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Florida schools roundup: No names in bills, alternative schools and more

Bill drops name: A bill that would prohibit Florida high school students from leaving campuses for lunch won’t bear the name of a Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High School girl who was killed in a car crash during lunch off campus in 1999. Sen. Rene Hialeah, R-Hialeah, removed the name of Mayra Capote from his bill at the request of Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who said he didn’t want bills named after people because it puts lawmakers in an awkward spot if they want to oppose them. Miami Herald.

Legislative issues: The expansion of school choice programs, cutbacks in testing and the expansion of the Bright Futures scholarship program are among the top issues to watch in this year legislative session, which begins in a week. Orlando Weekly. WFSU.

District denies report: Orange County School District officials deny a ProPublica report last week that the district is using alternative schools to hide struggling, problem students who might otherwise drag down a school’s graduation rate, test scores and grade. Spokespersons for the district and Accelerated Learning Solutions, a for-profit charter school management company that manages five charter alternative schools in the county, say students choose the alternative schools. One of the schools mentioned in the report, Sunshine High School, is up for contract renewal. District staff is recommending the school board approve the renewal at today’s meeting. Orlando Sentinel.

District criticized: Florida TaxWatch, a nonprofit group that monitors financial performances of institutions, is criticizing the Broward County School District for construction delays and overruns in its $800 million bond program to upgrade schools. County voters approved the bond in 2014, but many projects expected to be under construction by 2015 still haven’t begun. Sun-Sentinel. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Recess, charters, alternative schools and more

Recess bill advances: A bill requiring mandatory daily recess of at least 20 minutes for all Florida K-5 students passes the state Senate Education Committee. Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, said the bill showed “the power of advocacy, of parents” who pushed legislators to act when local school boards would not. The bill now goes to the Senate PreK-12 Appropriations Committee for consideration. Miami HeraldAssociated PressFlorida Politics.

Charter facilities funding: The Senate Education Committee approves a bill that would send a proportional share of a district’s property tax revenue to charter schools based on enrollment, with more money attached for those schools that have large low-income or special needs populations. But a second bill that would have increase districts’ local tax authority is delayed. Supporters say the measures need to move forward together to allow districts to catch up on construction that’s been backlogged since the recession. redefinED. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida.

Hidden dropouts: Alternative schools increasingly are being used by public schools as places to hide struggling, problem students who might otherwise drag down a school’s graduation rate, test scores and grade, according to an investigation by ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative journalism website. The Orange County School District is one of 83 U.S. school districts that bumped its graduate rate by at least a percentage point between 2010 and 2014 by sending an increasing number of students into alternative schools. ProPublica.

Florida 4th in AP: Florida ranks fourth in the nation in the percentage of students taking and passing at least one Advanced Placement course, according to the College Board, the organization that runs the AP program. In Florida’s class of 2016, 29.5 percent passed at least one AP exam. That’s over the national average of 21.9 percent and 11 percentage points better than 10 years ago. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Evaluations, recess, discipline, LGBT sign and more

Teacher evaluations: About 98 percent of the teachers evaluated in Florida during the 2015-2016 school year were rated either “highly effective” or “effective,” according to the Department of Education. Less than 1 percent of the state’s teachers got an “unsatisfactory” rating, and only 1.2 percent were rated “needs improvement.” The numbers have shown little change over the past few years. Evaluations are used by districts for raises and contract renewals, and by the state for determining eligibility for teacher bonuses. Okaloosa County was tops in the state with 97.6 percent of its teachers graded as highly effective, while Putnam County was lowest with just 1 percent. Gradebook.

Daily recess: A survey by the Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability reveals significant differences in how school districts offer recess, how often and for how long. Only 11 districts have some recess policy, and only eight of those made daily recess a requirement. Supporters of legislation to make daily recess mandatory in all Florida elementary schools argue the results show the need for statewide legislation, instead of allowing individual districts, schools or even teachers decide. Miami Herald.

Discipline disparity: Black students are twice as likely to be expelled as other children, four times more likely to be suspended and almost three times more likely to be arrested, according to recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Education. And children with disabilities, especially black students with disabilities, are more likely to be disciplined than those without disabilities. Florida is below the national average in arrests and expulsions, higher in referrals and about the same on suspensions. WTVJ.

