College alternatives: Increasingly, rural students in Florida are choosing to learn a trade instead of going to college. Among the reasons for their choices: Practicality, price and even politics. “It’s all about practicality,” says Wakulla County School District Superintendent Robert Pearce. “The mindset is: What makes the most sense?” Tampa Bay Times.
Governor’s race: Was race the primary reason Democrat Andrew Gillum lost the governor’s race to Republican Ron DeSantis? While many Democrats think so, others aren’t so sure. It wouldn’t explain why Gillum received only 86 percent of the black vote, well below even the 90 percent white Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson got. One possible reason for the low black total for Gillum may have been his call to end tax credit scholarships, which allow low-income, mostly minority students to attend private schools. Tampa Bay Times.
No sharing with charters: The Pasco County School Board decides not to share any of its capital funding with charter schools, rejecting a plan proposed by district administrators to share money for maintenance and facilities expenses based on student demographics and performance. Pasco is one of three state counties not required to share capital funding because of their high construction debt ratios. “Our budget changes every year,” says board member Steve Luikart. “We can’t guarantee something that is not guaranteed to us.” Gradebook.
Funds for displaced students: Fifty-two Florida school districts will share $46.8 million in federal aid as reimbursement for educating thousands of students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands who were displaced by hurricanes. Orange County, which took in 4,000 students, will receive about $12 million. Osceola County will get about $5 million, Broward $4.4 million, Miami-Dade $4.2 million and Collier $3.1 million. The state will retain $47.7 million. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Politics.
District budgets: The Manatee County School Board approves an $889.4 million budget. The general fund portion, which pays for daily expenses such as teacher salaries and utility bills, is up 12.05 percent over last year. “The increased funding will allow the district to continue on the path to financial resiliency, educate 48,686 students, fill 210 vacancies, and further improve upon the educational experience for all students,” interim superintendent Cynthia Saunders wrote in a letter to the board. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. An analysis of the Indian River County School District’s budget discloses that a projected $2.3 million budget shortfall was simply an accounting error. Superintendent Mark Rendell says he plans to hire an outside auditor to review the $291 million budget. TCPalm.
Housing for teachers: It’s becoming harder for Miami-Dade County teachers to find a place they can afford to rent in Miami-Dade County. So the county and the school district are collaborating on a plan to build apartments for teachers above a new school. The first phase of the plan would be to tear down an abandoned public housing project near Southside Elementary School in the Brickell area and build a school for grades 6-8. One floor would be used for apartments, with other floors devoted to parking and classrooms. “When you look at teacher salaries, it’s just impossible for them to get into the housing market,” says Ned Murray, associate director of Florida International University’s Metropolitan Center. If it’s successful, the county and board will propose building a 300-apartment complex next to Phillis Wheatley Elementary, just north of downtown. Miami Herald.
Education court case: Now that the legislative session is over, the Florida Supreme Court will resume its review of the lawsuit that alleges the state has violated its constitutional role to fund an “an efficient, safe, secure and uniform high-quality education.” Legislative leaders asked the court to suspend its review during the session. The plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court after an appeals court ruled that the question of financing was not an issue for the judicial branch. The case, Citizens for Strong Schools, was filed in 2009. Gradebook.
Atheists offer signs: The Tampa-based group Atheists of Florida is offering to provide signs with the saying “In God We Trust” free to every school in Florida to fulfill a requirement in the recently passed education bill. “We want to help educate about the First Amendment and the establishment clause, as well as about the diversity in our country,” says executive director Judy Adkins. One of the versions would state “E Pluribus Unum, In God We Trust” in a circle with red, white and blue stars and stripes. The outside of the circle would contain words from the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Gradebook.
State budgeting: The Senate and House pass budgets that are close in size, but at odds on how to pay for education, among other things. The House’s $87.2 billion budget includes tying the changes in education proposed in H.B. 7055 to the overall budget. But senators used a procedure to force the House to uncouple the education bill from the budget, and passed its own $87.3 billion budget. H.B. 7055 will now have to pass through several Senate committees. Tampa Bay Times. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Politico Florida. A discussion of the House education bill, its chances of becoming law, and how it’s connected to the overall state budget. Gradebook.
Senate moves bills: Bills that would provide scholarships for bullied students and increased oversight of private school choice programs are approved by the Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee. S.B. 1172 would allow victims of bullying and violence to transfer to other public schools or receive a state scholarship to attend a private school. The House also passed its version of the bill, known as the Hope Scholarship. S.B. 1756 calls for tightening state oversight of those private schools that accept state scholarships. It also requires those private schools to employ only teachers with degrees. But that stipulation has run into some resistance, so Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, is proposing that the language be amended to apply only to teachers hired after July 1, 2018, and who are assigned to grade 2 or higher. Those teachers with experience but no degrees would be grandfathered in. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit and Gardiner scholarship programs. redefinED. Gradebook. WFSU. Naples Daily News.
Teacher-student romances: Two bills being considered in the House would crack down on romantic entanglements between teachers and students. H.B. 515 would make any such relationships, regardless of the age of the student, a second degree felony for the teacher. Another bill, H.B. 1391, would hold schools and school officials accountable if they fail to report certain misconduct to law enforcement officials or to other prospective employers checking references. Both have been approved by the House Education Committee. Miami Herald.
