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Florida schools roundup: Private school curriculum, education lawsuits and more

Private school problems: Three Christian publishing companies provide some Florida private schools and homeschooled students with a curriculum that denies evolution, says humans and dinosaurs shared the earth, downplays the horrors of slavery and treatment of native Americans, and disparages religions other than Protestant Christianity and cultures that didn’t descend from white Europeans, according to a review of the materials. Experts from several colleges and school districts say the lessons also are easier than those required in public schools, and do not prepare students for college. Orlando Sentinel. The principal of an Osceola County private school says he knew about the felony convictions of the man he hired as athletics supervisor, but didn’t know hiring him was a violation of state law. Orlando Sentinel.

Education lawsuits: Lawyers for the state say 10 members of the 1998 Constitution Revision Commission should not be permitted to file a brief supporting the group Citizens for Strong Schools in its suit filed nine years ago that alleges the state has not adequately funded school education as required by the constitution. Those members, who include former attorney general Bob Butterworth, former Supreme Court justice Gerald Kogan and former House speaker Jon Mills, say they want to explain their intent in framing the constitutional amendment requiring the state to provide a high-quality public school system. Gradebook. News Service of Florida. State lawyers also argue that the appeal of the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Legislature’s 2017 education law, H.B. 7069, should continue in the standard appeals process instead of being certified quickly to the Florida Supreme Court, as the school boards that brought the suit are requesting. News Service of Florida.

Bittersweet graduation: Sunday’s graduation ceremony for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School seniors was a bittersweet affair, the excitement tempered with the memory of the Feb. 14 massacre of 17 people, including four students who would have graduated. Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon made a surprise appearance as a guest speaker, telling students, “When something feels hard, remember that it gets better. Choose to move forward. Don’t let anything stop you.” Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. Palm Beach Post. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Testing, vouchers, home-schooling and more

Alternative tests: The Florida Department of Education is proposing to toughen the passing standards for students who use alternatives to the Florida Standards Assessments 10th-grade language arts and algebra 1 exams in order to graduate. In 2017, more than 35,000 of the 168,000 Florida high school graduates used the SAT, ACT or other tests instead of the FSA. If approved by the Florida Board of Education, the higher standards could be in place as early as Aug. 1. Orlando Sentinel. Gradebook.

Voucher capital: Florida already leads the nation in the amount of tax money given to school voucher programs, and the expansion is continuing. The Legislature just passed a law to pay for students who are bullied to go to private schools, and spends nearly $900 million a year on various scholarship programs for almost 140,000 students. Ohio has the second-largest program, spending about $266 million last year, according to the school choice advocacy group EdChoice. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, recently said in a speech: “You voucherize the entire system and put that power in the hands of parents, you change education.” Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit and Gardiner scholarship programs. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Despite the charter-friendly atmosphere in the state, two additional voucher proposals won’t make it to the state ballot in November. redefinED.

Home-schooling bill signed: Gov. Rick Scott signs H.B. 731, which restricts the amount of information school districts can require from parents who want to home-school their children. Some parents had complained that certain districts were making it hard to register for home-schooling. Among the 17 other bills Scott signed were ones giving refunds to university students with excess credits who graduate within four years and establishing a statewide program accountability system for school readiness providers. redefinED. WKRG. Florida Politics. Continue Reading →

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: Budget, safety, other bills, board term limits and more

State budget: The Florida Senate and House overwhelmingly approve an $88.7 billion state budget that increases per-student spending by an average of $101.50 statewide, but is lower in some of the state’s largest districts. “How can anyone justify per-student increases of $65.06 and $52.35 for Miami-Dade and Broward, respectively?” tweeted Miami-Dade School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. Earlier Sunday, Gov. Rick Scott signed the higher education bill that permanently boosts spending for Bright Futures scholarships, and the K-12 bill that includes a new scholarship program for bullied victims. News Service of FloridaTampa Bay TimesPalm Beach Post. Orlando Sentinel. Politico Florida. Tallahassee Democrat. GateHouse. The Legislature also passed a $170 million tax cut bill that includes a three-day tax holiday on school supplies. News Service of Florida. Associated Press.

School safety bill: Gov. Scott signs the $400 million school safety bill, despite being lobbied by educators who don’t like the idea of arming school personnel and NRA officials who don’t like the new restrictions on gun sales. The NRA quickly files a suit in federal court against the law, calling it a violation of the Second Amendment. News Service of FloridaAssociated PressPolitico Florida. Tampa Bay Times. redefinED. Palm Beach Post. GateHouse. Here’s what the new school safety bill does. Palm Beach Post. Stoneman Douglas students and parents had vowed that “this time would be different.” And it was. But school students say while it’s a start, it isn’t enough. Miami Herald. Some private schools are ahead of public schools on security issues. Palm Beach Post. President Trump backs away from his earlier proposals on gun restrictions and is now calling for the creation of a federal Commission on School Safety, led by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, to make long-range policy suggestions. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. Associated Press. No one really knows how many students bring guns to schools, because schools are lax in reporting those incidents and the information detailing it is inconsistently collected and outdated. Stateline.

