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Florida schools roundup: Amendment 8 suit, charter schools, unions and more

Amendment 8 lawsuit: Amendment 8 is misleading and should be removed from the ballot, the League of Women Voters and the Southern Poverty Law Center argue in a lawsuit filed Thursday in Leon County. The lawsuit focuses on the part of the proposed amendment that would allow allow entities other than school boards to “operate, control, and supervise” public schools. “Voters will not recognize that the real purpose of the amendment is to allow unaccountable political appointees to control where and when charter schools can be established in their county,” says LWV president Patricia Brigham. The amendment would also limit school board members to eight years in office and require the teaching of civics in public schools. redefinED. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. GateHouse. News Service of FloridaFlorida Politics. Politico Florida.

Charter school appeals: The Florida Charter Schools Appeal Commission is recommending that the state Board of Education override the Palm Beach County School Board’s decision to deny two charter school applications. And Education Commissioner Pam Stewart is recommending the board go along with the appeal commission’s advice when it meets next week. Charters that don’t fill a specific niche have been getting turned down by the Palm Beach board for the past five years. But as Stewart points out in her memo to the state board, “The school board’s determination must be based on good cause.” Gradebook.

Union membership: Teachers unions in Orange, Lake, Osceola and Seminole counties say membership is on the upswing since the state passed a law requiring unions to have at least 50 percent membership of eligible workers or risk being decertified. Union officials in all four counties say the recent swell has pushed each past the 50 percent threshhold. Teachers unions in 13 districts have membership below 50 percent but most have been adding members, according to Joanne McCall, president of the statewide Florida Education Association. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Amendment 8 funding, charters, dispensaries and more

Charters and Amendment 8: Charter school companies are providing the bulk of the financial support for Amendment 8, the proposed constitutional amendment that would impose a two-term limit on Florida school board members, require civics literacy and give the Legislature more authority to create alternatives to public schools, such as charter schools. The 8isGreat.org political committee has raised $54,532 in support of Amendment 8 through June, according to state election records. Amendments need the approval of 60 percent of voters to be enacted. News Service of Florida.

Charter school funding: Whether charter schools can expect an equal per-student share of school district money raised when voters approve an increase in property taxes hinges on a legal interpretation. State law requires districts to share “current operating discretionary millage levy” with charter schools, but the Palm Beach County School Board recently got a legal opinion that says it does not. The school board will decide next week whether to share increased revenue if voters approve an increase in property taxes. redefinED.

Schools and pot dispensaries: Duval County School Board members are asking local officials to add restrictions to keep medical marijuana dispensaries from opening near three-dozen schools. They say because the facilities deal in cash, they could become robbery targets. “We have had enough code red lockdowns in the past year,” says board member Warren Jones. “There’s no need to increase them because a marijuana facility was robbed.” Jacksonville City Council members say by law, dispensaries must be treated like pharmacies and can open in most commercial areas. Florida Times-Union. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Hope Scholarship, Kavanaugh and more

Hope Scholarship delays: While the new state scholarship for bullied students technically begins when school resumes in August, funds for the Hope Scholarships won’t be available until after Oct. 1 and possibly not until later in November. The scholarships will be funded through voluntary donations of the $105 from the sales tax that drivers pay for vehicle transactions. The collections do not begin until Oct. 1 and car dealers have 20 days to report their previous month’s tax collections, which could delay the money being available until Nov. 20 or later. The scholarships are available on a first-come, first-served basis, and state analysts project a demand of about $27 million in the first year. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, will help administer the program. News Service of Florida.

