TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A new organization aimed at ensuring families can choose the best education environment for their children launched today with an announcement from the group’s founder and chairwoman.
Former Collier County School Board member Erika Donalds said the School Choice Movement will focus on improving and expanding school choice in all its forms, adding that she became aware as a parent and a school board member that many families have insufficient options for school choice.
“Children are either on a waiting list for a scholarship or a charter school or they don’t qualify for one of the scholarships that are available, and they can’t afford a private school,” Donalds said. “Our goal is to give parents multiple high-quality options for their students.”
Joining Donalds in the effort are former Indian River School Board member Shawn Frost and former Duval County School Board member Scott Shine. Frost, who is a co-founder with Donalds and past president of the Florida Coalition of School Board Members, will serve as the organization’s advocacy director. Shine, who has served as a member of the Jacksonville Ethics Commission, will be a member of the executive board.
The group plans to advocate for school choice and the expansion of school choice options during the upcoming legislative session.
“We now have a governor who is very supportive of school choice and an education commissioner who is a tireless school choice advocate,” said Donalds, whose husband, Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, serves on the Florida House Education Committee and is vice chair of the PreK-12 Appropriations Committee. “We want to make sure the expansion of school choice is No. 1 on the agenda.”
The group also plans to sponsor a speakers’ bureau and appoint regional directors who will fan out across the state in a grassroots effort to talk directly with families.
“We need to find a different way to reach parents with information about their options,” said Donalds, who helped establish Mason Classical Academy, a public charter school in Naples. “We also need to correct misinformation that’s out there about choice schools.
Among the myths Donalds plans to combat: the narrative that choice schools divert money from the public school system; the idea that charter schools underperform traditional public schools; and the notion that charter schools are not held to the same accountability standards as traditional public schools.
“For me, this is a moral issue our society needs to solve,” Donalds said. “Hoping students can play catch-up later in life is not an option.”
Watch the School Choice Movement launch video here for more information.
redefinED also spoke to Donalds after the James Madison Institute luncheon about her new organization. You can listen to that audio below.
School security criticized: School districts across the state are “not moving fast enough” to comply with the law passed last year that requires specific measures to improve security in schools, says the chairman of the state commission that investigated the Parkland school shooting. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told the House Education Commission that school districts have “no sense of urgency” to have an armed guard in every school or to prepare for a potential attack, as required by the law. He suggested that districts that are slow to comply should be penalized by the Florida Department of Education. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Politics. Politico Florida. The Broward County School District is struggling to create safe “hard corners” in 20,000 classrooms. Finding one safe spot in a room that’s big enough for all students is one problem, and principals say they aren’t the safety experts who should be choosing the safest corner. Sun Sentinel. The Broward County School District is named one of six American K-12 districts to watch this year. As the site of the 2018 Parkland school shooting, Broward is at the center of the discussion on security in schools. Education Dive.
DOE counsel named to court: U.S. Department of Education general counsel Carlos Muniz has been appointed to the Florida Supreme Court by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Muniz, 49, has no judicial experience but has been a lawyer for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, former Gov. Jeb Bush and former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. This is DeSantis’ third appointment to the court since he took office two weeks ago. Associated Press. News Service of Florida. GateHouse. Orlando Sentinel. Tampa Bay Times. Education Week. WPLG. Sunshine State News.
School rebuilding proposed: Hillsborough County school officials say they want to rebuild the historic Lee Elementary School in Tampa, which was severely damaged by a fire in September 2017. If the school board approves the plan, contractors will preserve the brick exterior but redesign the interior to conform to modern standards. As long as the district rebuilds, insurance will cover the full cost for construction. If it doesn’t rebuild, the district would receive just 10 percent of the insurance to cover classroom materials and equipment. Tampa Bay Times.
Sports officiating classes: Two Collier County high schools now offer sports officiating classes in an effort to ease a shortage of officials for school sporting events. Students at Palmetto Ridge and Golden Gate high schools will be trained in the sport or two of their choice, and will be offered tests to become certified as officials. “This class provides our students another opportunity to get a certification, and potentially a career in officiating,” says Superintendent Kamela Patton. “Partnering with our local officials association, the Great Naples Officials Association, and the Florida High School Athletic Association fulfills a community need while producing our own qualified officials to help boost our school athletics programs.” Naples Daily News.
Dueling groups in suit: Two groups of Florida’s 1997-1998 Constitution Revision Commission have gotten approval to file supporting briefs for opposite positions on the question of what the commission meant when it put a constitutional amendment on the 1998 ballot requiring the state to provide a high-quality system of public schools. Voters approved that amendment. One group, calling themselves “framers” of the amendment, asked the court to allow it to file a brief in support of those bringing the suit that claims the state is failing in its constitutional duty. Another group got approval last week to file a brief that supports the state’s position, the two previous court rulings against the plaintiffs, Citizens for Strong Schools, and argues that the Supreme Court should not consider the opinions of individual members of the 37-member CRC. News Service of Florida.
