Education bill: The Senate Education Committee unanimously approves a major rewrite of the House’s omnibus education bill, H.B. 7055. The Senate version would put armed law enforcement officers at every school in the state, make state scholarships available to bullied students with substantiated claims, boost oversight of private school choice programs, require charter schools to return facilities to districts if they close, and create a comprehensive mental health program for schools, among other things. It also removes the provision that would decertify teachers unions if membership falls below half of the members represented. The revised bill now moves on to the Senate Appropriations Committee. redefinED. Associated Press. Gradebook. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. News Service of Florida.
Parkland and politics: The Florida House overwhelmingly rejects a proposal to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines as about 100 students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School look on. The vote was 71-36 against H.B. 219, Students say the shootings have changed them, and vow to continue fighting for school safety. Miami Herald. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Politico Florida. Tallahassee Democrat. After meetings with superintendents and law enforcement officials, Gov. Rick Scott says he will have a plan of action in response to the shootings in Parkland to take to legislators by Friday. “We have two weeks left in session at that point, and my goal is to get something accomplished,” says Scott. Politico Florida. WKMG. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. A Senate hearing on a bill that would allow designated people to carry concealed weapons at schools is postponed Tuesday. Miami Herald. President Donald Trump calls on the Justice Department to ban all devices like bump stocks, an attachment that can turn a semi-automatic weapon into an automatic one. Associated Press. New York Times. The Broward County Charter Review Commission says it will consider giving voters the chance to decide what guns should be permitted in the county. Sun-Sentinel. Pinellas County School Board member Linda Lerner wants the board to officially support a ban on assault weapons. Gradebook. Leon County School Superintendent Rocky Hanna is criticized by the chairman of the county’s Republican Party for giving excused absences to students who wanted to join a rally at the Capitol. Tallahassee Democrat.
Retention decision: A judge says the state erred in automatically holding back third-graders who do poorly on the state Florida Standards Assessments tests or opt out from taking them. Leon County Judge Karen Gievers says the state and six districts that were sued must provide students the option to present a portfolio of work that demonstrates their readiness for fourth grade. Gievers stopped short of ordering the state and districts to promote 14 students who were held back. Another hearing will be held today for students from Hernando County who were not given the option to present a portfolio. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Orlando Sentinel. Tampa Bay Times. WFTV. WFSU. Sunshine State News. Politico Florida. The retention lawsuit has rekindled an old argument: Should third-graders who struggle with reading be held back? “The overwhelming majority of the research concludes that the practice does not help most students and ends up harming many,” said Bob Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest, a nonprofit that works to prevent the misuse of standardized testing. Tampa Bay Times. States with high opt-out rates could face penalties from the U.S. Department of Education. Education Week.
Florida tops in choice: The American Federation for Children ranks Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship program as the top school choice program in the United States. The national advocacy group cites Florida’s accountability, its wide availability, its inclusion of disabled students, its limits on administrative expenses and the dollar-for-dollar tax credits for companies. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the programs. redefinED. The Lake County School District has 1,462 students getting tax credit scholarships, a 24 percent increase over last year, and some school board members worry about how the district could absorb those students if opponents of the program successfully appeal a recent court ruling. Daily Commercial.
Recess movement: The parent-driven movement to provide students more time for free play at school is spreading across the United States. Several Florida districts have changed recess policies after lobbying from parents, and Rhode Island just initiated a law requiring 20 minutes of recess a day. Independent Journal Review.
Capital spending: A reduction of the state’s school capital tax and the near evaporation of the state’s Public Education Capital Outlay fund has put many school districts dangerously behind on school repairs. Since 2008, the state’s 67 school districts have lost about $6 billion in capital revenue. Twenty-six of those counties have passed sales tax increases to pay for repairs and construction, but the other 41 are having problems keeping up with basic school maintenance. Ocala Star Banner.
Stewart on ESSA: In a letter to U.S. Education Secretary John King, Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart questions the reach of the federal government in the Every Student Succeeds Act, the timeline implementation, the proposal to differentiate grading and the language required to explain school grades. Gradebook.
Achievement gap: Despite several years of emphasis and changes, the achievement gap between the races in Duval County continues. While 68 percent of Asians and 62 percent of whites pass the state reading tests, just 31 percent of black students and 42 percent of Hispanics do. Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says it takes more than two or three years to close those gaps. Florida Times-Union.
Funding decline: Federal funding for disabled students is declining in Florida, which ranks 49th nationally in state education funding per pupil. Funds for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act were a victim of the 2013 compromise to end the federal government’s budget standoff. In 2012, funding was $1,954 per student. This year it’s $1,301, and some districts are digging into general revenues to pay for the federally required programs. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
School transfers: School board members, administrators and coaches are concerned about proposed bills in the Legislature that would allow students and athletes to transfer to any school, and in some of the bills permit athletes to be immediately eligible to play. Orlando Sentinel.
Regulation-free bill: Palm Beach School Superintendent Robert Avossa supports a bill in the Legislature that would exempt a handful of low-performing districts from most state regulations, saying he “wanted to be first in line” for the program if it becomes law. Palm Beach Post.
Charter schools: Bills in the Legislature would make it easier for High Impact Charter School Networks to set up charter schools, especially in areas with failing schools. New rules would hold charters accountable, but also waive some fees and shorten the time between approval and opening. WFSU. A charter high school in Clearwater is opting out of its automatically renewing contract with its management company. Newpoint Pinellas High has a $273,000 operating debt and owes management company Newpoint Education Partners almost $500,000. Gradebook. Limited capital funds present problems for both public and charter schools in Northwest Florida, charter school supporters and critics agree. Pensacola News Journal. Are charters schools in northwest Florida justifying taxpayer expenses? Pensacola News Journal. The Orange County School District is appealing a county advisory group’s approval of plans to open two charter schools. Orlando Sentinel. Teachers at the Lake Wales Charter Schools are being trained to teach their students computer coding, which will become a requirement. Lakeland Ledger.
Racism lesson: A first-grade teacher’s unauthorized attempt to demonstrate racism backfires when a parent complains. The Minneola Elementary Charter School teacher separated children by eye color, and then treated blue-eyed students to hugs and candy for several hours while brown-eyed students got nothing. School administrators say the teacher is under investigation and call the lesson inappropriate. WESH.
Tax credit scholarships. The program does not harm public education, a former Department of Juvenile Justice head writes in the Tampa Bay Times. Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog and employs the author of this post, helps administer the program.
Testing, Palm Beach school officials call on Gov. Rick Scott to hold off any negative testing consequences. Palm Beach Post. South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Lee school board members debate whether end of course exams should count. Fort Myers News-Press. A Pasco teacher gets reprimanded for encouraging students to opt out. Gadebook.
Charter schools. Polk says no to two proposed charter enrollment increases. Lakeland Ledger.
District chiefs. Manatee taps a top district administrator as superintendent for a year. Bradenton Herald. The field begins to develop for Okaloosa’s superintendent election. Northwest Florida Daily News.
Special needs. Students graduate from Hillsborough’s special education center, and prepare to figure out what’s next in life. Tampa Tribune.
Facilities. A Marion high school will begin work on a $15 million athletic facility. Ocala Star-Banner.
Virtual school. Florida Virtual School has begun offering a free online financial literacy course. WOFL.
Community schools. The Escambia school district aims to create a community school with wraparound services. Pensacola News-Journal.
Busing. “Thousands of students who needed help the most were caught in a broken system” as a result of a desegregation program that buses students from the inner city to the suburbs, the Tampa Bay Times argues in an editorial.