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Florida schools roundup: Testing bills, recess, graduation rates and more

School testing: State senators will consider competing school testing bills this week. SB 926 would push testing back to the final three weeks of the school year, and the test results would have to be returned to teachers within a week. It’s sponsored by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami. The second bill, SB 964, also delays tests until the final month of the school year, but eliminates specific tests, allows districts to give pencil-and-paper tests, and gives principals wider discretion on teacher evaluations. It’s sponsored by Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee. Tallahassee Democrat. Montford is confident his bill will be given consideration, even though it was left off the Senate Education Committee’s next meeting agenda while SB 926 was included. Gradebook. An amendment added to the Senate’s school testing bill would specify that any school board member could visit any school in his or her district at any day and any time. No school could require advance notice, and a campus escort would not be required. The amendment was proposed by Flores. Gradebook.

School recess: The House has finally scheduled a hearing for a bill that would require recess for elementary school students. But the bill, HB 67, has several significant differences from the Senate bill, which has moved through committees and is headed to the Senate floor. The House bill calls for daily recess time, but allows schools to count recess time toward physical education class requirements, allows P.E. classes to count for recess time, and removes fourth- and fifth-graders from the requirement. Miami Herald.

Graduation rates: A bill drafted late last week in the House would count students who move from traditional high schools to alternative charter or private schools in the graduation rate of the school the student left. The bill surfaced just after the Florida Department of Education announced it would investigate whether traditional high schools were pushing struggling students into alternative charter schools in order to boost their graduation rates. That investigation was sparked by a report in ProPublica in February. redefinED. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Teacher tests, minorities in AP classes and more

Teacher tests: The Florida Department of Education says a historically high percentage of people who want to be teachers are failing the Florida Teacher Certification Exam, which was recently toughened by the state. And now fewer people are taking the test, as many as 10 percent fewer for some subject areas. “We have a real crisis,” said Dr. Gloria Pelaez, St. Thomas University dean of the school of arts. “This is turning people, good intelligent people away,” said Wendy Mungillo of the Manatee County School District. Melissa Smith, for example. She’s taken and failed the test seven times, and has decided to leave the state and get a master’s degree. Department of Education officials defend the tougher exams, saying they’re in line with more rigorous tests students now take. WFTS.

Minorities and AP classes: A Palm Beach County School District analysis shows an “implicit bias” is in part responsible for lower minority participation in Advanced Placement classes. Minority students with comparable scores to white students are excluded from AP classes at a much higher rate than whites. That so-called “opportunity gap” also favors girls over boys, according to the analysis. “Students who have potential, why are they not in the courses?” Deputy Superintendent David Christiansen said. “There’s a significant gap there that we want to start to close.” Palm Beach Post.

Days lost to testing: Orange County teacher Peggy Dominguez tells a Senate committee meeting this week that she loses 37 days of her 180-day school year to preparing her students for the Florida Standards Assessments tests. Dominguez teaches English at Timber Creek High School. She and others testified about the downsides of the testing process. The Senate is considering a bill that would, among other things, push all testing to the final three weeks of the school year and authorize a study to see if the ACT or SAT tests can be used as a replacement for the FSA. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Graduation investigation, charter schools and more

Graduation investigation: The Florida Department of Education launches an investigation to see if school districts are dumping struggling students in their senior years into alternative schools to improve the graduation rates at traditional high schools. Last month, the investigative news website ProPublica reported that alternative schools in the Orange County School District are used as “release valves” that take in students unlikely to graduate. State Board of Education member Gary Chartrand described the report as a “very serious allegation,” and Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said, “It’s critical that every decision is made with the best interest of the students in mind.” Associated Press. Orlando Sentinel. WFSUPolitico Florida.

Charter capital funding: The Florida Board of Education adopts rules that would deny construction funds to charter schools that received two consecutive grades below a C from the state, starting in the 2017-2018 school year. Board members say they are simply trying to follow state law, which requires charter schools to show “satisfactory student achievement” to be eligible for capital funding from the state. Members of the Florida Association of Independent Public Schools, who challenged the rules before with state’s administrative law court, don’t like these revisions either. “This seems like deja vu all over again,” said Mark Gotz, the president of School Development Group. “Charter schools are public schools and need to be treated equally and equitably.” redefinED. Gradebook. Politico Florida.

Charter district: The plan to turn over operations of the struggling Jefferson County School District to a charter company is approved by the Florida Board of Education. The Jefferson board and Somerset Academy are expected to finalize a contract in April, with the charter company opening the county’s elementary, middle and high schools at a single location in August. Jefferson will become the first all-charter district in the state. WFSU. Tallahassee DemocratPolitico Florida.

