Schools of Hope operators: Two more charter schools companies are applying to the state to become Schools of Hope operators. KIPP New Jersey and Democracy Prep Public Schools are asking the Florida Board of Education to approve their applications at its meeting Wednesday. If approved, they would join Somerset Academy and IDEA Public Schools as Hope operators. The program is meant to encourage established, successful charter schools to open in neighborhoods with persistently struggling traditional public schools. No Schools of Hope have opened yet in the state. Gradebook. redefinED.
School security: The Legislature intended for school districts, not law enforcement, to be responsible for the expenses of guarding the state’s schools, a lawyer for the Florida Sheriffs Association says in a legal opinion that has been distributed around the state. “It is apparent the act requires school districts to fund any general appropriations shortfall either through reallocating funds under their respective budgets or accessing their reserved funds or raising their millage rates,” association general counsel Wayne Evans wrote. The reluctance of law enforcement agencies to help finance school security has pushed many school districts to consider hiring armed guards instead of sworn school resource officers. Gradebook. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Hillsborough County School District will hire armed security guards to be assigned to about 100 elementary schools that don’t have a police presence now. The cost will be about $7 million the first year and $5.3 million a year after that, and the district will use $6 million from the state’s guardian program to help cover the costs. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. Monroe County School Superintendent Mark Porter promises anxious parents that security improvements will be made to schools this summer. Key West Citizen. Where northwest Florida counties stand on school security. WJHG.
School security: The Broward County School Board agrees to ask voters Aug. 28 to approve a property tax increase for school security and teacher bonuses. If approved, the tax hike could generate about $93 million a year. Sun-Sentinel. The Pinellas County Commission votes against helping the school district put deputies into the 31 schools in unincorporated areas. Tampa Bay Times. Brevard County School Board members vote to hire “security specialists” instead of arming school staff. The specialists will get 176 hours of training and receive $40,431 a year in pay and benefits. Florida Today. Manatee County commissioners decided they won’t pay any more for school security than the $892,000 they currently provide. School officials will now consider a plan to hire 35 armed guards trained by the sheriff and paid for with state funds from the guardian program. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Putting a resource officer in every Lee County school will cost more than $8 million, school board members are told. The district is hoping the city and county will supply the $4 million it needs. Fort Myers News-Press. Jackson County School Board members and county commissioners agree that hiring eight more school resource officers is the best way to protect all its schools, and pledge to work together to pay for them. WMBB.
H.B. 7069 lawsuit: Pinellas and Collier county school board members vote to continue appealing the latest decision against school boards that are challenging the constitutionality of the state’s 2017 education law, H.B. 7069. The suit contends the law violates the state constitution by stripping authority from local school boards and by forcing districts to share their tax revenue with charter schools. Pinellas and Collier join the Lee and Bay county school boards in appealing. School boards in Duval, Clay and Wakulla have dropped out of the case, and those in Alachua, Broward, Hamilton, Orange, Polk, St. Lucie and Volusia counties have yet to decide. The Palm Beach County School Board is pursuing its own suit against the law. Gradebook. Naples Daily News.
Reassigning students: The Florida Department of Education orders the Duval County School District to reassign 378 students into schools that have a C grade or better from the state. Two years ago the district took the students out of four failing schools and sent them to other schools, including some that had D or F grades. That was a mistake, the state concluded in an investigation. Florida Times-Union. WJCT. WJAX. WJXT.
Teacher evaluations: Local school boards would be given the power to set evaluation standards for teachers, if a bill filed in the House gets through the Legislature next year. H.B. 427, filed by Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando, would allow school districts to opt out of the state teacher evaluation and merit pay plan and give them the option of creating their own standards for evaluating teachers. “It would return the authority back to the local school board, which I think is very important,” says Orange County School Board member Linda Kobert. Florida Politics.
Graduation rates: The U.S. high school graduation rate hit an all-time high at 84.1 percent in 2016, according to data from the National Center for Education. In 2015 it was 83.2 percent. Florida’s graduation rate was 80.7 percent. White students graduated at an 85.1 percent rate, blacks at 72.3 percent and Hispanics at 75.6 percent. Education Week.