Kavanaugh and education: U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has defended then-Gov. Jeb Bush’s Florida school vouchers program against a constitutional challenge in 2000, publicly praised attempts to break down the barriers between religious schools participating in programs financed with public funds, and supported the use of public address systems for student-led prayers at public school events in Texas. The 74. Miami Herald. Politico. Sun-Sentinel. Education Week. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Framers may file brief, lawsuit threat, bond projects and more

Framers may weigh in: The so-called “framers” of the 1998 constitutional amendment that requires the state to provide high-quality public schools will be allowed to file a brief in a court challenge of a state education law, the Florida Supreme Court rules. The group Citizens for Strong Schools is suing the state, claiming it is not fulfilling its obligation to provide a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system” of public schools. Ten of the members of the 1998 Constitution Revision Commission had asked to be allowed to file a brief on their intent in the phrasing of the amendment, in support of the suit. The state objected, and will still be allowed to challenge the brief. News Service of Florida.

Union threatens lawsuit: The Florida Education Association says it will file suit today against the portion of H.B. 7055 that allows teachers unions to be decertified if they can’t maintain more than half the eligible membership. “This is about equity and fairness, and being targeted and singled out,” says FEA president Joanne McCall, who says the law applies only to teachers unions. Gradebook.

Broward bond projects: A watchdog group says it’s time for the Broward County School District to outline a plan for fixing decaying schools or admitting it can’t be done before the deadline it set. Florida TaxWatch, which was hired by the district to monitor the progress of the work scheduled under an $800 million bond referendum approved in 2014, found that only 10 percent of the identified projects have been completed and only 12 percent are under construction. “We are desperately behind and we need to know why,” says board member Heather Brinkworth. Sun-Sentinel. A timeline of the bond program. Sun-Sentinel. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Investigation on testing urged, security deal and more

Testing investigation: Six conservative legislators are calling on the Florida Department of Education to investigate whether three school districts deliberately limited the number of low-performing 7th-graders taking the state end-of-course civics exam in order to earn better school grades from the state. Sen. Dennis Baxley and Reps. Jason Fischer, Michael Bileca,  James Grant, Bob Rommel and Jennifer Sullivan, all Republicans, and the Florida Coalition of School Board Members suggest that the Duval, Manatee and Polk districts limited the number of struggling students taking the test in order to boost the grades of schools and keep charter schools from moving in under the Schools of Hope law. District officials say they are simply having many of the struggling students take the test as 8th-graders, when they might be better prepared, which state law allows them to do. Gradebook. redefinED.

School security: A school safety agreement is reached between the Sarasota County School Board and Sheriff Tom Knight. The district will pay 80 percent and the sheriff 20 percent of the $1.6 million for 11 deputies to cover 10 schools, plus a lieutenant and two sergeants. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. More than 100 people have applied to become armed guardians to protect Manatee County schools. Most have law enforcement or military backgrounds, officials say. About 40 will be hired. Bradenton Herald. The city of Clermont agrees to provide resource officers for three elementary schools and a K-8 charter school. The Lake County School District will pay the city $279,653 for the officers, and a one-time fee of $211,280 for equipment, including new police cars. Daily Commercial. A coalition of law enforcement groups is looking at ways to make schools safer. The initiative is led by Max Schachter, whose son Alex died in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting Feb. 14. Schachter’s group, Safe Schools for Alex Foundation, organized the meeting of the eight groups after he discovered there is no nationally recognized list of recommendations to improve school security. Sun-Sentinel. As individual districts work to meet the state mandate for an armed guard in every school, the Florida Department of Education is working to finish setting up its Office of Safe Schools to coordinate the security efforts. Damien Kelly, formerly a public corruption inspector for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, is its director. WFSUContinue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: School grades improving, unions lose case and more