Reaction to safety bill: Law enforcement and school officials say there isn’t enough money in the bill to put an armed resource officer in every school. They say $360 million is needed but the bill only provides $162 million, which means arming school personnel may be the only option for full coverage. Tallahassee Democrat. Why the state’s school superintendents opposed the bill. Washington Post. Miami-Dade school officials are working on a plan to put armed officers at every school. Miami Herald. Central Florida educators say they want police officers, not teachers or other school workers, to be armed on campuses. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. Manatee County school officials join other large districts around the state in saying they’re unlikely to arm any school personnel other than resource officers under the new law. Bradenton Herald. The Citrus County School Board will be asked to place school resource officers into more schools. Several elementary schools share a deputy. Citrus County Chronicle.

School board term limits: A proposal before the Constitution Revision Commission to limit school board terms is revised. Sponsor Erika Donalds now wants to limit board members to serving eight consecutive years, starting Nov. 6, 2018. The earlier version, which had been approved by a CRC committee, would have begun with service since 2015. Gradebook. Several education issues are among the proposals CRC members will consider in its final report to the secretary of state May 10. Florida Today. 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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Fla. House, Senate agree to funding boost for special needs scholarships (corrected)

The nation’s largest education savings program could continue to grow under a deal reached late Wednesday by Florida’s House and Senate budget chiefs.

The agreement would add another $25 million for Gardiner Scholarships for children with special needs. The funding would help the program meet rising demand.

This school year, for the first time, demand from parents exhausted the supply of funding for the scholarships. There are approximately 1,300 students on Step Up For Students’ wait list* for the scholarships. Thousands more have expressed interest.

The spending plan agreed to by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island and Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami would bring total funding for the program to approximately $128.3 million. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Education and school safety bills, Parkland and more

Education bills: Both legislative chambers approve a sweeping K-12 education bill. If signed by Gov. Rick Scott, the bill would create the Hope Scholarship for students who are bullied or the victims of violence, give money to 3rd-graders to pay for tutors to help them pass the state reading test, require every school to prominently display the state motto “In God We Trust,” decertify teachers unions when membership falls below 50 percent of eligible employees, place restrictions on local school districts’ ability to close charter schools, and use sales taxes from commercial properties to expand the Gardiner and tax credit scholarship programs, among other things. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the Gardiner and tax credit scholarship programs. Associated PressNews Service of Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando SentinelredefinED. Gainesville Sun. Politico Florida. GateHouse. Here’s a breakdown of what’s in the nearly 200-page education bill. redefinED. Both chambers also pass the higher education bill, which permanently boosts the amounts students can receive if they qualify for Bright Futures scholarships, among other provisions. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. GateHouse. Other school choice issues are up for votes this week. redefinED.

School safety bill: The Florida Senate narrowly passes the school safety bill, but only after senators strip the provision to arm teachers. Instead, districts that choose to participate in the $67 million marshals program can have other personnel – such as custodians or principals – trained and armed. Another $97 million would be set aside for more school resource officers. Overall, the bill provides $400 million for school safety, including $69 million for mental health assistance.into mental health and school safety programs, $18.3 million for mobile crisis teams working with the Department of Children and Families and the schools and $500,000 for mental health first aid training. The bill also bans the sale of bump stocks, raises the legal age to buy a firearm from 18 to 21, and imposes a three-day waiting period on the purchase of all rifles and shotguns. Miami HeraldPalm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel. GateHouse. Tallahassee Democrat. Associated Press. WLRN. House leaders express disappointment over the Senate’s decision to not arm teachers. Politico Florida. Sheriffs say the amount set aside for arming school personnel is too much, and the amount for more school officers is too little. Tampa Bay Times. The Broward County School Board is expected to approve an agreement today to add school resource officers at four more schools. Sun-Sentinel. Monday is the first day for every Manatee school to have a resource officer. Bradenton Herald. Bay County School Superintendent Bill Husfelt says everything the Legislature is talking about is for next year. “I’m worried about today,” he says. “I have called the governor’s office several times and suggested they put the National Guard out in front of schools that don’t have armed security, since they’re already being paid.” Panama City News Herald. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Arming teachers, school cop’s failure and more

Arming teachers: Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, says he supports the idea of arming teachers. His endorsement likely means it will be included in the package of proposed gun-related bills being announced today by the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott. Tampa Bay Times. Sun-Sentinel. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. News Service of Florida. The idea of teachers with guns has some support among politicians, but most educators don’t like it. Tampa Bay Times. Palm Beach Post. Florida Times-Union. Associated Press. WEAR. The National Association of School Resource Officers also opposes the idea of arming teachers, noting in a statement that it “strongly recommends that no firearms be on a school campus except those carried by carefully selected, specially trained school resource officers.” Gradebook. President Donald Trump, who likes the idea of arming select teachers and school staff, slams Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart for suggesting more active shooter drills should be considered. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. New York Times.

School cop resigns: The school resource officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School never entered the building last week to confront the shooter, says Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel. The officer, Scot Peterson, rushed to the building when he heard the gunfire but waited outside for four minutes. Israel says Peterson should have “went in. Addressed the killer. Killed the killer.” Peterson, 54, resigned Thursday after he was suspended without pay. Four years ago, Peterson was named school resource officer of the year in Parkland. Sun-SentinelMiami Herald. USA Today. Associated Press. Law enforcement officials were warned repeatedly that alleged shooter Nikolas Cruz was dangerous and a possible school shooter. Miami Herald. Palm Beach Post. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, says a special investigative committee will look into the botched response to the shooting, and it could be chaired by a parent of one of the slain students. Politico Florida.

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