LGBT sign stays: A Milton High School junior will be allowed to keep a “So gay I can’t even drive straight” sticker in her car window. Rachel Campbell was cited by a school police officer for the sign, calling it a violation of a school policy prohibiting “offensive or obscene” tags or stickers. Campbell said she wouldn’t remove it, and now principal Tim Short says it can stay. Northwest Florida Daily News. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Testing reform, funding, incentives and more

Testing reforms: Under the proposed “Fewer, Better Tests” bills filed Wednesday in the Legislature, all K-12 assessment testing would take place in the final three weeks of the school year, starting in the 2017-2018. S.B. 926 and H.B. 773 would also require results be returned to teachers within a week of testing, and that an understandable report be sent to parents. It also directs the education commissioner to study the feasibility of replacing the Florida Standards Assessments with the SAT or ACT. If the changes are approved, the state would also have to renegotiate its contract with testing vendor American Institutes for Research. Bill sponsors Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami; Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah; and Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, say the goal of the bills is to reduce stress and anxiety among students, parents and teachers. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. News Service of Florida.

Per-student funding: Florida’s spending per student ranks well below the U.S. average among states, according to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics. In the 2013-2014 school year, Florida spent $8,714 per student. The U.S. average was $10,936. Miami-Dade County spent the most per student among districts, $9,106. Gradebook.

Teaching incentives: Senators on the Florida PreK-12 education budget committee react coolly to Gov. Rick Scott’s $58 million proposal for incentives to recruit and retain teachers. Specifically, senators criticized Scott’s proposal for $10 million in hiring bonuses for new teachers who score in the top 10 percent in their subject-area exam. “It concerns me that we continue to look for the best performers in college — and not the best teachers,” said Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze. Miami Herald.

Gun-free zones: Bills filed in the Legislature this week are aimed at ending gun-free zones in Florida – including at K-12 schools. Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, and Rep. Don Hahnfeldt, R-Villages, filed S.B. 908 and H.B. 803 to eliminate all restrictions on where people with concealed-carry permits can take their guns. Miami Herald. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Testing, charters, student ID cards and more

Testing reform: Three legislators say they will file a bill today that would cut back on state-required assessment testing. The “Fewer, Better Tests” bill’s goals are to cut down on and improve state tests, move the exams to later in the school year, get the test results to teachers sooner, and provide better student score reports. Filing the bill are Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami; Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah; and Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor. Sunshine State NewsGradebook. The Manatee County School Board tables a discussion on a proposal to limit district-required testing. Bradenton Herald.

Charter school takeovers: Members of the House education committee who are discussing district methods of turning around underperforming schools say districts should consider allowing charter school companies to take over operations at those schools. This week, the Florida Board of Education will consider a plan to make the Jefferson County School District a charter district. Politico Florida.

Student ID cards: The Duval County School District will issue new student IDs that are linked to data such as grades, academic progress, attendance and discipline. Students would have to swipe the cards when they get on and off school buses and when they go to classes. The setup cost is $1.1 million, with a $123,500 annual fee. Florida Times-Union.

School recess: The 2016 bill that would have required daily recess at all Florida elementary schools also would have prohibited teachers from withholding recess for misbehaving students. This year that provision has been stripped out of the recess bills, at the insistence of two powerful legislators who say they don’t want to take away teachers’ flexibility. Miami Herald. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Retention suit, DeVos, weapons, adoptions and more

Retention appeal: At least two judges on the three-member First District Court of Appeal seem skeptical of a Leon County judge’s decision against the state and several school districts over retention and promotion policies for third-graders, and of the actions of parents whose children opt out of testing. That judge, Karen Gievers, ruled that students could not be retained solely on the basis of standardized test scores and should have options for earning promotion, The state and districts appealed. Tampa Bay Times. News Service of FloridaPolitico Florida.

DeVos confirmation: School choice advocate Betsy DeVos is confirmed as U.S. education secretary on a 51-50 vote. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush says DeVos will transfer power from the federal government and teachers unions and give it to states and parents. redefinED. Tampa Bay TimesPolitico Florida. Sunshine State News.