Teacher recruiting: The Orange County School District is confronting teacher shortages with an innovative program that puts University of Central Florida graduates with science degrees but no education coursework or training in a veteran teacher’s classroom for a semester to learn how to manage a classroom and make lesson plans. School officials hope the paid apprentice prepares those graduates for success. Adam LaMee, the teacher-in-residence at UCF’s Physics Teacher Preparation Program, calls the program “fantastic” and hopes other districts will copy it. Orlando Sentinel. The Hillsborough County School District now has just a couple-dozen teaching jobs open at its 50 lowest-performing schools, down from 200 a week ago. Tampa Bay Times.
Bathroom rights upheld: A federal judge rules that transgender student Drew Adams may use the boys bathrooms at Nease High School this year. U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan wrote that Adams “poses no threat to the privacy or safety of any of his fellow students. Rather, Drew Adams is just like every other student at Nease High School, a teenager coming of age in a complicated, uncertain and changing world. When it comes to his use of the bathroom, the law requires that he be treated like any other boy.” Officials at the St. Johns County school had ordered Adams, 18, to use gender-neutral bathrooms, prompting the discriination suit against the district. Florida Times-Union. St. Augustine Record. WJAX. WJXT.
Teacher pay: An analysis of Palm Beach County School District pay records shows that the district is paying teachers with 20 years of experience $3,000 a year less in 2018 than it did in 2008. The typical 30-year teacher is earning $2,100 less, and a typical 15-year teacher is making $1,000 less. It’s happened because teacher pay was frozen during the recession, salary schedules were abandoned, and the district then shifted more money toward starting pay and younger teachers. Palm Beach Post.
Tight budgets: It’s school budget season, and districts are struggling to make ends meet with the funding they’re receiving from the state. Officials are trying to slash costs in ways that will not violate the state’s class-size amendment and least affect students, and in some cases are dipping in to reserves to close deficits. “We really try to hold schools harmless and keep them out of the fray when it comes to budget reductions,” says Pasco County assistant superintendent Kevin Shibley. Tampa Bay Times. The Marion County School District needs at least $422 million for building and renovation projects over the next five years but will receive only $60.5 million. “In order to get by, we have to piecemeal many projects,” says Robert Knight, the district’s supervisor of facilities. “There is not enough money for everything.” Ocala Star-Banner.
School tax hikes: Palm Beach County school leaders are considering giving charter schools a portion of the $150 million a year that would be generated if voters approve a property tax hike in November. Language that specifically excluded charter schools has been removed from the proposal, which the school board will consider today. The decision to cut charters in was made after legal action was threatened if they were excluded. Palm Beach Post. The Hillsborough County School Board agrees to ask voters to increase the sales tax to raise money for capital expenses. The request now goes to the state, which has to perform a financial audit. Superintendent Jeff Eakins also said he was looking into asking voters for a property tax hike, which could be used for teacher salaries and programs. Tampa Bay Times. Lake County commissioners approve a special school safety tax, which will be on the Aug. 28 ballot. Money generated would help pay for resource officers in all schools. Orlando Sentinel.
Science textbooks approved: The Collier County School Board approves the use of new science textbooks that were challenged by evolution and climate change skeptics. The vote was 3-2, with Erika Donalds and Kelly Lichter voting against using the recommended textbooks. Four people had lodged complaints against 220 items in 18 textbooks, alleging that they treat evolution and climate change as fact rather than theory. The new books will cost the district $1.7 million and will be handed out to students in August. Naples Daily News.
Security task force: Almost four months after 17 people were shot to death at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, a Broward County school safety task force recommends 100 ways to improve security for schools. Among them: installing portable metal detectors at Stoneman Douglas this fall and considering them for all schools, putting coverings over windows in doors, keeping classroom doors locked at all times, increasing the height of all outdoor fences, requiring ID badges for all students and staff, and reviewing the Promise program, which was created in 2013 as a way to offer alternatives to arresting students. The committee members also joined local officials in calling on the Legislature to boost funding for school safety. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. WSVN. Politico Florida. WLRN.
A cop reflects: Scot Peterson, a Stoneman Douglas resource officer who did not enter the building where confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz was killing 17 people on Feb. 14, is haunted by that day, at times justifying his decisions (“How can they keep saying I did nothing?”) and at times questioning them (“Why didn’t I know to go in?”). He has considered changing his name or moving out of state, but knows there’s no escaping the infamy. “It’s haunting,” Peterson says. “I’ve cut that day up a thousand ways with a million different what-if scenarios, but the bottom line is I was there to protect, and I lost 17.” Still, he believes there is little or nothing more he could have done. Washington Post. Parents of students killed at Stoneman Douglas express outrage at Peterson’s comments. “I’m tired of him trying to paint himself as the victim,” says one, Fred Guttenberg, the father of 14-year-old Jaime Guttenberg. “He is not a victim. He created victims. He keeps referring to them as his kids. They are not your kids, Scot Peterson! You let them die!” Miami Herald.