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Florida schools roundup: Testing extension, ESSA plan reviewed and more

Testing extension: The Florida Department of Education has agreed to extend the window for the Florida Standards Assessments testing and all state end-of-course exams. School districts had asked for a delay in the testing because of a busy hurricane season that caused many districts to miss days of school. Instead, K-12 Chancellor Herschel Lyons extended the testing time-frame by a week. The decision gives districts the option of delaying the tests, or using the full two weeks to complete them. Gradebook.

ESSA plans: A group of 45 bipartisan reviewers gives Florida’s plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act mixed reviews, with no one awarding the state the highest rating in any of the nine categories studied. The strengths of the plan include a clear, student-focused vision of high standards, an easy-to-understand grading system, inclusion of science and social studies assessments, and the identification of struggling schools. The highest marks came in academic progress, for measuring learning gains, and in continuous improvement for identifying struggling schools and helping them improve. The weaknesses: incorporating subgroups into the accountability system, and in marking progress toward English language proficiency. The 74.

Dangerous school zones: Miami-Dade County has the most dangerous school zones in Florida, according to an analysis of vehicle crash data from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles by San Diego company 1Point21Interactive. Eight schools in the county are in the state’s top 10 most dangerous school zones. Miami Herald.

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Florida schools roundup: Scholarship fund, Scientology, sales tax and more

Scholarship fund empty: The state’s Gardiner scholarship, which is awarded to students with special needs, has exhausted all its available funding for the first time since it began in 2014. About 10,500 students are receiving the scholarship this year, and another 1,270 have been approved but are on a waiting list. “We have definitely exhausted every last dollar, every last penny,” says Gina Lynch, vice president of operations for Step Up For Students, which helps administer the program and hosts this blog. “There is healthy demand for the program.The program allows families to pay for a wide range of education-related expenses, from therapy and homeschool curriculum to public school courses and private school tuition, for qualifying children with special needs.” redefinED.

Schools and Scientology: Several Florida private schools participating in school choice scholarship programs use learning concepts developed by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, reports the Huffington Post.

Sales tax squabble: Members of the Manatee County School Board still can’t agree on a date for an election asking voters to increase property taxes for schools, how to sell the referendum or even how much to assess voters. The squabbling has led board member Dave Miner to call for the removal of Scott Hopes as board chairman. Miner says Hopes misled the board about his support for the special election when he was chosen as chairman just two weeks ago. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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Florida schools roundup: Test waivers, students save bookstore and more

Test waivers request: Districts around the state that have seen spikes in enrollment due to this season’s hurricanes are requesting waivers from the state of the testing requirements for graduation for those students. Without the waivers, officials from the districts say, many students will be held back even though they were on track to graduate from their island schools. “I think that if they were demonstrating on-grade proficiency in Puerto Rico, if they were on track in terms of credits necessary for graduation, if they have met the prerequisites for graduation, then I think a degree of compassion ought to be extended to them and provide them safe passage to the graduation stage,” says Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. More than 8,500 students from the islands have enrolled in Florida schools, and more are expected. The 74.

Students save bookstore: Third-graders at Tomoka Elementary School in Ormond Beach are credited with saving a Barnes & Noble bookstore that was in danger of closing. Students wrote a letter to the company CEO, asking him for help, and he intervened to get the Daytona Beach store’s lease extended. “I thought it was very empowering for our students to learn that their voice can make a significant change,” says Tomoka principal Susan Tuten. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Mental health counselors: St. Johns County School Board members will consider a proposal to place a licensed mental health counselor at every school in the district. School officials say the cost would be covered through “defined member benefits” of individual insurance or government assistance plans. These counselors, also called motivational coaches, would be provided by the Motivational Coaches of America Inc. of Doral. If the board approves the plan, a pilot program will run from January to June at several middle and high schools. St. Augustine Record.

