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Florida schools roundup: Funding suit rejected, charter schools and more

School funding suit rejected: The First District Court of Appeal rejects a challenge to the state’s public school funding, saying the issue raises political questions that can’t be answered by judges. Several education groups and some parents contend that the state discriminates against minorities and low-income students, which they call a violation of the state’s constitutional duty to provide a “high quality system of free public schools.” The argument was rejected by a circuit court judge last year, leading to this appeal. The groups suing the state say they don’t know if they’ll take the issue to the Florida Supreme Court. The appeal court also ruled that the McKay scholarship, which provides state money to about 30,000 disabled children, is constitutional. Associated Press. News Service of FloridaOrlando SentinelGradebook. Sunshine State NewsPolitico FloridaredefinED.

Charters are public: The Florida Commission on Ethics has decided that charter schools are public agencies, not private ones. In October, the commission deadlocked on an opinion in a conflict of interest case. The opinion concluded that charter schools are not public agencies, but it was not adopted because of the tie vote. Last week, commissioner Matthew Carson cast the deciding vote and said, “Charter schools are public schools in operation, in function and by statute. Seems to me that what would be good for any other public agency under this statute would also be good for a charter school.” Politico Florida.

Charter school accused: A former Broward County charter school once accused of falsifying enrollment numbers to get more money from the state now faces allegations of fraud. New Horizons, now a private school that used to be the Pathway Academy charter school, allegedly falsified records when applying for tax credit scholarship money, and an administrative judge says the school should be cut off from scholarship funds. School officials deny the charges, and plan to file a response to the Department of Education. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit scholarship program. Sun-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 redefinED.

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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: Education amendments, book ban and more

Education amendments: Two Florida school officials are offering amendments to the state constitution that would provide more public financial support for schools other than traditional public schools. Marva Johnson, a member of the Florida Board of Education and Florida Constitution Revision Commission, is urging changes that would allow public money to be used for private schools “in the event that a student’s right to an education that meets his or her individual needs and learning differences.” Erika Donalds, a member of the Collier County School Board and the commission, is proposing an amendment allowing the Legislature to make a provision for “other educational services that benefit the children and families of this state that are in addition to the system of free public schools.” If the amendments are approved for the ballot, they would need the support of 60 percent of voters to go into effect. Tampa Bay TimesredefinED. News Service of Florida.

District’s book ban: The superintendent of the Dixie County School District has issued a ban on instructional materials that contain “profanity, cursing or inappropriate subject matter.” Mike Thomas issued the ban after a parent complained about sexual references in the book A Lesson Before Dying, by Ernest Gaines, but Thomas denies any connection between the complaint and the ban. Thomas says a committee will be formed to review instructional materials. Gainesville Sun.

Educators honored: Five finalists are chosen for Orange County teacher of the year. They are: Kenneth Boyd, music teacher at West Orange High School; Cindi Brasch, a teacher for the “hospital homebound”; Kyle Dencker, computer science teacher at Timber Creek High School; Bernie Hendricks, band director at Ocoee High School; and Sandy Mercer, a teacher for disabled students at Lake Silver Elementary School. The winner will be announced in December. Orlando Sentinel. Larissa Bennett, counselor at Virgil Mills Elementary School in Palmetto, is named school counselor of the year by the Florida School Counselor Association. Bradenton Herald. WWSB.

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Florida schools roundup: A call for reform, teacher pay, KIPP and more

A call for reform: Legislators and local school officials are calling for better oversight of private schools that get millions of dollars from the state’s three scholarship programs. A series in the Orlando Sentinel last week detailed how some of those schools hired uncertified teachers with criminal backgrounds and submitted falsified fire reports for years without the state taking action against them. State Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, remains a supporter of the tax credit, Gardiner and McKay scholarships, but agrees that “there’s some place between no regulation and over-regulation.” Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit and Gardiner scholarship programs. Orlando Sentinel.

Teacher pay: Gov. Rick Scott has pushed for higher teacher pay in the past, but now is saying that the decision is out of his hands. “The way our system is set up in our state those decisions are made at the local level,” Scott said during a discussion with teachers. “What I tell everybody is, ‘You have to be active with your school board members, your superintendents.’ ” Associated Press. Scott did say that his budget proposal will include $63 million for teachers to help buy classroom supplies, an increase of $18 million over last year. That would bump the $250 a year teachers receive for supplies to $350. WTLV.

‘Schools of hope’: The Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) charter school network is working on establishing a “school of hope” in the Liberty City area of Miami. The tentative agreement calls for the Miami-Dade County School Board to provide KIPP Miami with a facility, and KIPP would receive a state grant to help disadvantaged students and share its training programs with the district. The “schools of hope” program was set up by the Legislature to offer financial incentives so charter companies could move into neighborhoods with persistently struggling schools. KIPP is the nation’s largest nonprofit charter school network. redefinED.

