Schools and the storm: School officials across north Florida are scrambling to get students back in school, but the devastation of Hurricane Michael is posing problems most of them have never faced before. Five school districts – Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Jackson – are closed until further notice because of widespread power outages, closed and unsafe roadways, damaged schools and the need to continue using schools that aren’t too damaged as emergency shelters, according to the governor’s office. School administrators in Bay County, which was hardest hit by the storm, say it could be months before schools are reopened. Several other districts remain closed today but hope to open tomorrow. CNN. Washington Post. USA Today. Associated Press. WJHG. Panama City News Herald. Pensacola News Journal. Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa school officials say they can take in students whose schools aren’t open. WKRG. Though Gadsden schools are closed, all teachers and staff are required to report to work today, according to a tweet from the district. Gadsden County School District. All Leon County schools reopen today and will have power. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. Experts say students need as much normalcy as possible and a sense of security after the trauma of an event such as Hurricane Michael. Naples Daily News.
New leaders at FEA: Joanne McCall is ousted after one term as president of the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union. She lost a weekend election to Fed Ingram, a Miami-Dade County union official and FEA vice president. Also elected were Andrew Spar of Volusia County as vice president and Carole Gauronskas of St. Johns County as treasurer. “This organization, especially for the last three years in the legislative session, has been reactive instead of proactive,” says Pasco teachers union official Don Peace. “You can’t get big wins when you always arrive to the game late.” Gradebook. Florida Politics.
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 Florida. Florida 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.
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.
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. WJXT. Bradenton 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.
Students march: Survivors of the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Valentine’s Day lead a march of thousands to the state Capitol, then meet with state lawmakers to call for a ban on assault-style weapons. They say the response from legislators was discouraging, but they vow to continue to fight. Sun-Sentinel. Associated Press. Miami Herald. Palm Beach Post. Politico Florida. Gatehouse Media. Tallahassee Democrat. News Service of Florida. The 74. More than 40 survivors of the Parkland, Columbine and Sandy Hook school shootings and parents plead with President Donald Trump to make students safe during a meeting Wednesday. “How many children have to get shot?” asked Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was killed in Parkland. Trump vowed to bolster background checks and mental health screenings, and supported the idea of allowing teachers and staff to carry guns at schools. Associated Press. New York Times. Education Week. Politico Florida. Why arming teachers is highly unlikely to happen. Politico Florida. Parkland students have raised $3.5 million to finance a national gun-control movement. Miami Herald. Sun-Sentinel. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is jeered at a town hall meeting held by CNN. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. High school students around Florida walk out of classes and take part in marches Wednesday as a show of support for Douglas High students. Sun-Sentinel. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Gradebook. WFTV. Fort Myers News-Press. WFTX. WESH. Florida Today. TCPalm. Naples Daily News. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Key West Citizen. Associated Press.
Returning to Douglas: Broward County school officials detail the plan to reintroduce students to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Counselors and an added police presence will greet the students when they return Tuesday for a half-day of classes. Sunday, the school will hold a “voluntary campus orientation” with a variety of support services available. Miami Herald.
Education budget: Battle lines are forming over the House’s nearly 200-page education bill, H.B. 7055. The House Democratic caucus says it will oppose the bill, calling it an “attack on public education,” and even some Republicans in the Senate are critical of the way the House has put so many issues into a single bill. The House could vote on the bill as soon as today, and the Senate is expected to begin considering its version today as well. Florida Politics. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. The House Education Committee approves a proposal to create a scholarship for bullied students, called the Hope Scholarship, after hearing stories from parents whose children have been victimized. The program is part of the omnibus education bill. Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer the tax credit and Gardiner scholarship programs and would help administer the Hope Scholarship program if it is created. redefinED. WZVN. WFLA. News Service of Florida.
Funding for charters: The House’s education bill would set aside $120 million in state funding for charter schools’ capital needs, lifting the burden off school districts and undercutting one of the reasons many of them are suing the state over last year’s education bill. The benchmark amount would increase annually with inflation and the growth of charter school enrollment, and school districts would have to chip in with local property tax money only if the state funding fell below that benchmark. redefinED. WLRN.
Turning over schools: Six struggling Polk County schools will be turned over to an outside operator in August, district officials have decided. Bartow Middle, Garner Elementary, Griffin Elementary, Kathleen Middle, Lake Alfred Polytech Academy and Lake Marion Creek Middle have all received grades of D or F from the state for three straight years, which requires the district to close them, reopen them as charters or turn over their operation to an outside company. Three companies have submitted proposals, and school officials expect one will be chosen to manage all six schools. Lakeland Ledger.
Avossa resigning: Palm Beach County School Superintendent Robert Avossa is resigning after two and a half years to take a job with a publisher of educational materials. Avossa, 46, plans to leave June 12 to become senior vice president and publisher of education products for LRP Publications in Palm Beach Gardens. “This opportunity will allow me to spend the last part of my career impacting education at the national level while affording me more time to commit to my family,” he wrote in his resignation letter. He is recommending the board replace him with someone already working for the district. Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel.
Education bill attacked: The state’s largest teachers union, the Florida Education Association, launches a public relations broadside against the House’s new education bill, H.B. 7055, a nearly 200-page document that puts multiple education-related proposals into a single bill. Among them: a scholarship for bullied students, called the Hope Scholarship, a provision to make it harder for local school districts to eliminate charter schools, and a requirement that public unions maintain 50 percent membership of eligible workers or be forced to file for recertification. “This monstrosity is a clear attempt to destroy our public schools while telling professional educators they simply are not welcome in Florida,” says FEA president Joanne McCall. Gradebook. Sunshine State News. Florida Politics. Politico Florida.
Florida ESSA plan: The state’s plan to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act doesn’t meet several federal requirements, and the state has until Feb. 16 to respond to the U.S. Department of Education’s call for revisions. Specifically, the plan omits achievement levels of some student groups, such as minority, poor, disabled and English-language learners, in calculating school grades. It also has contains no provisions to hold schools accountable for how well students perform on English-language-proficiency exams or to provide some students exams in languages other than English. An analysis of Florida students’ performance on National Assessment of Educational Progress exams shows little change in performance gaps between wealthier white students and others since 2005. Education Week. WUSF.