Florida schools roundup: Education bill, superintendent contracts and more

Education bill: State Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, appears before the Florida Board of Education to promote the education bill passed by the Legislature, saying legislators were trying to find ways to “consistently close the achievement gap” and “erase the negative effects of poverty.” Board member Andy Tuck pointed out that 18 counties, including some of the poorest in the state, will receive less money for education next year than they got this year. Gradebook. Miami-Dade County School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, also appearing at the state board meeting, says he, his school board and the state superintendents association are”vehemently, strongly … advocating for a veto of HB 7069.” Politico Florida. redefinED. The Florida School Board Association, which represents 64 of the state’s 67 school boards, is the latest organization to urge Gov. Rick Scott to veto the Legislature’s education bill. In a letter to Scott, the association calls the bill “substantially flawed and unworthy of your approval to be enacted into law.” Miami Herald. News Service of FloridaFlorida Politics. Associated Press. WMNF. More local school leaders urge a veto of the education bill. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Citrus County Chronicle.

Philosophical fight: Whether Gov. Scott vetoes the education bill or not, the philosophical battle over who control the state’s public schools is likely to continue. redefinED.

Eakins declines raise: Hillsborough County School Superintendent Jeff Eakins turns down a proposed 3 percent raise from the school board, which extended his contract by three years. He will get a $2,000 bonus on top of his $225,000 salary if the district’s graduation rate improves. “My bonus is going to be when every student, every teacher, every employee becomes successful,” Eakins told the board. Tampa Bay Times.

New superintendents: In a 4-1 vote, the Alachua County School Board selects deputy superintendent Karen Clarke as the new school superintendent. Clarke has been with the district since 1992. Contract negotiations begin today, with an advertised contract range between $160,000 and $180,000. Gainesville Sun. The Flagler County School Board approves a three-year contract at $135,000 a year for new superintendent James Tager. Flagler Live. Continue Reading →


Miami schools chief: Fund charter schools, but not from district dollars

Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho addresses the Florida Board of Education.

If Gov. Rick Scott vetoes a wide-ranging education bill, as a growing number of Florida school district officials want, the state’s charter schools would see their facilities funding plummet to historic lows.

The contentious bill, HB 7069, would steer an estimated $146 million to the state’s charter schools. Nearly two-thirds of that money would come from district property taxes. Right now only a handful of districts share that money with charters. All of them would have to share it under the bill. The remaining $50 million would come from the state budget.

Without the bill, the money in the budget would be the only charter facilities funding left, matching the lowest statewide total in a decade. And the smaller pool of money would be spread among more students than ever. Right now, 556, or all but about 100 of Florida’s charter schools, qualify for charter school capital outlay funding — a number that’s risen every year.

That didn’t sit well with Gary Chartrand, a Scott appointee to the state Board of Education and key backer of the effort to bring KIPP charter schools to Jacksonville.

“That’s a dismal amount for charter schools that are growing at double digits,” he said of the funding in the state budget. “I think it needs to be rectified somehow. I’m not exactly sure how, but the veto (of HB 7069) isn’t exactly rectifying the situation for charter schools either.” Continue Reading →


Fla. Gov. Rick Scott faces increasing pressure on school funding

By Brandon Larrabee

News Service of Florida

The chorus of voices calling for Gov. Rick Scott to veto a controversial education bill — and perhaps part of the state budget for public schools — grew Tuesday, even as supporters tried to push back.

Two of the state’s major education organizations — the Florida School Boards Association and the Florida Association of District School Superintendents — sent letters to Scott on Tuesday asking him to nix a wide-ranging schools bill (HB 7069) unveiled on the next-to-last business day of the 2017 legislative session.

The superintendents went a step further and called on Scott to use his line-item veto to strike the Florida Education Finance Program, or FEFP, a move that would essentially force the Legislature to pass a new education budget. The FEFP comprises the majority of state and local funding that flows to public schools.

The letters from the two organizations came on top of calls from the Florida Education Association, the state’s main teachers union, for Scott to take dramatic action on HB 7069, a sweeping measure covering everything from school uniforms and sunscreen to teacher bonuses and recess.

