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Florida schools roundup: Schools of hope, bonuses, funding and more

Budget deal: Leaders of the Florida Senate and House reach an agreement on an $83 billion budget, and the Legislature will vote on it Monday. Gov. Rick Scott didn’t rule out a veto, saying the budget was done in secrecy and doesn’t have enough tax cuts or money for education. Details of the bill are sketchy, but it does include a $200 million fund to help struggling schools and to recruit charter school companies into the state – the so-called “schools of hope” plan – and $213 million for educator bonuses. Tampa Bay Times. Associated PressNews Service of Florida. Naples Daily News. Lakeland LedgerPolitico Florida. Also included in the budget is $500 million for the Public Education Capital Outlay program, with $50 million each going to public schools and charter schools for maintenance projects, and $57 million for specific school projects in smaller counties. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida.

Title I funding: School district leaders from around the state continue to lobby the Legislature about the proposal to change the way federal Title I funding will be distributed. Legislators are proposing bills (S.B. 1362 and H.B. 7101) that would spread out the funds among more schools, including charter schools. Critics say doing so will starve the very schools that need the money the most. Neither bill has a scheduled hearing in the Senate. Gradebook. The Polk County School District could lose $15 million if the proposed split of federal Title I funds between traditional public schools and charter schools is approved, says district budget director Jason Pitts. Lakeland Ledger.

Testing changes: Work continues on the bill to reform school testing in the state. Support for the Senate bill chosen to move forward is tepid, with many senators complaining the bill does little to reduce the number of tests students take. Negotiations continue to consider details that could broaden support. Also in the bill is the proposal to require daily recess for elementary school students. Miami Herald. 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 roundup: Charter schools, magnets, superintendents and more

Growth. Could charter schools help Hillsborough school officials deal with an enrollment boom? Tampa Bay Times.

Schools of Hope. The state Senate proposes a counter-offer to the House’s ambitious charter school legislation — one that prioritizes traditional schools. Times/Herald. redefinED.

Superintendents. Duval County schools chief Nikolai Vitti is chosen to lead public schools in Detroit. Chalkbeat. Florida Times-Union. Detroit Free Press. Hillsborough’s Jeff Eakins talks with Gradebook. Alachua County picks finalists to fill its leadership post. Gainesville Sun.

Magnet schools. The Tampa Bay Times breaks down Pinellas County’s most sought-after magnet programs.

Civil rights lawsuit. More immigrant children join a legal battle with the Collier County school district, which they say prevented them from enrolling in high schools. Naples Daily News.

Letter grades. No more D’s and F’s for Leon County’s youngest students. Tallahassee Democrat.

Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Budgets, charter schools, scholarships and more

Education budgets: Differences in the Senate and House education budgets are a significant factor in the yawning gap in the overall spending plans between the two chambers. The House is proposing to spend $81.2 billion and the Senate $83.2 billion. But the Senate budget doesn’t include $2 billion that is factored into the House budget, widening the gap to $4 billion. Major differences are in school taxes, Bright Futures, teacher bonuses, tuition costs and a new initiative that would recruit charter schools to replace persistently low-performing traditional public schools. Sun-Sentinel. Tampa Bay Times. News Service of Florida. Several leading charter school companies say they are not interested in expanding into Florida, even if the $200 million incentive plan proposed by the House is approved. Politico Florida.

Charter school facilities: The Senate Appropriations Committee passes a bill that would require school districts to share local property tax revenue with charter schools. The bill would nearly double the amount of money that charter schools would receive to build and maintain facilities. But it add some restrictions that charter company  representatives say could create a “chilling effect” on the expansion of charter schools. redefinED.

Expanding scholarships: The House Education Committee approves a bill that would expand eligibility to one state scholarship program, and the amount of money students receive for another. Eligibility for the Gardiner scholarships, for students with special needs, would expand to include the deaf or visually impaired and those with rare diseases or traumatic brain injuries. Meanwhile, the amount of money students would receive for tax credit scholarships would also increase. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer both programs. redefinED. Politico Florida. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Testing bills, recess, graduation rates and more

School testing: State senators will consider competing school testing bills this week. SB 926 would push testing back to the final three weeks of the school year, and the test results would have to be returned to teachers within a week. It’s sponsored by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami. The second bill, SB 964, also delays tests until the final month of the school year, but eliminates specific tests, allows districts to give pencil-and-paper tests, and gives principals wider discretion on teacher evaluations. It’s sponsored by Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee. Tallahassee Democrat. Montford is confident his bill will be given consideration, even though it was left off the Senate Education Committee’s next meeting agenda while SB 926 was included. Gradebook. An amendment added to the Senate’s school testing bill would specify that any school board member could visit any school in his or her district at any day and any time. No school could require advance notice, and a campus escort would not be required. The amendment was proposed by Flores. Gradebook.

School recess: The House has finally scheduled a hearing for a bill that would require recess for elementary school students. But the bill, HB 67, has several significant differences from the Senate bill, which has moved through committees and is headed to the Senate floor. The House bill calls for daily recess time, but allows schools to count recess time toward physical education class requirements, allows P.E. classes to count for recess time, and removes fourth- and fifth-graders from the requirement. Miami Herald.