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Florida schools roundup: School property taxes, immigration and more

Education budget: In his budget proposal, Gov. Rick Scott wants local school boards to keep property taxes at their current levels so rising property values can produce extra funds for school districts. Florida Education Secretary Pam Stewart concurs, saying it’s the only way districts can get the extra funds they need. But the Florida House balked at that suggestion last year, calling it a tax hike, and is expected to resist again when the Legislature convenes next month. Stewart says the districts need the extra money to supplement what they get from the state and help pay for the influx of students from Puerto Rico and other islands that were devastated by hurricanes. “We’d find ourselves unable to do that (get to the $7,497 per-student spending called for in Scott’s budget) if we didn’t leave the RLE (required local effort) at the current level,” she told members of a Senate education panel. News Service of FloridaWFSU. Florida Politics.

Puerto Rican migration: Quality education is one of the primary motivations for Puerto Rican families moving into Florida, and particularly central Florida, according to Orlando real estate consultant Jose Hoyos. “They say, ‘I am here because these public schools are like the private schools in Puerto Rico,’ ” he says. “They don’t mind working here for $10 an hour because their children are getting a good education.” The number of Puerto Ricans in five central Florida counties (Orange, Osceola, Hillsborough, Polk and Seminole) grew by more than 115,000 between 2010 and 2016, U.S. Census reports show. Orlando Sentinel.

Reporting sexual abuse: The Miami-Dade County School Board approves a program to help students at all grade levels to spot inappropriate sexual behavior, and how to report it, and to help parents spot signs of sexual abuse in their children. The board sets a February deadline for having a completed plan on classes and communication. Miami Herald.

Finding gifted students: Educators from Washington state are looking to the Miami-Dade School District as a model for increasing and diversifying the students who are accepted into gifted programs. Miami-Dade uses a two-tier system to determine gifted eligibility: middle-class and affluent students need IQ scores of at least 130, while low-income children or English-learners can get in with scores of 117 if they demonstrate creativity and academic achievement. Plan B was approved by the Florida Legislature in 1991, though not many districts use it because of the expense. Seattle Times.

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Florida schools roundup: Scholarship reforms, Bright Futures bill and more

Scholarship reforms: School choice advocates recommend a series of reforms at a House education subcommittee hearing Wednesday called to discuss concerns about oversight of private K-12 schools that receive money from one of the state’s scholarship programs. Doug Tuthill, president of Step Up For Students, which helps administer two of the programs and hosts this blog, says the state should eliminate the cap on inspections of those private schools, have fire and inspection reports submitted directly to the state, and demand those schools adopt stronger financial reporting requirements. Orlando SentinelredefinED.

Bright Futures: The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approves a bill that would permanently expand Bright Futures scholarships. S.B. 4 would fully fund Bright Futures scholarships for about 41,000 students who have a grade point average of at least a 3.5 as well as a score of 1,290 on the SAT or a 29 on the ACT, and provide 75 percent funding to Medallion scholars. It now goes to the Senate floor. Sunshine State News. Meanwhile, a House committee approves a “Sunshine scholarship” proposal that would cover tuition and fees for students entering the Florida College System whose family income is less than $50,000. Politico Florida.

Virtual teachers’ union: Administrators of the Florida Virtual School are fighting back against a drive to unionize the school’s teachers. “We believe that a union is not needed here at FLVS and that bringing a union into our school can drastically affect our relationship with you,” CEO Jodi Marshall wrote in an email to the staff. “That is why we intend to oppose the union by every legal means available to us.” Gradebook.

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Florida schools roundup: Bright Futures, union bill, impact fees and more

Bright Futures: Florida Senate leaders want to amend the higher education bill by incorporating the proposed Bright Futures expansion into it. The bill would expand and fully fund Bright Futures scholarships and restore Medallion coverage to pay for 75 percent of tuition and fees. It would also roll the $130 million for the programs into the legislation. Last year the money was put in the general fund and was available for just one year. Legislators are trying to make the expansion permanent. If the bill is approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee today, it moves on to the Senate floor. Politico Florida.

Union bill advances: A bill that could affect Florida teacher unions is approved by the House’s Government Accountability Committee. The bill requires all public-sector unions whose dues-paying membership falls below 50 percent of all those eligible to reapply for certification. The bill exempts unions representing police officers, firefighters and prison guards. The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, says it will make unions more accountable. Critics call it a “union-busting” bill. Politico Florida. WCTV. Florida Politics. WFSU. Capitol News Service.