Contract negotiations: The Hillsborough County teachers union calls the latest pay offer from the school district disappointing. The district is offering $1.8 million for bonuses to spread among the 20,000 employees represented by the union. The union has asked for the raises school officials promised years ago, which the district says could cost it as much as $17 million and which it says it cannot afford. “This is a pay cut,” says Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, the union’s executive director, who says the offer is $92 per person before taxes and won’t cover the increase in health insurance premiums. “I can’t see that satisfying people.” Tampa Bay Times. WTSP. Negotiations between Brevard teachers and the school district resume, but little progress over raises is made. The district is offering $876 to the highest-rated teachers and $600 to effective ones. Union officials countered with a $1,075 raise for highly effective teachers and $800 for effective ones. Florida Today. Space Coast Daily.
Scholarship hearing: Florida House leaders say they are planning a hearing into the state’s K-12 scholarship programs that provide money for students to attend private schools. According to a recent Orlando Sentinel investigation, private schools where students use the scholarships go largely unregulated by the state. Some hire uncertified teachers and administrators, and in some cases even continued collecting payments after being evicted. About 140,000 students receive money from the state’s three scholarship programs, and a fourth is being proposed that would allow bullied students to get money to attend private schools. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit scholarships for low-income students and the Gardiner scholarships for students with special needs. Orlando Sentinel.
Working the contract: Teachers in Hillsborough County will protest their contract dispute with the district by “working to the contract” for the week after Thanksgiving. They say that means no late meetings, no phone calls from parents, and no grading papers after school. “It’s to make a point that this is what things would be like if teachers really did that all the time,” says Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, director of the teachers union. Teachers are angry that the district says it can’t give them a pay raise promised in 2013. For about a third of the district’s 14,000 teachers, the district’s decision will cost them $4,000. Tampa Bay Times.
Redirecting pay: Lake County School Superintendent Diane Kornegay is proposing to use money that had been providing bonuses for teachers to work in high-poverty schools for bonuses to all teachers in lieu of a pay raise. The district now sets aside $1.6 million to pay teachers bonuses of $1,000 to $3,000 to work in the poorest schools. Kornegay’s plan is to use that money to give all teachers bonuses of $350 or $500. “The initial response was total disbelief,” says union president Stuart Klatte. “A lot of these schools recognize this as a pay cut.” School board member Bill Mathias says the problem is caused by going “into this year with basically flat funding.” Orlando Sentinel.
H.B. 7069: According to recently revealed text messages, state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, worked behind the scenes to try to kill H.B. 7069, the education bill that provides money for a major expansion of charter schools in Florida. The messages show that Latvala worked with Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, on a plan to derail the bill. Details of the plan were not discussed in the texts, and neither Latvala not Farmer responded to questions about it. Latvala, chairman of the Senate appropriations committee, is considering running for governor in 2018. Politico Florida.
ESSA proposal: A coalition of civil rights group is asking the Florida Department of Education to give due consideration to the needs of poor, at-risk children when it submits its federal education accountability plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). In a letter, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights says it’s critical that the plan uphold the spirit of the law, which pledges to provide “all children significant opportunity to receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education, and close educational achievement gaps.” The state has to submit its plan by Sept. 18. Gradebook.
School safety: Pasco County students are now being told to fight back against violent threats at their schools, instead of simply hiding. One of the key messages of the new approach is: “It is okay to do whatever you have to do to get away from Stranger Danger.” Superintendent Kurt Browning says “the decision to defend one’s self or others is a personal decision and will never be required.” But the district wants to give students options, he says, and to empower them “not to be victims.” Gradebook.
Recess rules: After hearing complaints from parents, Pinellas County school officials say they are reconsidering their idea to count student time in math and engineering centers toward the required 20 minutes a day for recess. Shana Rafalski, the county’s executive director for elementary education, acknowledged that “doesn’t necessarily reflect the spirit of (the law). … This probably is out of context in the teaching and learning handbook, and I’ll revisit this,” she says. Gradebook.