Weapons at schools: The Duval County School District is setting up a dedicated hotline to report weapons or violence at schools. Officials will also increase random searches at schools, and talk more to students about guns and violence. There have been 10 incidents of weapons found at the district’s public and charter schools this school year. Florida Times-Union.

Adoption help: A bill is being drafted that would extend state adoption benefits to charter school employees. Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, is working on a bill that would amend the law and give the benefit – up to $10,000 for special needs children or those from a racially mixed family – to charter and virtual schools workers. Lakeland Ledger.

Marijuana meeting: South Florida law enforcement and school officials meet to discuss what kind of medical marijuana rules are needed to protect students and still give people the access they need to the drug. Miami-Dade School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho wants no medical marijuana dispensaries within 2,500 feet of schools, and said packaging must not look like candy or soda. WTVJ.
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Florida schools roundup: Teacher shortage, Dreamers, Dr. King and more

florida-roundup-logoTeacher shortage: Duval County School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti wants to convert instructional coaches and interventionists into teachers in classrooms, as the district continues to struggle to fill open positions. Vitti, who had pushed for those coaching positions, now believes it’s more important to have qualified teachers in the classrooms. The district has nearly 200 openings. Several school board members are reluctant to commit to the change, saying they are worried about reversing recent reading improvements. Florida Times-Union.

Dreamers worry: More than 100,000 undocumented immigrants have been living in the United States, going to school and working under President Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. These Dreamers, as they are known, are worried that President-elect Donald Trump will follow through on his campaign pledge to end the program and send them back to their home countries. “I established my whole life here now, and it will be difficult if he does repeal it,” says Ahtziry Barrera, who graduated from Orlando’s Colonial High School in 2016 and is a first-year student at Rollins College. Orlando Sentinel. Politico Florida.

Lawsuit settlement: The Palm Beach County School Board is expected to approve a $4.7 million settlement this week with a student who suffered brain damage when a tractor tire exploded in his high school automotive repair class in 2013. Dustin Reinhardt lost one of his eyes, much of his face and part of his brain in the accident at Seminole Ridge High. The board will pay $300,000 now, and the rest has to be approved by the Legislature. Sun-Sentinel.

Teaching MLK: Teachers in St. Augustine schools try to weave the history Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made in the city into their lessons. St. Augustine Record. Continue Reading →

School choice programs adapt to help young adults with special needs

When people learn Robert Breske is the father of a teenager with Down syndrome, they sometimes tell him they’re sorry. That isn’t what he wants to hear. He’ll tell them children like his soon-to-be-15-year-old son, Bobby, have changed his life — and the world — for the better.

“They are closest things to God,” he said during an event earlier this month at Orlando’s Morning Star Catholic School, a faith-based special education center Bobby attends. “They are that way all through their whole lives.”

Bishop Noonan

Bishop John Noonan blesses a new transition facility for young adults with special needs at Morning Star Catholic School in Orlando.

In recent decades, advances in medicine and early intervention programs have made their lives richer and longer than ever. And that has created a new set of questions for parents like Breske, whose special-needs children will need to prepare for life as adults.

Public policy is starting to adapt. Recent federal legislation created savings accounts that can help adults with special needs pay their living expenses. New Florida laws promote college and career-training programs. And schools, both public and private, have expanded programs aimed at preparing students like Bobby to get part-time jobs and care for themselves.

The elder Breske was helping unveil a renovated house at Morning Star. The structure once housed nuns on the 56-year-old school site, but it’s been converted to help students in its young-adult transition program learn how to cook, clean and live independently. Recent changes to Florida educational choice programs mean similar programs could soon be growing at private schools around the state.

“We all know we’re going to away one day,” Breske said, describing the anxiety many parents feel as their special needs children grow older. “And what’s going to happen to them?”

Camille Gardiner, who also has a son with Down syndrome, said parents like her were less likely to face that question a generation ago. In the 1970s, children born with Down syndrome were only expected to live into their 20s. Now, their life expectancy is about 60. As a devout Catholic, she said, “I have come to realize that being pro-life does not end at the birth of a child. In many ways, that’s where it starts.”

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