More from state board: Department of Education officials tell the Florida Board of Education that they are proposing several amendments to the state’s rules on English-language learners (ELL) to adjust to new federal standards. One of the changes would lower the proficiency levels required for ELL students, which some critics think could push those students out of the program before they are ready. The board will vote on the proposed changes at its next meeting. Gradebook. The state board also approves a pilot program that would give select principals in seven counties greater autonomy over the operations at their schools. Broward, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Duval, Jefferson, Madison and Seminole counties will participate. redefinED. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Charter district, tests, home-schooling and more

Charter district: The Jefferson County School Board agrees to turn over operations of the district’s struggling schools to the charter school company Somerset Academy. The proposed deal will be taken to the Florida Board of Education today for approval. If the deal is approved, Jefferson would become the first charter district in the state. In its application, Somerset said it will operate an elementary, middle and high school on a single campus led by a single principal, bring in a rigorous curriculum, including Advanced Placement classes, pay teachers 7 percent more than they can get in surrounding counties, pay competitive benefits, and work to bring students attending the alternative school back into the traditional schools. redefinEDWFSU.

Testing debate: The debate over the state’s standardized testing intensifies at a Senate Education Committee meeting Tuesday. Supporters of former Gov. Jeb Bush are backing a moderate revision of the current system, while others want more significant changes, including fewer tests. Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, who is leading the committee in the medical absence of Chairwoman Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, said no decision has been made on what direction the bills will take, and that Hukill will make that call. News Service of Florida.

Help for home-schoolers: Students who are home-schooled would have greater access to college classes and career education courses offered by school districts in a bill approved by the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee. Districts also would be required to accept home-education registrations as long as parents and their children meet the state’s requirements. redefinED.

Religious expression bill: The Florida Senate moves the so-called “religious expression” bill to a third and final reading. If approved, the bill would be sent to the House, which has a slightly different version. The bill would give students more freedom to express religious thoughts in public schools. Gradebook. News Service of Florida. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Construction funds, Bright Futures, testing and more

School construction funds: Florida will be $36 million short for school construction funding in the next year if legislators do not agree to borrow money. The latest revenue estimates suggest the Public Education Capital Outlay revenue for the 2017-2018 school year will be $337 million. But state education officials have requested $373 million for projects. Gov. Rick Scott has historically been averse to such borrowing, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, has spoken out against new PECO bonding. Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has said he is open to a “reasonable” amount of bonding. News Service of Florida.

Bright Futures: A House education subcommittee approves a higher education bill that is substantially different than the one approved by the Senate. But both bills expand Bright Futures scholarships by covering full tuition and fees for qualifying students plus $300 for textbooks and other costs. Both would also allow recipients to use scholarship money for summer classes, though the Senate version restricts use to “academic scholars” while the House bill offers it for all Bright Futures recipients. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida.

Making tests available: The House PreK-12 Quality subcommittee approves a bill that would require the Florida Department of Education to post state assessment exams online after they are taken. “So much is driven around these tests,” says Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay. “I think it makes sense for us to know what we’re evaluating.” The committee also approved a bill that would allow students to satisfy graduation requirements for an arts or elective credit with a trade apprenticeship. Gradebook. Politico Florida.

PTA praises Scott budget: The Florida PTA jumps into the legislative battle over education budgets by praising Gov. Rick Scott’s. In a statement, PTA officials said: “Florida PTA applauds the governor’s request to increase total funding for K-12 education to $20.99 million, and state funding to $11.55 million, both historic highs. We likewise consider his proposed record $7420.99 in per-pupil funding a good first step toward bringing Florida closer to the national average. Equally welcome is the governor’s commitment to increasing the budgets for early learning, voluntary pre-kindergarten, and school readiness.” Gradebook. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Testing, Bright Futures, Vitti, budget and more

Testing bills: The Florida Senate Education Committee meets Tuesday to consider seven bills that could change Florida’s testing-based accounting system. Among the ideas being discussed: moving the testing to the final three weeks of the school year, ending the requirement to fail any third-grader who doesn’t pass the reading test and doesn’t have an exemption, and changing the rules on reporting test results. Gradebook. Lawmakers are pushing for tougher passing standards on the Florida Standards Assessments exams. Orlando Sentinel.

Bright Futures: Escalating eligibility standards for Bright Futures scholarships, tied to higher SAT and ACT scores, are shutting out an increasing number of students from Miami-Dade schools with large populations of low-income and minority students. At Hialeah High School, for example, almost 20 percent of students qualified for Bright Futures in 2011. By 2015, it was 8 percent. “I think the challenge with Bright Futures is that it doesn’t take into account the students who need us the most, the low-income students, the students who haven’t had the benefit of the best schools, whose parents don’t know the system and what needs to be done to get those high scores on the test,” says Lenore Rodicio, the executive vice president and provost for Miami Dade College. Miami Herald.

