Big raises for administrators: Eleven Broward County School District administrators received pay raises during the 2017-2018 school year ranging from 7 percent to 21 percent — far above the average 2.2 percent that most of the district’s 27,000 employees received. Six of the 11 raises were given after the massacre of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, when the district was complaining it didn’t have enough money for resource officers and teachers. Superintendent Robert Runcie defends the raises as correcting pay inequities, though he has adjusted one downward. Sun-Sentinel.
Creation of a crisis: The crisis of escalating problems with school air-conditioners in Hillsborough County is a creation of declining funding from the state and school officials’ decisions to emphasize teaching positions over maintenance during the recession and years of devoting fewer of their funds toward maintenance than any other large district in the state. In the past decade, Hillsborough spent about $122 per student on maintenance, compared to neighboring Pinellas County’s $217 and Orange County’s $179. Now, the district is asking voters to approve adding a half-cent to the sales tax to raise $1.31 billion over the next 10 years to fix the A/C problems and tend to other deferred repair projects. Tampa Bay Times.
Charter schools report: A report issued Monday by the research group Integrity Florida warns state officials about the proliferation of charter schools. The report concludes that charter schools have largely failed to deliver promised innovation, and says the closure of an average of 20 charter schools a year since 1998 “comes with a cost to taxpayers.” Ben Wilcox, research director of Integrity Florida, writes: “Lax regulation of charter schools has created opportunities for corporate profiteering, financial mismanagement, fraud and criminal corruption.” News Service of Florida. Florida Times-Union. WWSB. Capitol Soup. Florida Phoenix. WFSU.
School abuse reports: Students at a private Port St. Lucie military school have been punched, choked, kicked, used as free child labor and placed in shackles as punishment for various transgressions, according to reports the state Department of Children and Families has been compiling since 1994. But the Southeastern Military Academy is still open, though it has just 12 students this year. The school isn’t licensed by the state or any private organization, other than the National Association for Christian Education, but it doesn’t need to be because licenses aren’t required of private schools in Florida. According to the Florida Department of Education, the school has received $250,000 since 2014 in McKay scholarships, given by the state to students with special needs. School operators Alan and Molly Weierman had no comment. WPTV.
Shootings review halted: Broward County school officials are suspending a retired FBI agent’s investigation into the actions of school employees during the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14. The reason given is to avoid duplication with the investigation by the state-appointed safety commission. “We recognize that the staff is continuing to recover from this tragedy,” the district’s statement said. “To avoid asking them to participate in duplicate interviews and to streamline the process, the district has decided to suspend its internal review, and give priority to the (state commission’s) investigation.” Sun-Sentinel. WPLG.
Private school enrollment: Private school preK-12 enrollment is up in Florida for the seventh straight year, according to a report from the Florida Department of Education. The 370,116 students at 2,650 schools was an increase of 0.5 percent, which is the slowest rate of growth since the 2010-2011 school year. Florida Tax Credit Scholarships and McKay Scholarships for special-needs students account for 42.5 percent of private-school enrollment. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the state’s tax credit, Gardiner, Hope and reading scholarships. redefinED.
Water contamination: Cancer-causing chemicals have been found in groundwater in three wells tested in Satellite Beach. The low-level contamination is thought to stem from the use of fire-extinguishing foams from nearby Patrick Air Force Base. Wells near Satellite High School, Sea Park Elementary School and city hall were tested after concerns were raised about cancer clusters in alumni and staff from Satellite High. A community meeting will be held Sunday to discuss the results. Florida Today. Several members of the Hillsborough County School Board are unhappy that they weren’t notified earlier about the district’s testing of water in 50 schools over the past year. Lead was found at 21 of those schools. Deputy superintendent Chris Farkas apologized, saying, “We always want to get better, and one thing I don’t think we did very well was notify staff.” Gradebook.
