Sara Beth Reynolds
Graduation paths: Florida’s high schools are graduating more seniors than ever, but some legislators want to find even more alternative paths to a diploma. “It’s still a big goal of mine,” says state Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Lecanto, the chair of the House PreK-12 Innovation committee. Several bills have already been filed. One would allow students to graduate even if they can’t pass the required tests as long as they meet other criteria. Another would focus on subject mastery in middle and high schools as ways to assign grades and credits, and another would require all high schools to have advisers to counsel students with a grade point average under 2.0 about alternative graduation pathways and technical training. Gradebook.
Teaching religion: A bill is introduced into the Legislature that would require all high schools to offer students an “objective study of religion.” State Rep. Kim Daniels, D-Jacksonville, who filed the bill, said examples are courses on the Hebrew Scriptures and Old Testament, the New Testament or a combination of all three. Florida Politics. Daniels also said Wednesday she is willing to agree that she broke state law by filing false financial disclosures if the Florida Commission on Ethics turns the case over to House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, to decide if further action is necessary. Florida Times-Union.
Teachers and guns: Florida should change state law so some teachers can be armed, says the chairman of the state commission investigating the Feb. 14 massacre of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. “We know from the history of these things that the majority (of school shooters) are stopped by school personnel,” says Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. “People need to keep an open mind to it as the reality is that if someone else in that school had a gun it could have saved kids’ lives.” Associated Press. Tampa Bay Times. The Palm Beach County School District is one of eight in Florida to miss the deadline to submit a mandatory school-security review by the Oct. 31 deadline, but that “in no way means that the district is not compliant or responsive to the requirements of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Safety Bill,” says Frank Kitzerow, district police chief. Palm Beach Post.
Tax collections accelerating: Hillsborough County voters just approved an increase of a half-cent in the sales tax to help schools with repairs and construction, and already the Florida Department of Revenue is projecting the measure will bring in more money than expected. School officials thought the tax would bring in just under $140 million a year. The new projection is for $151 million in 2019, and as much as $1.7 billion could be raised over the 10-year life of the tax hike. Tampa Bay Times.
Superintendent investigated: Leon County School Superintendent Jackie Pons is under investigation after “possibly compromising” photos were given anonymously to district officials. The photos apparently show Pons getting into and out of a car with a female district employee in a heavily wooded area. Pons, who lost his bid for re-election and leaves office Tuesday, will be investigated by an outside firm. Tallahassee Democrat. WFSU.
Raise request: Palm Beach County School Superintendent Robert Avossa is asking the school board for a $10,000 a year raise. Avossa, who is the state’s highest-paid superintendent at $325,000 a year, was given a highly effective rating by board members earlier this month. Palm Beach Post.
Open enrollment: Pasco County schools that are at 90 percent or higher capacity will be closed to transfers if the school board approves the district’s proposed rules. In-county students will get first preference at those schools under 90 percent. The new state law allowing a student to transfer to any school that has an available seat takes effect next fall. Gradebook.
School may close: The only elementary school in Jefferson County could close by Christmas. A state financial oversight board has given the school district until Nov. 30 to submit a school transition plan and budget. New Superintendent Mary Ann Arbulu, who takes office Nov. 22, has asked for more time. If Jefferson Elementary is closed, students will be sent to Jefferson Middle. The district is down to 700 students and has struggled with its finances and poor grades from the state. WFSU.
School assignment query: The Florida Department of Education is investigating whether Duval County school officials followed the law in reassigning students from schools that were closed or revamped because of poor performance. The law requires districts to reassign students from failing schools to schools that have a grade of C or better, and the state says there are allegations that’s not happening. Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says he’s confident the district has followed state guidelines. Florida Times-Union.
School choice: School choice advocates do well in Florida elections while the anti-choice teachers union, the Florida Education Association, has setbacks even after spending nearly $3 million on its preferred candidates. redefinED. Gradebook. Politico Florida. Experts say Donald Trump’s educational policies are likely to include expanded parental choice, growth in voucher programs and more local control of schools, among other things. The Atlantic.
School elections: The Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections hopes to declare a winner today in the District 7 school board race between Lynn Gray and Cathy James. Gray leads by a quarter of a percent, but 1,400 provisional ballots remain to be counted. Any difference under a half percent triggers an automatic recount. Gradebook. The Polk County Supervisor of Elections will decide Friday if a recount is required in the District 4 school board race between Sara Beth Reynolds and Becky Troutman. Reynolds leads by less than a quarter of a percent. Lakeland Ledger. Marianne Arbulu is elected superintendent of schools for Jefferson County. WFSU.
House education leader: State Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, is named to direct education policy in the Florida House in the upcoming legislative session. Incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, made the appointment. Gradebook.