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Florida schools roundup: No special session, lawsuit support, taxes and more

No special session: There won’t be a special legislative session to reconsider education funding, according to the latest polling results from Department of State officials. Polling doesn’t end until Thursday, but already 52 Republican members of the House have voted against having a special session, while 36 Democrats voted for it. Three-fifths of each chamber must support the request, made by two Democratic representatives, to require a special session. So supporters needed 70 votes in the House, and the most they can now get is 65. Eleven senators have voted yes, and nine have voted no. Associated Press. News Service of FloridaPolitico Florida.

H.B. 7069 lawsuit: Ten members of the 1998 Constitution Revision Commission are asking to file a friend of the court brief on behalf of the school districts challenging the constitutionality of the Legislature’s 2017 education law, H.B. 7069. The 10 say they are the framers of the 1998 ballot measure that inserted a clause into the constitution that requires the state to provide a high-quality system of public schools, and they want to convey their intent behind the amendment to the Florida Supreme Court. Among the 10 are former attorney general Bob Butterworth, former Supreme Court justice Gerald Kogan and former speaker of the House Jon Mills. The state is objecting. News Service of Florida.

School taxes: The Orange County Commission approves a request from the school board to place a special school property tax referendum on the Aug. 28 primary ballot. The tax has been approved by voters in 2010 and 2014, and a yes vote in August would keep it in place another four years. School officials estimate the tax would raise $622 million through 2023, and the money would be used for teacher raises, academic programs, the arts and extracurricular activities. Orlando Sentinel. Martin County commissioners approve the school district’s request to put two tax measures on upcoming ballots. A half-mill property tax hike for teacher pay and security goes onto the Aug. 28 ballot, It would raise about $11 million a year for four years. A half-cent sales tax increase for school construction will go to voters Nov. 6. It would raise about $112 million over seven years. TCPalm. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Rules for scholarships, special session and more

Scholarship rules: The Florida Department of education proposes rules for two new state scholarships. A one-page set of rules is proposed to determine eligibility for bullied students to receive state scholarships to attend new schools. The Hope Scholarship would be available for students who report being bullied or attacked. If they win approval, students could take the scholarship money and enroll in a private school or use it for transportation to another public school. A requirement that families substantiate the incident for which they are seeking a voucher has been removed. The other scholarship provides tutoring help for struggling elementary school readers. The Florida Board of Education has a public workshop June 6 to discuss the rules. Gradebook. Politico Florida.

Special session polling: Early polling results show a lack of support among legislators to call a special session to deal with education funding, according to Department of State officials. As of late Monday afternoon, 27 Florida House members supported a special session, while 36 opposed. Seven senators back the move, and six do not. Three-fifths of each chamber must support the request, made by two Democratic representatives, in order for a special session to be called. That means 70 yes votes in the House and 23 in the Senate. Polling ends Thursday at noon. News Service of Florida.

Virtual teachers out: Twelve out-of-state Florida Virtual School (FLVS) teachers and support staff were dismissed Friday. FLVS officials announced earlier this month that they intended to bring all jobs back into Florida, and gave 33 out-of-state employees a few days to decide if they would relocate. FLVS spokeswoman Tania Clow says some employees “decided to relocate, others retired and others took positions with FLVS Global.” WKMG. A technical glitch takes FLVS offline for hours on Monday. WKMG. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Superintendent named, tests, 47 cents, appeal and more

New superintendent: Diana Greene is chosen as the new superintendent of the Duval County School System. Greene, who has been superintendent of the Manatee County district since 2015, was unanimously approved by the school board. She replaces Nikolai Vitti, who left last summer to take the top job in Detroit. Greene started her teaching career in Duval before moving into administration. At Manatee, she is credited with turning around a difficult financial situation while improving student achievement. In Duval, Greene will immediately have to contend with a $62 million budget deficit. Greene’s start date and salary have yet to be negotiated. Florida Times-Union. WJXTBradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Smooth testing season: Florida Standards Assessments testing ended last week, and Florida Department of Education officials say there were few reports of problems with the test. Students took 4.2 million computerized tests and another 1.2 million with paper and pencil, and the only issues reported were local Internet and power outages. Results are expected in June. Gradebook.

