Elections for superintendents, school board upsets, tax initiatives, plus academic redshirting and more
Nation’s report card: Florida is the only state that improved in the National Assessment of Educational Progress math exam, according the annual report from the National Center for Education Statistics. Florida is also just one of nine states showing improvement in the reading exam. Among the nation’s larger districts, Hillsborough County was first in 4th-grade reading and math, and 8th-graders tied for first in reading and were tied for second in math. NAEP exam results are called the “nation’s report card” because they are a common test that can compare student academic performance across the country. “Something very good is happening in Florida, obviously,” says Peggy Carr, associate commissioner of assessment at the NCES. “Florida needs to be commended.” Nationally, test results showed little or no gains. Orlando Sentinel. Tampa Bay Times. Chalkbeat. Hechinger Report. U.S. News & World Report. For the first time, a majority of U.S. students took the tests on computer tablets. Some educators are concerned that the change makes year-to-year score comparisons unreliable. Chalkbeat.
School security: The Jefferson County School Board votes against allowing school employees to carry concealed weapons in schools. School Superintendent Marianne Arbulu and Sheriff Mac McNeill agree that only deputies and resource officers should be armed on campus. WTXL. Manatee County School Superintendent Diana Greene says the district will need to find $1.8 million to put a resource officer in every school in August. The state is contributing $3.4 million to the district for the officers, but the total cost will be $5.2 million, Greene says. She also provided details of how the district will spend money from the voter-approved increase in property taxes for schools. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Citrus County commissioners are considering using law enforcement impact fees and the other drug seizure funds to pay for school resource officers. Citrus County Chronicle. Student leaders from Lake County high schools collaborate to create a survey on school safety for students. Daily Commercial.
Managing the boom: The Palm Beach County School Board will consider a plan to hire a company to manage the district’s building boom, at a cost of $26.4 million over 10 years. California-based AECOM would act as the program manager in exchange for a 2.2 percent cut of the $1.4 billion the district is spending to repair old schools and build new ones. Voters approved a sales tax initiative in November to raise the sales tax for school infrastructure. “I think, at 2.2 percent, that is a terrific deal for the district,” says Mike Burke, the district’s chief financial officer. Palm Beach Post.
Financial problems: Hillsborough County School Superintendent Jeff Eakins acknowledges at a budget workshop that the district’s financial problems are even worse than previously known. The district’s reserve account lost $83.6 million between 2014 and 2015, and that was after the district transferred $55 million into it, and was on track to lose $130 million or more the following year. School board members brainstormed cost-cutting ideas, but no decisions were reached. Tampa Bay Times. Budget cuts could put the brakes on a proposed technology upgrade for the Pasco County School District. Chief finance officer Olga Swinson is recommending the elimination of $724,000 budgeted for new televisions and projectors to help teachers with presentations. She also suggests not spending the previously budgeted $642,000 for telecommunications upgrades and maintenance, and $310,000 in computer hardware, servers and software. Gradebook. Pasco County Superintendent Kurt Browning has been pushing the state to return to paper-and-pencil standardized testing, but he’s recommending the district continue to use computer tests because doing so will save money. Gradebook.
Sharing with charters: Under the new state education law, the Duval County School District will be compelled to turn over $16 million from its capital fund in the next five years to charter schools. School officials say the first payment will be $2.4 million for the next school year. Florida Times-Union. In Sarasota County, charter schools’ share of capital funds will be $9.3 million, up from the $5.5 million the board allotted this past school year. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Flagler County School District will have to send $570,000 from its capital fund to the county’s two charter schools. Flagler Live.
Trump’s visit: President Donald Trump visits St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando today to promote his support for broader school choice. St. Andrew is part of the Notre Dame Alliance for Catholic Education academies, a national network working to revitalize urban Catholic education. About 85 percent of the 340 students in the pre-K through eighth-grade school use tax credit scholarships. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the program. redefinED. WFTV. Politico Florida. Myrna Saint-Juste, who sent two children to St. Andrew Catholic School, and her son Marcus Millien, now a student at Bishop Moore High School, were asked to meet with President Trump today when he visits the school. She declined, but Marcus accepted. Orlando Sentinel.
Legislature and education: Legislators want to reduce testing, change the teacher bonuses program and improve the higher education system, among other things, during the legislative session that begins Tuesday. Here are previews of some of the issues being debated. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel. Sun-Sentinel. The major players in the legislative session are profiled. Tallahassee Democrat.