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Florida schools roundup: Graduation options, suit, schools of hope and more

Graduation path options: A Florida legislator files a bill that would offer alternative paths to a high school degree for those students who earn enough credits to graduate but don’t pass the state algebra 1 and language arts tests. State Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Beverly Hills, wants those students to be able to use an industry-recognized certification or a portfolio of school work to earn a standard diploma. Gradebook.

H.B. 7069 lawsuit: When 13 state school districts filed suit against the state’s new education law, H.B. 7069, the largest district in the state was conspicuous by its absence. Miami-Dade County school officials have strongly criticized the law, but decided not to join the suit. Instead, school board members will lobby legislators to amend the law to address their concerns. “We made a very clear determination that ongoing dialogue, ongoing collaboration — until it was determined that it has been exhausted — is prudent,” says board member Steve Gallon. If the options are exhausted, Gallon says, the board will take another look at joining the lawsuit. WLRN.

Schools of hope: Two Bay County schools that were named “schools of hope” by the state Board of Education this week have different plans for the extra money they will receive. Springfield Elementary will spend its $903,424 grant on mental health services and counseling, and classroom support for teachers. Lucille Moore Elementary officials plan to use their $1,022,048 grant to boost parental involvement and engagement in students’ education, among other things. Eleven schools of hope were designated by the state. Each receives an extra $2,000 per student to provide provide such additional services as tutoring, counseling, more teacher coaches and salary supplements for teachers to run student clubs. Panama City News Herald. WJHG.

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Florida schools roundup: Scholarship oversight, tests, charter ban and more

Scholarship oversight: Florida’s school scholarship programs serve about 140,000 students and redirect almost $1 billion a year to private schools, but state regulation of those schools is so weak that many employ teachers who aren’t college graduates, falsify safety records but continue to stay in business, and fail to educate students without suffering the consequences public schools face, according to a newspaper’s investigation. The number of students using tax credit, Gardiner or McKay scholarships has more than tripled in the past decade. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit and Gardiner scholarship programs. Orlando Sentinel.

Testing the tests: The Florida Department of Education hires a company to evaluate whether the SAT and ACT tests can replace the state’s 10th-grade language arts Florida Standards Assessments and algebra I end-of-course exams. The Legislature required the review as part of the new education law, H.B. 7069. The assessment is expected to be finished in time for Education Commissioner Pam Stewart to make a recommendation on the substitution by Jan. 1. Meanwhile, Stewart says the department won’t decide on whether to delay the spring assessments testing window until after the hurricane season is over. Gradebook.

Charters schools: For the first time, the 50 or so charter schools in Palm Beach County were banned from this year’s “Showcase of Schools,” an event to show parents some of the most popular programs offered in county schools. School Superintendent Robert Avossa says the charter movement is “about spurring competition. So if that’s the case, why would you invite the competition to your event?” The incident is the latest in the escalating fight between district officials and charter schools. Palm Beach Post. The Florida Commission on Ethics rules that charter schools are not public agencies, but instead are more similar to business entities. Politico Florida.

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Florida schools roundup: Waiting for aid, blaming the abused, displaced and more

Still waiting for aid: Thirteen years after Hurricane Ivan hit Florida, the Escambia County School District is still waiting to hear about claims it filed with FEMA. The district’s not alone. A review of claims shows that dozens are still pending from Ivan, Katrina and other storms that have affected the state and its schools since 1999. The majority are from 2004 and 2005, when eight hurricanes hit the state from multiple directions. Associated Press.

Blaming the abused: A review of abuse cases filed against the Palm Beach County School Board in the past few years has a common denominator: In its defense, the school district has always fully or partly blamed the abuse victims. In one case the victim was 6 years old. In another, 7. In three others, the children were 9. The strategy of assigning the person who brought the suit at least part of the blame has been used by Conroy Simberg, a Hollywood law firm that represents the district to try to reduce the damages the district has to pay, not to assign blame to the victims, says Dale Friedman, an attorney with Conroy Simberg. Several board members say the tactic is outrageous and want to ban it. The board will vote this week on a proposed settlement of more than $3.5 million for four abuse victims. Sun-Sentinel.

Displaced students: Florida school districts are asking both the federal and state governments for aid to accommodate the thousands of students displaced by hurricanes and expected to enroll in state K-12 schools. But they are pessimistic. Orange County Public Schools spokesman Scott Howat says the odds of getting additional state money are zero unless the Legislature intervenes. The state says districts must see an enrollment influx of at least 5 percent to qualify, and individual schools must see a 25 percent growth. Nearly 30,000 people have arrived just from Puerto Rico, according to a spokesperson in Gov. Rick Scott’s office. The 74. Education Week. NPR. Associated Press. Orlando Sentinel.

Free meals extended: Lee, Collier and Monroe counties will continue to offer free meals at schools through Nov. 30. The free meals began after Hurricane Irma swept through the state. The three districts have 191 schools and 138,000 students. Fort Myers News-Press.

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