Ad rebuts 47-cent claim: Florida House Republican leaders are fighting back against the claim by educators that the Legislature’s funding for schools amounts to just 47 more cents for each student. Calling it the “47 cent myth,” the lawmakers contend in a 5-minute online ad that they bumped per-student spending by $101.50, an all-time high, and that they put requirements on some of the increases to stop districts from squandering the extra money. “That’s why we put this $100 increase in per student funding directly into the classroom, bypassing the bureaucracy,” the narrator of the ads says. “To them [bureaucrats], it’s not about kids. It’s about control.” Gradebook. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Effects of ending tenure, special session and more

Tenure and achievement: When Florida legislators eliminated teacher tenure in 2011, they argued that making it easier to get rid of bad teachers could lead to better student academic results. Seven years later, a study finds that achievement by students in vulnerable schools has improved only slightly, and that there’s no conclusive way to tell if the elimination of tenure played a role in that modest success. “The intent (of the statute) was to raise student achievement by improving the quality of instructional, administrative and supervisory services in the public schools,” write researchers Celeste Carruthers, David Figlio and Tim Sass. “Whether (the law) or policies like it succeed in attracting and retaining high quality teachers remains an open question.” Brookings Institution. Gradebook.

Special session request: Democrats in the Legislature resort to an obscure rule to force a poll of all lawmakers on the idea of calling a special session to deal with educational funding. Ordinarily, Senate and House leaders decide if a special session is needed. But when they resisted, 35 Democratic members filed petitions with the secretary of state to conduct the poll; 32 are required to force the polling. They don’t expect to be successful, but say it will put legislators on the record in an election year. Answers to the poll are due May 24. Gradebook.

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Florida schools roundup: Tougher tests, Schools of Hope, top employee and more

Testing standards toughened: The Florida Board of Education adopts tougher standards for the state exams high school students must pass to graduate. The board also eliminated the Post Secondary Education Readiness Test, one of the alternatives for students who don’t pass the state exams. Alternatives to the state tests are now the SAT, ACT and just-added PSAT, though the board also boosted the scores needed on those tests to qualify for graduation. The new standards go into effect for students entering high school this fall. Educators protested the changes, saying they will significantly lower graduation rates. Orlando Sentinel. Gradebook. News Service of FloridaPolitico Florida. WFTS. Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart announces that she’s retiring Jan. 8, the day Gov. Rick Scott leaves office, though she says she’s open to staying on if the next governor asks her to. Stewart has been in the job since 2013, when she replaced Tony Bennett after he resigned. Gradebook.

Schools of Hope: The Board of Education also approves two new Schools of Hope operators, bringing the state’s total to four. Schools of Hope qualify for special financing and grants to expand services and increase instructional time. Officials for KIPP New Jersey and Democracy Prep Public Schools say they look forward to working with school districts and the state to put schools in areas where traditional public schools have struggled. KIPP is helping create a new school in Miami in a partnership with the Miami-Dade district, while Democracy Prep wants to complement KIPP in Miami and is also looking into places like Polk and Hillsborough counties. redefinED.

Employee of the year: Stephanie Melton, an exceptional student education behavioral health assistant at W.E. Cherry Elementary School in Clay County, is selected by the Florida Department of Education as the 2018 school-related employee of the year. She wins $10,000. The other finalists — Sylvester Jones of Bay County; Jermaine Green of Miami-Dade County; Debra Canning of Pinellas County; and Sarah Woods of Sarasota County — each win $6,500. Florida Department of Education.

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Florida schools roundup: Security, deputy’s pension, charters and more

School security: St. Petersburg officials reverse themselves and say they will not take 25 police officers off the streets to work as resource officers in the city’s elementary schools. City officials point to the cost, more than $3 million, and a reluctance to remove officers from their beats. The decision means the Pinellas County School District will hire security guards for those roles until the district can expand its own police department. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. The Flagler County School Board approves an agreement with the sheriff to split the $1.8 million cost to increase the number of resource officers in schools to 13. Flagler Live. WJXT. A majority of Lake County students want the school district to arm school personnel, reinforce locks and doors in schools and integrate a mental health curriculum into their classes, according to a survey conducted by a student advisory committee. Daily Commercial. The Sarasota County School Board’s creation of an independent police force gets debated further at a Sarasota Republican Club meeting attended by supporters and critics of the decision. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

A school deputy’s pension: The Broward County sheriff’s deputy who took cover outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and waited while 17 people were shot to death is now receiving an $8,702.35-a-month-for-life pension from the state. Scot Peterson, 55, retired under fire eight days after the shootings in Parkland Feb. 14. Sun-Sentinel.