Graduation rates: A bill drafted late last week in the House would count students who move from traditional high schools to alternative charter or private schools in the graduation rate of the school the student left. The bill surfaced just after the Florida Department of Education announced it would investigate whether traditional high schools were pushing struggling students into alternative charter schools in order to boost their graduation rates. That investigation was sparked by a report in ProPublica in February. redefinED. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Teacher tests, minorities in AP classes and more

Teacher tests: The Florida Department of Education says a historically high percentage of people who want to be teachers are failing the Florida Teacher Certification Exam, which was recently toughened by the state. And now fewer people are taking the test, as many as 10 percent fewer for some subject areas. “We have a real crisis,” said Dr. Gloria Pelaez, St. Thomas University dean of the school of arts. “This is turning people, good intelligent people away,” said Wendy Mungillo of the Manatee County School District. Melissa Smith, for example. She’s taken and failed the test seven times, and has decided to leave the state and get a master’s degree. Department of Education officials defend the tougher exams, saying they’re in line with more rigorous tests students now take. WFTS.

Minorities and AP classes: A Palm Beach County School District analysis shows an “implicit bias” is in part responsible for lower minority participation in Advanced Placement classes. Minority students with comparable scores to white students are excluded from AP classes at a much higher rate than whites. That so-called “opportunity gap” also favors girls over boys, according to the analysis. “Students who have potential, why are they not in the courses?” Deputy Superintendent David Christiansen said. “There’s a significant gap there that we want to start to close.” Palm Beach Post.

Days lost to testing: Orange County teacher Peggy Dominguez tells a Senate committee meeting this week that she loses 37 days of her 180-day school year to preparing her students for the Florida Standards Assessments tests. Dominguez teaches English at Timber Creek High School. She and others testified about the downsides of the testing process. The Senate is considering a bill that would, among other things, push all testing to the final three weeks of the school year and authorize a study to see if the ACT or SAT tests can be used as a replacement for the FSA. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Class sizes, schools of excellence and more

Class sizes: A bill that would allow schools to comply with the 2002 class size amendment by using schoolwide averages instead of specific classroom counts passes the Florida House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee. Schools would be expected to try to get math, reading, science and social studies class sizes to levels required by the constitutional amendment. But there would be no penalties if school averages complied with the law, even if some classrooms did not. Orlando Sentinel. WFSU.

Schools of excellence: A bill that would give top-performing public schools more freedom from state and district regulations passes the Florida House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee. Public schools with an academic performance among the state’s top 20 percent in their grade range at least two out of three consecutive years would become “Schools of Excellence.” At those schools, principals would have greater freedom to make budget and staffing decisions, teachers would get credit toward continuing-education requirements for their certifications, and the schools would be free from mandates on reading time and have flexibility on class sizes. The bill sponsor, Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, says “it would encourage innovation.” redefinED.

Religious expression: A bill that would ban school districts “from discriminating against students, parents, and school personnel on basis of religious viewpoints or expression” is passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and is now ready for a full Senate vote. The Florida House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee passes a slightly different version of the bill. Florida PoliticsMiami Herald. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. Tallahassee Democrat. Sunshine State News.

Testing rollback: A bill that would put limits on the state’s standardized testing passes the Florida House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee. The bill cuts the window of testing to three weeks nearer to the end of the school year, authorizes a study to see if the SAT and ACT tests could replace the Florida Standards Assessments, and require results to be returned to teachers in a “timely manner.” Sunshine State News. News Service of Florida. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Bright Futures, budget cuts, guns, AP tests and more

Bright Futures: The Senate passes a higher education bill that would allocate $151 million to restore Bright Futures funding to 100 percent and allow recipients to use the scholarships for summer classes. Also in the bill are a scholarship program for migrant workers and their children and an expansion of benefits to National Merit Scholars. Miami Herald. Sunshine State News. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. The bill is a top priority for Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, but he somehow missed the vote even though he was present in the chamber. He said he intended to vote after the roll call, but it was locked down before he could. Miami Herald.

Education budget cuts: Rep. Manny Diaz, Jr., R-Hialeah, says he will release details next week on a pair of House education budget-cutting exercises. One of the plans trims higher education and K-12 spending by $232.7 million, while the other cuts $485 million. Diaz says specific cuts under the plans may or may not be part of the House’s final education budget. Politico Florida.

Guns in schools: Two Republican senators from Miami-Dade can control gun bill votes on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and one of them has publicly stated she opposes the guns in school zones proposal. Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, also opposes several other gun-related bills, but says that doesn’t mean she would oppose any gun bill. Sen. René García, R-Hialeah, says he can’t support any gun bill that doesn’t include a mental health component. Miami Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

AP test improvements: Florida is fourth among U.S. states in the percentage of graduating seniors who passed at least one Advanced Placement exam, and more than half the growth came from low-income students, according to the Florida Department of Education. The percentage of low-income graduating seniors in Florida who passed an AP exam went up 500 percent from 2006 to 2016. redefinED. Continue Reading →