The measure is perhaps best known for its inclusion of a funding program for “schools of hope,” including charter schools in areas with academically struggling traditional schools, and an expansion of the “Best and Brightest” teacher bonus system.

The school boards association was particularly blistering about the way that the bill was put together in budget negotiations between the House and Senate. The legislation emerged as a “conforming bill,” tied to the budget and essentially subject only to an up-or-down vote. Continue Reading →


One big piece of education legislation illustrates broader battle

The massive education bill Florida legislators approved on the final day of their annual session has stirred more passion than any in recent years.

Charter school advocates and House members are actively campaigning for HB 7069. School district leaders are calling on Gov. Rick Scott to veto it. Parents and education activists have spoken up on both sides.

A key theme binds many key concepts in the 278-page bill — a theme that has shaped education agendas in the Florida Legislature for several years, and defines battles that will continue after the politicking over this proposal subsides.

If approved, the bill would represent a power shift. It would move control away from district central offices and place it in the hands of individual school leaders. Charter schools would have more equitable funding. More district schools would have charter-like freedoms. In high-poverty schools, principals, not districts, would decide how to spend federal Title I funding to help their low-income students.

A key backer of the proposal, Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, is a former public-school administrator. He recalls turnaround efforts, in which central office bureaucrats would stream in and out of the school building, looking over educators’ shoulders, providing little in the way of actual “support.”

He said districts should embrace a new approach. They need to hire high-caliber school leaders and make sure they’re in sync with their communities. Then, stop micromanaging them. Let them control their own budgets. Give them the authority to pick the best teachers. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Education bill, teacher certification, aid and more

Education bill: Gov. Rick Scott hasn’t announced whether he intends to veto all or parts of the budget or education bills, but some Republicans close to him think he will veto the education bill to force the Legislature to renegotiate education spending and cuts made in tourism marketing. Politico Florida. More educators from around the state are urging Scott to veto the education and budget bills. Miami HeraldOrlando SentinelDaily Commercial. Public News Service. WTVJ.

Teacher certification: The Florida Department of Education’s proposed changes in teacher certification are being put on hold at least until the 2018-2019 school year. Implementing the changes for next school year could have put hundreds of teachers into the “out of field” category. The delay allows districts time to help those teachers qualify for “subject matter expert” certification. Gradebook.

Financial aid boost: State and federal governments have approved increases in financial aid for students going to or already in college. At the state level, the Legislature bumped up the funds available for the Bright Futures Scholarships, and students can now use them for summer classes. Pell grants for college students will also be available for the first time for summer classes. News Service of Florida.

Interim superintendent: The Duval County School Board cuts a potential field of interim superintendents from seven to three, and will conduct interviews Wednesday. Those being considered are Earl Lennard, who was Hillsborough County superintendent from 1996-2005; Pearl Roziers, assistant superintendent in Duval and head of the district’s school choice program; and Patricia Willis, who was a Duval deputy superintendent from 2007-2012. Superintendent Nikolai Vitti leaves next week to become head of the Detroit school system. Florida Times-UnionWJXT. WKOV. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Selling the bill, Title I troubles, a top teacher and more

Selling the bill: House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, posts a cartoon on YouTube to explain and defend the education bill that was passed last week. Corcoran calls it “#toontruth for anyone who likes the truth in animated video format.” Orlando Sentinel. How the education bills passed in Tallahassee on recess, testing and charter schools could affect St. Johns County schools. St. Augustine Record. Teacher bonuses would be smaller and many more teachers would earn them under the new education bill. Bridge to Tomorrow. The school choice movement is breaking into two camps: one that wants to use choice to improve public schools, and one that wants greatly expand choice by using tax money. Associated Press.