Legislative education bills: The Florida House and Senate release their education bills, revealing differences in per-student spending and the teacher bonuses program. The Senate proposes spending an additional $110 per student, while the House wants $100. Both are below Gov. Rick Scott’s $200 proposal. The Senate also puts $184 million into general operations for teacher pay raises, while the House wants to keep the Best and Brightest bonus program and spend $234 million on it. Other highlights of the Senate proposal include $88 million to remove the limit on the number of traditional public schools eligible for extra money under the Schools of Hope program, almost $18 million for teacher classroom supplies and $40 million for student mental health issues. The House’s 109-page proposal includes new scholarships for 3rd-graders who fail the state reading exam, an expansion of the powers of charter schools and networks, a cutback in computerized state testing and new accountability rules for private schools accepting tax credit scholarships. Gradebook (Senate). Gradebook (House). redefinED. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. Meanwhile, the Senate release its higher education budget, which calls for a $383 million boost in spending. Tuesday, the House proposed cutting spending for universities and colleges by $217 million. Tampa Bay Times. WFSU.
Guns in schools: The Florida House Criminal Justice Committee approves bills that would allow people to carry guns in public schools and churches with schools. H.B. 621 would allow designated people, chosen by superintendents or principals, to carry concealed weapons in public schools. Those designated, who could be any school employee or even volunteers, would have to complete 40 hours of proficiency training. H.B. 1419 would allow concealed weapons in churches, synagogues or religious institutions, even if they have schools. Current law prohibits anyone from having a gun in a school. Sunshine State News. WFSU.
Flu closing district: All Gulf County schools will be closed Friday due to the widening flu outbreak. Superintendent Jim Norton says about 20 percent of students have missed school this week with the flu, and the district is running out of healthy substitute teachers and school bus drivers. Schools will be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized Friday. Other northwest Florida counties are also seeing more flu cases. Port St. Joe Star. WMBB. WJHG. Destin Log.
Florida lawmakers are taking steps to make it easier for parents to enroll in the state’s voucher program for children with special needs.
Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando, spoke passionately about the proposal before the House K-12 Innovation Subcommittee gave it a green-light Tuesday.
Right now, the law requires children to enroll in public schools for at least a year before they can receive a McKay Scholarship. Plasencia is the sponsor of HB 829, which would cut that waiting period down to one semester.
He said the public-school attendance requirement has kept some students with the most complex disabilities from getting scholarships. His wife works with some of those students. Advocates have pushed for years to go further than Plasencia’s bill, and eliminate the public-school attendance requirement entirely.
“It doesn’t necessarily solve all the issues we have, but it is a step in the right direction,” he said.
Florida lawmakers are advancing bills that would make it easier for parents of special needs children who use vouchers to attend private schools to update their evaluations.
Funding for students who receive McKay Scholarships is tied to the evaluations students can receive from school districts every three years. But state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, said sometimes students who use the scholarships need to update their evaluations more often.
For example, if students participate in a school district hospital/homebound program, and then want to move to a private school using a voucher, they could receive McKay Scholarships worth just a few thousand dollars. That’s because per-pupil funding for hospital/homebound is typically a fraction of the funding public schools would receive to educate the same children. As a result, scholarships for those students may be less likely to cover the cost of private school tuition.
Refugee influx: The academic performances of most students who came to Florida schools after Hurricane Maria will not be counted when the state figures grades for districts and schools, says Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart. She says the federal government approved the exception for English language learners, which covers most of the nearly 8,000 students who fled the hurricane and have enrolled in Florida schools. Most of the extra students – 7,212 – are from Puerto Rico, and 710 are from other islands. Orange County has gotten the most refugee students, 1,793 for an 0.8 percent increase, while Osceola County has enrolled 1,218, which is a 2.2 percent increase. Housing remains the biggest problem for the refugees, members of the state Board of Education are told. Gradebook. Orlando Sentinel. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics. Daily Commercial.
Teacher evaluations: Several states, including Florida, have begun to change the way they evaluate teachers. Florida still uses testing and student performance indicators to determine one-third of teacher evaluation scores, but now allows districts to decide whether they want to use a state-approved formula for student growth to determine the other two-thirds. Six other states – Alaska, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and Oklahoma – now let districts decide what data to use to evaluate teachers. Education Week.
Housing for teachers: Broward County School Board members are considering ways to convince developers to build more housing that teachers can afford. Among the ideas is to waive school impact fees for those developers who build homes for people with incomes of up to $42,700 for a single person or $61,000 for a family of four. “We have a drastic need for teachers and many of them can’t afford to live in the county,” says board member Patti Good. The median home price in Broward is about $355,000, which is more than most teachers can afford. Sun-Sentinel.