School grades improve: The number of Florida schools getting a grade of A or B from the state this year is up 2 percentage points, from 56 to 58 percent, according to the Florida Department of Education’s annual report. The state also says the number of schools receiving a D or F dropped a percentage point, from 8 to 7 percent, and 96 percent of the schools that got an F last year moved up at least one grade. More than 3,200 schools were graded, and 1,027 received an A. Districts were also graded, and 53 of the 67 got an A or B, up from 48 last year. The grades are calculated with an 11-category formula that includes student achievement, learning gains on state tests and high school graduation rates. Florida Department of EducationOrlando Sentinel. Gradebook. Here are reports from individual school districts: Miami-DadeOrange, Osceola, SeminolePalm Beach, Broward, DuvalHillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, PolkBrevard, LeonSarasota, Manatee, HighlandsLee, CollierLakeAlachua, Marion, Martin, St. Lucie, Indian RiverSt. Johns, Clay, Nassau, BakerHernando, Volusia, Flagler, Bay, EscambiaCitrus, Jefferson, Gadsden. No Florida charter school will be closed, since none received back-to-back F grades from the state. redefinED.

Ruling hits unions: The U.S. Supreme Court rules 5-4 that public labor unions, such as teachers unions, cannot compel workers who do not wish to join to pay dues to support for collective bargaining. Forcing dissenting employees to pay dues to a union is a violation of First Amendment protections, wrote Justice Samuel A. Alito for the majority. The case, Janus v. AFSCME, overturned a precedent set in the 1970s that allowed unions to collect dues for contract negotiations and other labor activities from workers who didn’t join. You can read Wednesday’s decision here. The 74. New York TimesAssociated Press. Tallahassee Democrat. Chalkbeat. Education WeekPolitico. More on the decision and the possible ramifications. The 74. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Test questions, exams weighting, security and more

Test investigation requested: Two members of Florida school districts and the Florida Coalition of School Board Members are calling for an investigation of significant decreases in the number of students from Duval, Manatee and Polk counties who took the state’s civics end-of-course exams. Polk had 3,736 fewer 7th-grade students take the exam this year, Duval 2,910 and Manatee almost 1,000, and all three districts had significantly higher pass rates. Sarasota board member Bridget Ziegler, Duval board member Scott Shine want the state to hold up the release of school grades until the issue is investigated. Manatee County Superintendent Diana Greene says her district simply allowed 7th-graders who struggle with reading to delay taking the test until 8th grade, as the state permits districts to do. “Don’t try to act like we did something wrong,” says Greene. Duval school officials also deny any impropriety. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Florida Times-UnionFlorida Politics. WJCT.

Weighting for grades: By state law, end-of-course exams must constitute 30 percent of a student’s final course grade. But different districts apply the law in different ways, and now Levy County Superintendent Jeff Edison is pressing state officials to specifically define what constitutes 30 percent of a student’s final course grade. “What we would like to be able to do is get the [lawmakers] to allow the Department of Education to have the rule-making authority to create a consistent definition of what 30 percent is,” says Edison. “Give us a uniform way of applying it. It doesn’t matter to us [what it is]. We just want it the same.” Gradebook. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: New education laws, budget woes, security and more

New education laws: More than 100 new state laws go into effect Sunday, including several related to education. H.B. 7055 will allow public school students who are bullied or harassed to be eligible for state scholarships to go to private schools. The Hope Scholarship will be funded by motorists who agree to contribute the sales taxes they would normal pay for vehicle transactions to the scholarships. The bill also boosts funds for Gardiner scholarships for students with disabilities. Other new laws set a back-to-school sales tax holiday in August, and authorize the placement of a statue of famed black educator Mary McLeod Bethune into the National Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C. News Service of Florida.

Budget problems: Budgets analysts for the Hillsborough County School District now project a $70 million gap between revenues and expenses for the 2019-2020 school year. The district will get $41 million extra from the state, but about $36 million of that goes for growth and state mandates. The extra $5 million is swallowed by higher expenses for school security, insurance and employee raises. Tampa Bay Times. Pasco County school officials are projecting a $1 million deficit in next year’s budget, but are reluctant to ask voters for additional revenue. “It sounds great,” says Superintendent Kurt Browning about the $28 million a year a 1-mill property tax hike could raise. “But when people get accustomed to having that additional money in their paychecks, and the voters don’t approve it again, that just stops. I am very hesitant.” Gradebook.

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