Impact fees: Senate lawmakers continue to work on amending a bill that spells out when government agencies such as school districts can start collecting impact fees from housing developers. Developers want the fees payment as late as possible. The original bill called for fees to be due when a certificate of occupancy is issued. One of many amendments changes the date to when the building permit is issued. It’s favored by government agencies, which want to collect the money sooner so they can start building infrastructure such as schools. Politico Florida.

Teachers honored: Kyle Dencker, a computer science teacher at Timber Creek High School in Orlando, is named the Orange County School District’s teacher of the year. Orlando Sentinel. Five finalists are named for the Hillsborough County School District’s teacher of the year. They are: Jennifer Jackson, 7th grade science, Stewart Middle; Alexa Trafficante, 4th grade, Gorrie Elementary; Bonnie Bresnyan, exceptional student education, Lewis Elementary; Nicole Meyerson, 5th grade, Carrollwood Elementary; and Lisabeth Leist, math, Steinbrenner High. Four finalists also are chosen for diversity educator of the year and for instructional support employee of the year. Winners will be announced Jan. 16. Tampa Bay Times.

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Florida schools roundup: Teacher evaluations, graduation rates and more

Teacher evaluations: Local school boards would be given the power to set evaluation standards for teachers, if a bill filed in the House gets through the Legislature next year. H.B. 427, filed by Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando, would allow school districts to opt out of the state teacher evaluation and merit pay plan and give them the option of creating their own standards for evaluating teachers. “It would return the authority back to the local school board, which I think is very important,” says Orange County School Board member Linda Kobert. Florida Politics.

Graduation rates: The U.S. high school graduation rate hit an all-time high at 84.1 percent in 2016, according to data from the National Center for Education. In 2015 it was 83.2 percent. Florida’s graduation rate was 80.7 percent. White students graduated at an 85.1 percent rate, blacks at 72.3 percent and Hispanics at 75.6 percent. Education Week.

Contract negotiations: The Hillsborough County teachers union calls the latest pay offer from the school district disappointing. The district is offering $1.8 million for bonuses to spread among the 20,000 employees represented by the union. The union has asked for the raises school officials promised years ago, which the district says could cost it as much as $17 million and which it says it cannot afford. “This is a pay cut,” says Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, the union’s executive director, who says the offer is $92 per person before taxes and won’t cover the increase in health insurance premiums. “I can’t see that satisfying people.” Tampa Bay Times. WTSP. Negotiations between Brevard teachers and the school district resume, but little progress over raises is made. The district is offering $876 to the highest-rated teachers and $600 to effective ones. Union officials countered with a $1,075 raise for highly effective teachers and $800 for effective ones. Florida Today. Space Coast Daily.

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Florida schools roundup: Textbook challenges, school taxes and more

Textbook challenges: A bill is filed that would expand the law allowing anyone to challenge materials used in public school classrooms. H.B. 827, filed by state Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, would give challengers the right to challenge books and also suggest replacements to both local school boards and the State Board of Education. Those boards would then be required to ask publishers of the suggested alternatives if they wanted to make a pitch for public school business. Right now, nearly every state school district buys textbooks for core courses from a state-approved list that is reviewed by teachers and experts hired by the Florida Department of Education. Orlando Sentinel.

School tax hike: The Palm Beach County School District is considering asking voters to raise their property taxes so the district can boost teacher salaries. School officials say the only way experienced teachers can expect significant raises is if voters agree to boost the current $25 tax per $100,000 of assessed property value to $45. That tax was approved in 2010 to provide money to hire teachers for arts, music, physical education and specialized choice programs, and generated about $43 million last year. The tax is up for renewal next November. Palm Beach Post.

Schools of Hope: House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, says charter schools opening under the state’s “Schools of Hope” legislation must be innovative and go to the areas with the greatest needs. “For our movement, we need to be careful and continue to go out there and innovate and have the success … rather than go out there and there is money to be made opening up in this nice neighborhood,” Corcoran said at the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s national meeting in Nashville last week. redefinED.

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