Charter schools: Sarasota County School Board members deny an application from a controversial charter school company. The plan to put Pinecrest Academy in the Palmer Ranch area drew an organized protest from people who criticized Academica, the management company behind the charter school. Board members framed their decision on the larger issue of public education’s future, and also made the distinction between Miami-based Academica and the homegrown charters already in the county. “I don’t think it’s a good use of our tax dollars to turn it around and give it to a for-profit company that’s out of the county,” said board member Shirley Brown. The company is expected to appeal the decision to the state appeals commission. A second charter school application, for the K-5 Dreamers Academy with an English-Spanish immersion program, was withdrawn. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. redefinED. After 22 years of operation, the Escambia Charter School is closing at the end of the school year. The school in Gonzalez has struggled financially for years because of declining enrollment, according to school district officials. WEAR. WKRG. NorthEscambia.com. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Superintendent resigning, security in schools and more

School superintendents: Desmond Blackburn, superintendent of the Brevard County School District since June 2015, is resigning to become the CEO of the California-based New Teacher Center, a national nonprofit that trains and mentors new teachers. Blackburn’s last day is no later than Aug. 10. The school board will discuss its search for a new superintendent at a meeting today. The highlights of Blackburn’s tenure include a restructuring of district operations, scaling back teacher evaluations and district-required testing, and developing a new discipline policy. Florida Today. Space Coast Daily. Spectrum News 13. Viera Voice. WKMG. Sun-Sentinel. The Duval County School Board picks three finalists for its superintendent’s job: Diana Greene, Manatee County superintendent; Erick Pruitt, area superintendent of Houston schools; and Michael Dunsmore, superintendent of Wayne County schools in North Carolina. Interview are this week and a decision could be announced as early as 4 p.m. Friday. Florida Times-Union. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School security: Volusia County school officials are now considering hiring 44 armed “school marshals” for each of their elementary schools. Hiring marshals, who would not have the authority to make arrests, would save the district more than $1 million a year because they would work only during the school year. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The Cape Coral City Council commits $1 million to help pay for 22 resource officers so every city school will be covered. Fort Myers News-Press. Just a few days after creating positions for security guards, the Pasco County School District has begun hiring. Nine offers for the jobs of guarding elementary schools have been made, and another 28 have been approved but are awaiting background checks. The district plans to hire 53 guards and a security director. Gradebook. Stanley Switlik Elementary School in Key West will get a school resource officer from the sheriff for the last two weeks of school. Next year the school district will be responsible for the officer, says Sheriff Rick Ramsay. Florida Keys Weekly. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Culture of leniency, school security, pre-K and more

A district’s discipline: The Broward County School District has developed a culture of leniency that allows students to commit what could be considered criminal offenses with little or no punishment and treats students as first-time offenders even if it’s their 10th offense for the same thing, according to discipline records and people familiar with the process. The emphasis on promoting punishment alternatives, known as the Promise program, provides a public relations boost with fewer arrests, expulsions and suspensions for misbehaving students, but has led to a message that “the students are untouchable. Habitual negative behavior means nothing anymore,” according to notes from a recent faculty meeting. Sun-Sentinel. The district’s response to the siege it’s been under for the shooting and the discipline problems has been to try to withhold information and to release statements that are later shown to be incorrect. Superintendent Robert Runcie has even blocked parents from his Twitter account, saying he won’t tolerate “profanity, hate speech or false information.” Sun-Sentinel.

School security: With a deadline approaching and under financial pressure, the Pinellas County School District is now planning to hire armed guards for some positions as a “stopgap measure” to provide security to all schools. Some school board members say they prefer school resource officers, but that Superintendent Michael Grego’s latest plan is understandable as a temporary solution. Tampa Bay Times. Volusia County officials say the school district and sheriff need to develop a plan on school safety before the county commits any money to help pay for it. The agencies meet today to discuss how to proceed to get an armed officer in schools before they reopen in August. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Two months after it passed, the state’s gun reform law is still a focus of debates in school districts. WFSU. WUSF.

Student preparedness: About 45 percent of the students in the state’s voluntary pre-K program students are not ready for kindergarten, according to a report from the state’s Office of Early Learning. The report also concludes that about 42 percent of the state’s VPK providers should be put on probation for having fewer than 60 percent of their students pass the state’s readiness test, but the office is asking for one more grace year before implementing that provision. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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