H.B. 7055 debate: The Florida House begins debate this afternoon on its omnibus education bill, H.B. 7055. The nearly 200-page bill incorporates multiple topics, from the creation of scholarships for bullied students to the imposition of requirements on teachers unions, and is such a priority for House leaders that they have tied the per-student funding language for all public schools to the passage of this bill or similar legislation. Gradebook.
CRC hearing: Several speakers criticize a proposal to provide state funding for religious schools at the first Constitution Revision Commission public hearing in Davie. “This will resegregate our schools, not by race but by religion,” said Daniel Cook, a board member of the Broward chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Among the other topics that got attention from the hundreds of people in attendance were proposed abortion restrictions and amendments on greyhound racing and privacy rights. The next hearing is Feb. 19 in Melbourne, followed by Feb. 20 in Jacksonville, Feb. 27 in Pensacola and March 13 in St. Petersburg. Sun-Sentinel.
Replacing Avossa: Several Palm Beach County School Board members say they’ll look within the district to replace Superintendent Robert Avossa, who is resigning June 12 to work for a Palm Beach Gardens publishing company. Among the internal candidates: David Christiansen, deputy superintendent and chief of schools; Keith Oswald, chief academic officer; and Donald Fennoy, chief operating officer. And four other candidates for the job when Avossa was hired in 2015 still work for the district and could be considered. The board is expected to discuss the search at its meeting Feb. 14. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post.
Still absent: The Seminole County School Board member who hasn’t been to a meeting or done any board work since Feb. 28, 2017, missed a pair of meetings Tuesday despite agreeing to call in to participate. Board members directed Superintendent Walt Griffin to send yet another letter to Jeffrey Bauer asking him “whether your resignation is the right thing to do for all involved.” Bauer, 49, had a stroke in 2016 and reportedly has had other health issues since then. Orlando Sentinel.
Schools of Hope: Thirty-three struggling Florida schools have applied for extra money through the state’s Schools of Hope program. This is the second round of applications. In the first round, 50 schools applied for the extra $2,000 per student, but only 11 were accepted. The state is limiting the number of schools in the program to 25. The state Board of Education is expected to announce the winners next month. Gradebook.
Proposed amendments: A committee of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission approves two proposed constitutional amendments – one that would set term limits for local school board members at eight consecutive years, retroactive to 2016, and another that would require school district superintendents to be appointed rather than elected. The proposals still have to be approved by 22 of the 37 commissioners before they can be placed on the November 2018 ballot. Then, 60 percent of voters would have to approve to put the amendments into effect. Gradebook. Politico Florida. The move to require school superintendents to be appointed riles some superintendents from rural areas. Politico Florida. The panel also will consider a proposal that would allow entities other than local school districts to oversee charter schools. The proposal was made by Erika Donalds, a Collier County School Board and CRC member. redefinED.
State responds to suits: Lawyers for the state are asking a a Leon County circuit court judge to dismiss a lawsuit against six provisions in the new education bill, H.B. 7069. They argued that the 13 districts bringing the suit don’t have the standing to challenge five of those provisions. They also say claims that the law will harm local schools is “speculative.” The sixth provision in the law requires districts to share more local tax revenues with charter schools. It is being challenged by the Palm Beach County School Board. State lawyers point out that districts are already required to share some local tax money with charters. redefinED.
Bright Futures: Florida Senate leaders want to amend the higher education bill by incorporating the proposed Bright Futures expansion into it. The bill would expand and fully fund Bright Futures scholarships and restore Medallion coverage to pay for 75 percent of tuition and fees. It would also roll the $130 million for the programs into the legislation. Last year the money was put in the general fund and was available for just one year. Legislators are trying to make the expansion permanent. If the bill is approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee today, it moves on to the Senate floor. Politico Florida.
Union bill advances: A bill that could affect Florida teacher unions is approved by the House’s Government Accountability Committee. The bill requires all public-sector unions whose dues-paying membership falls below 50 percent of all those eligible to reapply for certification. The bill exempts unions representing police officers, firefighters and prison guards. The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, says it will make unions more accountable. Critics call it a “union-busting” bill. Politico Florida. WCTV. Florida Politics. WFSU. Capitol News Service.
Impact fees: Senate lawmakers continue to work on amending a bill that spells out when government agencies such as school districts can start collecting impact fees from housing developers. Developers want the fees payment as late as possible. The original bill called for fees to be due when a certificate of occupancy is issued. One of many amendments changes the date to when the building permit is issued. It’s favored by government agencies, which want to collect the money sooner so they can start building infrastructure such as schools. Politico Florida.
Teachers honored: Kyle Dencker, a computer science teacher at Timber Creek High School in Orlando, is named the Orange County School District’s teacher of the year. Orlando Sentinel. Five finalists are named for the Hillsborough County School District’s teacher of the year. They are: Jennifer Jackson, 7th grade science, Stewart Middle; Alexa Trafficante, 4th grade, Gorrie Elementary; Bonnie Bresnyan, exceptional student education, Lewis Elementary; Nicole Meyerson, 5th grade, Carrollwood Elementary; and Lisabeth Leist, math, Steinbrenner High. Four finalists also are chosen for diversity educator of the year and for instructional support employee of the year. Winners will be announced Jan. 16. Tampa Bay Times.