Vitti looks to Detroit: Duval County School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti is one of three finalists for the superintendent’s job at the Detroit Public Schools Community District. Vitti, a native of Detroit, took the job in Duval in 2012 with a mandate to change the culture and direction of the 128,000-student district. His tenure has been marked with progress in some areas, such as graduation rates, cutting into the achievement gap and creating more school choice, but also with rocky relationships with some school board members. Detroit, which once had 224,000 students, is down to 47,000, and there are more students in charter schools than in district schools. Florida Times-Union. Florida Politics. WJAX.

Budget improves slightly: State economists think Florida will have about $300 million more revenue than expected for next year’s budget, but legislators don’t think it will have much of an impact. The proposed budget is more than $82 billion. Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, says he’s happy for the forecast improvement, but says cuts are still inevitable. Naples Daily News. News Service of Florida. Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, defends the House’s budget priorities during a talk at the Panhandle Tiger Bay Club. He says cuts in education spending shouldn’t affect K-12 schools, but will have an impact on higher education. Pensacola News Journal. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Trump’s budget, recess, charter district and more

Trump’s school choice push: President Donald Trump’s first budget calls for $1.4 billion to be set aside to expand school choice, even as it cuts the overall Department of Education budget by $9 billion, or 13 percent. The federal Charter Schools Program would be boosted by 50 percent, and Trump also calls for an increase of $1 billion in Title 1 spending for high-poverty schools to provide services for low-income students. Notable cuts are in teacher training, after-school and extended-day programs, and programs for students on military bases, Native American reservations and other federal lands that are not on local tax rolls. redefinED. U.S. News & World Report. Huffington Post. Education Week. THE Journal. Miami-Dade County schools would lose about $40 million under the Trump budget, says Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, and he figures Broward County would lose about $25 million. WTVJ.

Mandatory recess: The Senate Appropriations Committee approves a bill that would require 20 minutes of daily recess in the state’s elementary schools. The bill now moves to the full Senate for a vote. The House’s identical bill has yet to get a committee hearing. Gradebook. Florida Politics. Tampa Bay Times.

Charter district: The Jefferson County School Board votes Tuesday on a charter school company’s application to take over the operation of the struggling district schools. Somerset Academy was the only company that made a presentation that had “a record of effectiveness with similar student demographics” to Jefferson County, where most students are low-income minorities, according to the Florida Department of Education. Somerset is a nonprofit network associated with the management company Academica. It runs 50 schools with nearly 17,600 students. redefinED.

District audit: A state audit finds fault with the Brevard County School District on four points: paying $150,000 over three years to the Brevard Schools Foundation for administrative expenses, not performing routine background checks on 27 teachers, awarding state teacher bonuses to eight ineligible teachers, and allowing transportation employees unsupervised access to inventory. Superintendent Desmond Blackburn says state law does not prohibit payments to the foundation, and the other three items are being corrected. Florida Today. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Teacher pay, true costs, safe schools and more

Teacher pay: Prospects for a statewide $200 million raise in pay for teachers have dimmed after proponent Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, says he is no longer pursuing the hike. Instead, Simmons says, he is backing an expansion of the teacher bonuses program, known as the Best and Bright Teacher Scholarship. Both the Senate and House are considering bills that would increase the money for bonuses and widen eligibility. Naples Daily News.

Public education spending: The true cost of educating one public school student in Florida for a year is $10,308, according to a report from Florida TaxWatch. The Florida Education Finance Program funding formula expenditure was $7,178 per student for the 2015-2016 school year. But TaxWatch says other tax dollars spent by districts take the total spending per student to more than $10,000. redefinED.

Protecting undocumented: The Miami-Dade County School Board declares its district a safe zone for undocumented immigrant students, and will review what else it can do to protect those students from U.S. immigration officials. The intent, says board member Lubby Navarro, is “to ensure that our schools are safe havens for all students and that this message resonates throughout entire communities, our neighborhoods, our barrios, so that everyone knows that our schools are safe for our children and our families.” Miami Herald.

Teacher program: The Palm Beach County School District and Nova Southeastern University will partner to create a teacher-training program that promises students jobs in the district after graduation. Students will be paid substitute teachers during their senior year at Nova, and will be offered fulltime teaching positions when they graduate as long as they meet certification and other requirements. Nova is hoping to enter into similar partnerships with Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Sun-Sentinel. Continue Reading →

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