales tax hikes, while others consider larger class sizes, trimming teaching staffs and making cuts in educational programs and bus services. And raises are out of the question in most districts. “It has become increasingly difficult to provide the level of service with the dwindling resources,” says Martin County Superintendent Laurie Gaylord. Tampa Bay Times.

Open enrollment: It’s the time of year when students can transfer from school to school under the state’s open enrollment law, which allows such transfers to schools that have available slots. But as students are discovering, not all that many schools are accepting transfers. In Orange County, only 36 of the 187 traditional public schools are accepting students from outside their zones. In Seminole, just 15 of the 58 schools are, and in Lake only 6 of the 19 elementary schools are. Last year, only about 1,200 students of the more than 311,000 enrolled in Lake, Orange and Seminole public schools transferred. Orlando Sentinel.

School threat responses: The number of Florida children involuntarily committed for psychiatric observation skyrocketed after the Feb. 14 shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. On Feb. 27, 195 children were taken for observation under the Baker Act, the highest single-day total in at least five years, according to records kept by the University of South Florida. Between 2011 and 2016, the number of children hospitalized under the Baker Act rose by almost 50 percent. Sun-Sentinel. Volusia County has arrested 27 students for making threats against school since the Feb. 14 shootings at Stoneman Douglas High in Broward County, while Lake has arrested five, Osceola and Orange three apiece and Seminole none. Orlando Sentinel.

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Florida schools roundup: Charter school ‘deserts,’ H.B. 7069 appeal and more

Charter school scarcity: A new report concludes that Florida has one of the highest number of charter school “deserts,” which are defined as three or more contiguous census tracts with poverty rates above 20 percent and no charter elementary schools. The charter-friendly Thomas B. Fordham Institute identified about 20 such areas in and around Miami, Orlando and Tampa/St. Petersburg. “Despite the thousands of charter schools opened [nationally] over the past twenty-five years,” the report concludes, “many more are needed if low-income students in every part of America are to have the options they need.” Gradebook. redefinED.

H.B. 7069 lawsuit: Duval County School Board members vote against joining an appeal of the latest decision against 13 school boards that are challenging the constitutionality of the state’s 2017 education law, H.B. 7069, saying they can’t afford to continue. Lee and Bay county school boards have already committed to an appeal. School boards in Alachua, Broward, Clay, Hamilton, Orange, Pinellas, Polk, St. Lucie, Volusia and Wakulla counties have yet to decide. Florida Times-Union.

School shooting defense: The Broward County School Board is trying to limit its liability by having a court label the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre as a single incident with many victims. The board’s liability for each incident is $300,000. Seventeen were killed and 17 wounded on Feb. 14, and a lawyer for one of the wounded victims wants the court to declare each victim a separate incident. Sun-Sentinel. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Investigation of shooting, security, budgets and more

School shooting query: The design of classrooms at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School contributed to the massacre Feb. 14, witnesses tell a state panel investigating the shooting. Doors couldn’t be locked from the inside, and had small windows that confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz fired through to kill several people who were inside. Faulty 911 systems contributed to the chaos, and one report indicates that while Broward deputies took cover, at least one knew the location of Cruz. Witnesses also say Cruz studied the 1999 Columbine school shooting as he planned the attack. Associated Press. News Service of FloridaSun-Sentinel. Miami HeraldPolitico Florida. WLRN. A judge rules that Cruz is indigent and will continue to be represented by the Broward County Public Defender’s Office. Miami Herald. Here’s a list of the commission members. WPLG. Broward County School Board members want Superintendent Robert Runcie to create a page on the district’s website to debunk false information and share the district’s responses to events. Sun-Sentinel.

School security, budgets: The Polk County School Board approves a plan to hire 90 “safety specialists” to protect schools at a cost of about $3.72 million. Specialists will be trained and armed, but won’t have the authority to make arrests. Lakeland Ledger. The Marion County School Board agrees to spend $224,000 to have 34 resource officers in elementary and charter schools for the rest of this school year. Ocala Star-Banner. Bay County School Board members approve a resolution to ask voters in August to extend the extra half-cent sales tax to help pay for school security and construction projects. The request has to be approved by county commissioners. Panama City News Herald. The Clay County School will ask voters to approve a property tax increase to raise money to hire 44 school resource officers so there’s at least one in every county school, and county commissioners agree to provide $2.1 million to help. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. Brevard County residents split at a town hall meeting about whether to arm school employees. Florida Today. Citrus County commissioners tell school officials not to expect any financial help to hire school resource officers. Citrus County Chronicle. Martin County School Board members seem willing to make cuts in the district’s content coordinators and administrators overseeing specific areas such as math or social studies to save money and help pay for school security, but are hesitant to consider scaling back art, music, extended child care programs or outsourcing custodial and technology services.  TCPalmContinue Reading →