Bills about teachers: Two bills filed by legislators would change the criteria by which teachers are eligible for bonuses from the state. A bill filed by Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, would lower the SAT and ACT test scores level a teacher would need to be eligible for the state’s teacher bonus, and add several other tests that could be used. A bill filed by Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, would expand eligibility requirements to college GPA and to those graduates who commit to teaching in critical teacher shortage areas. Both would also allow school administrators to be eligible for bonuses. Gradebook. A bill introduced by Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando, would expand the path to teacher certification, including allowing charter schools to set up their own training programs that would have to be approved by the Florida Department of Education. Legislators want to make it easier to hire people who have expertise in a subject and can prove competency in the classroom but don’t have an education degree. redefinED. Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, files a bill that would prohibit teacher retirements during the school year. Exceptions would be made for illnesses and disabilities. News Service of Florida.
Charter district: Three charter schools companies are competing to take over operations of the Jefferson County School District. They are: Somerset Academy Inc., which operates 16 charter schools in Miami-Dade and Broward counties; Lake Wales Charter Schools Inc., which runs six schools in Polk County; and EdFutures, which runs two schools in Volusia County. Superintendent Marianne Arbulu said the school board could make its selection by next week. Politico Florida.
Charter district: The Jefferson County School District could become the state’s first all-charter schools district, if the Florida Board of Education agrees Thursday with the district’s school board vote to make the change. Jefferson has just two schools – elementary and middle/high school – with about 700 students. It’s struggled academically and financially in recent years, and the state board recently ordered it to either close the schools or turn them over to private operators. “(The school board) didn’t feel any other options would be approved by the state board, and I wasn’t willing to take the risk of going to the state board and walking away with it turned down. That just wasn’t what I thought was in our best interest,” says Jefferson Superintendent Marianne Arbulu. redefinED. WFSU.
School testing: State Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, files a bill requiring the state education commissioner to review the ACT and SAT national college entrance tests to see if they cover the content taught in Florida high school language arts and math classes. If the answer is yes, it could lead to the scrapping of the Florida Standards Assessments testing in favor of the national tests. Orlando Sentinel. Manatee County School Board members will vote Tuesday on a proposal to put a moratorium on all testing in county schools that is not required by the state. If it’s approved, Manatee would join Clay and Marion counties in eliminating or severely reducing the amount of district-administered tests. Bradenton Herald.
Recess fight: A mom’s group named Recess for All Florida Students is ratcheting up its lobbying for legislation that requires daily recess for all Florida elementary students. The proposals (S.B. 78 and H.B. 67) have wide support, but a key House member isn’t sure a statewide mandate is the proper way to get it done. Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, the education policy chairman, says he’s reluctant to puts limits on teachers’ flexibility in the classroom. Miami Herald. The moms behind the drive have had success with a couple of districts, but continue to push for the statewide rule. “Of course, we started this because of our kids, but is it fair for those moms who have worked alongside us all these years, and their kids still don’t have recess?” asks Angela Browning of Orlando, whose district has adopted a daily recess policy. Miami Herald.
Graduation path: State Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Citrus County, files a bill that would give students a way to graduate without passing the Algebra I or the 10th-grade language arts Florida Standards Assessment exams. H.B. 407 would allow graduation for students who have earned 24 credits with a 2.0 GPA if they earn an industry certification, complete a classroom performance portfolio or post an adequate score on an alternative test. Gradebook.
When a 66 is an A: The Pinellas County School Board approves the use of common exams for high school health and physical education, biology, U.S. history and art classes. Common exams, which are already used in the county’s middle schools, have a wider grade scale range. In history, for example, a score of 66 is considered an A. School officials say the tests are hard, and the scale doesn’t lower standards but are a valid way to bring uniformity across the county. Tampa Bay Times.
Board issuing bonds: The Manatee County School Board authorizes the issuing of $150 million in sales tax revenue bonds to build three new schools. The schools are a 2,000-student high school in Parrish for $80 million, an 823-student elementary school for $20 million and a 1,164-student middle school for $45 million. Bradenton Herald.
Addressing growth: The Brevard County School Board will consider a plan to deal with expected growth over the next five years. For the next school year, the plan would include portable classrooms, converting a district building into a school, adding classrooms at existing schools and redrawing boundaries for some schools. In future years the plans also include new construction. Florida Today.