Title I, Medicaid concerns: The Legislature’s decision to distribute federal Title I funding directly to schools and spread it to more schools could have devastating long-term effects on poor students, say district officials. Districts will be forced to cut special programs for low-income students, including after-school and summer school, or shift money from other programs to make up the difference. “A number of our community members and parents are aware of the services we provide in our 63 Title I schools,” said Felita Grant, Title I director for Pinellas County schools. “It would be a shock to them, if this bill goes through, the number of services we would have to cut back on.” Tampa Bay Times. School districts around the country say proposed cuts in the Medicaid program will have a significant impact in schools. Associated Press.

Teachers honored: Diego Fuentes, who teaches music to students with severe disabilities at the Hillcrest School in Ocala, is chosen as one of five finalists for the Department of Education’s 2018 Florida teacher of the year award. Fuentes was awarded $5,000. The winner will be announced July 13. Ocala Star Banner. Palm Beach County’s teacher of the year and school-related employee of the year are surprised with free, two-year leases of BMWs. Palm Beach Post.

Teaching incentives: Experienced teachers are being offered up to $70,000 in incentive pay over three years to work at struggling Carver Middle School in Orlando. More than 100 teachers have already applied, school officials say. Those hired will get an extra $20,000 for the 2017-2018 school year, and $25,000 in each of the next two years. Carver has received two Fs and a D in school grades in the past three years, and nearly 80 percent of its students failed their Florida Standards Assessment exams. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →


‘I’m a parent first and a teacher second’

Heidi Gonzalez was aware of the warning signs. Her daughter Samantha had just started sixth grade at her neighborhood middle school in Miami, and already she was going down the wrong path.

Bad grades. Bad behavior. Falling in with the wrong crowd.

As a 10th grade teacher who worked with at-risk students at a public high school, Heidi knew veering off course in middle school could lead to much worse later. So she spent lunch breaks researching private schools near their home, determined to find a better environment. A Florida tax credit scholarship made it possible for her to consider them. (Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer the scholarship program.)

Samantha Delgado went from D’s and F’s at her neighborhood school to honor roll at Miami Christian.

“I’m very lucky,” Heidi said, “to have caught it on time.”

It wasn’t an easy choice. Heidi knew she might hear whispers at work. She had spent years working in public schools. But this was her sweet little Sammy, and the sudden changes were alarming.

“I’m a parent first and a teacher second,” Heidi said. “So she’s my daughter and I’m going to do whatever is best for her despite wherever I’m working. It doesn’t matter what other people say, what the community says, what society says. At the end of the day you’re bringing that kid home with you. It’s your problem to solve.”

Sammy was Heidi’s “little angel” until middle school. Report cards with D’s and F’s and poor conduct prompted constant bickering. Samantha’s piercing brown eyes would roll with indifference every time her mom tried to give her guidance. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: ESSA, Brown convicted, a top teacher and more

ESSA implementation: The Florida Department of Education is going ahead with the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) despite Congress’ decision to repeal many of its key provisions. ESSA sets benchmarks of minimum student performances in a variety of areas. A group of school district leaders from around the state are working on the plan, and are expected to finish it by Sept. 18. Gradebook.

Brown convicted: Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, is convicted on 18 of 22 corruption counts ranging from mail fraud to filing a false federal tax return. Prosecutors say she used her office to collect $800,000 in contributions for her phony education charity, One Door for Education. Florida Times-Union. Associated PressPolitico Florida.

Teacher honored: Katelyn Fiori, a fourth-grade teacher at Vero Beach Elementary School, is chosen as one of five finalists for the Department of Education’s 2018 Florida teacher of the year award. Fiori was awarded $5,000. The winner will be announced July 13. TCPalm.

Charters and tax revenue: Some lawmakers have been trying for six years to direct property tax revenue to charter schools. This year, that measure was finally passed, and in the next school year charters may get almost twice the $75 million they received this year. redefinED.

School security: The education bill that allots $654,000 to improve security at Jewish day schools draws criticism from those who say that other religious schools – such as Muslim and Sikh – have also seen a recent spike in violent threats.“The fact that the funding singles out one religion raises serious concerns about unconstitutional discrimination, whether intentional or not,” says Kara Gross, ACLU of Florida’s legislative counsel. Miami Herald. Continue Reading →