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Florida schools roundup: Recess, charters, alternative schools and more

Recess bill advances: A bill requiring mandatory daily recess of at least 20 minutes for all Florida K-5 students passes the state Senate Education Committee. Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, said the bill showed “the power of advocacy, of parents” who pushed legislators to act when local school boards would not. The bill now goes to the Senate PreK-12 Appropriations Committee for consideration. Miami HeraldAssociated PressFlorida Politics.

Charter facilities funding: The Senate Education Committee approves a bill that would send a proportional share of a district’s property tax revenue to charter schools based on enrollment, with more money attached for those schools that have large low-income or special needs populations. But a second bill that would have increase districts’ local tax authority is delayed. Supporters say the measures need to move forward together to allow districts to catch up on construction that’s been backlogged since the recession. redefinED. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida.

Hidden dropouts: Alternative schools increasingly are being used by public schools as places to hide struggling, problem students who might otherwise drag down a school’s graduation rate, test scores and grade, according to an investigation by ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative journalism website. The Orange County School District is one of 83 U.S. school districts that bumped its graduate rate by at least a percentage point between 2010 and 2014 by sending an increasing number of students into alternative schools. ProPublica.

Florida 4th in AP: Florida ranks fourth in the nation in the percentage of students taking and passing at least one Advanced Placement course, according to the College Board, the organization that runs the AP program. In Florida’s class of 2016, 29.5 percent passed at least one AP exam. That’s over the national average of 21.9 percent and 11 percentage points better than 10 years ago. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Less money for school recognition, testing and more

Recognition money: The Florida Department of Education is handing out 36 percent less recognition money to schools this year. Last year, 1,673 schools received $134.58 million. This year, 1,226 schools are getting $85.7 million. State officials say the decline is due to the number of schools with A grades falling from 1,184 to 754. Officials attribute to decline to harder Florida Standards Assessments tests and higher standards for individual school grading. Florida Times-Union.

Testing cutbacks: Another bill is filed in the Florida Senate that would push most state-mandated testing to the end of the school year, but this one also calls for an end to five specific exams, state oversight of teacher evaluations and the rules that tie teacher evaluations to student test scores. It also wants a written alternative to computers and allow districts to use national tests like the ACT or SAT instead of the 10th-grade language arts section of the Florida Standards Assessments. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, and Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, would kill the ninth-grade language arts Florida Standards Assessments test and end-of-course exams in Algebra 2, civics, geometry and U.S. history. Orlando Sentinel.

House vs. feds: The Florida House Education Committee will consider a resolution Tuesday that asks Congress to “end all current, and prohibit any further, interference by the United States Department of Education with respect to public school governance.” The resolution also asks Congress to turn Title 1 funding for low-income children and IDEA Part B funding for disabled students into block grants controlled by the states. Gradebook.

Teacher evaluations: There are more than 2,800 teachers in the Manatee County School District, and only three received unsatisfactory evaluations. Two others were told they needed to improve. “Highly effective” was the evaluation 48.1 percent of the teachers received. Fifty percent were judged to be “effective” and 8 percent weren’t evaluated at all, according to Florida Department of Education statistics. Teachers with highly effective ratings in other state districts ranged from 97 percent in Okaloosa County to 6 percent in Putnam County. Teachers suggest the disparity in the numbers points to the pointlessness of the evaluation process. Bradenton Herald. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Charter district plan, testing, recess and more

Charter district: The Jefferson County School District could become the state’s first all-charter schools district, if the Florida Board of Education agrees Thursday with the district’s school board vote to make the change. Jefferson has just two schools – elementary and middle/high school – with about 700 students. It’s struggled academically and financially in recent years, and the state board recently ordered it to either close the schools or turn them over to private operators. “(The school board) didn’t feel any other options would be approved by the state board, and I wasn’t willing to take the risk of going to the state board and walking away with it turned down. That just wasn’t what I thought was in our best interest,” says Jefferson Superintendent Marianne Arbulu. redefinEDWFSU.

School testing: State Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, files a bill requiring the state education commissioner to review the ACT and SAT national college entrance tests to see if they cover the content taught in Florida high school language arts and math classes. If the answer is yes, it could lead to the scrapping of the Florida Standards Assessments testing in favor of the national tests. Orlando Sentinel. Manatee County School Board members will vote Tuesday on a proposal to put a moratorium on all testing in county schools that is not required by the state. If it’s approved, Manatee would join Clay and Marion counties in eliminating or severely reducing the amount of district-administered tests. Bradenton Herald.

Recess fight: A mom’s group named Recess for All Florida Students is ratcheting up its lobbying for legislation that requires daily recess for all Florida elementary students. The proposals (S.B. 78 and H.B. 67) have wide support, but a key House member isn’t sure a statewide mandate is the proper way to get it done. Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, the education policy chairman, says he’s reluctant to puts limits on teachers’ flexibility in the classroom. Miami Herald. The moms behind the drive have had success with a couple of districts, but continue to push for the statewide rule. “Of course, we started this because of our kids, but is it fair for those moms who have worked alongside us all these years, and their kids still don’t have recess?” asks Angela Browning of Orlando, whose district has adopted a daily recess policy. Miami Herald.
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Florida schools roundup: Bright Futures, capital funding, testing and more

Bright Futures: The proposed expansion of Bright Futures scholarships is moving in two directions within the Florida Senate. Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, wants to expand the scholarships for high-achieving students to cover full tuition and fees, and to allow them to use the money for summer classes. S.B. 2, which incorporates those proposals and more, was passed Wednesday by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education. Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Scott’s proposal would allow all students with Bright Futures scholarships to use the money for summer classes. It’s been endorsed by former Senate president Tom Lee, R-Brandon. News Service of FloridaPolitico Florida. Florida Politics.

Capital funding: Public school superintendents and charter schools leaders share ideas with legislators on how to improve the way the state hands out capital funding. Both say more money is needed for infrastructure and repairs. Superintendents also are asking for more flexibility on how they use the available money, while charter leaders are lobbying for a more equitable and consistent share from the state. Politico Florida. redefinED.

Testing participation: The definition of testing participation could play a role in an appeal court’s decision on a lawsuit challenging the state’s retention policy for third-graders. The law on what constitutes student participation is not clearly spelled out, and those suing the state say that ambiguity is leading districts to formulate their own rules, resulting in unequal treatment of students across districts. Gradebook.

Testing questions: Members of the Florida House committee on school policy question whether the downside of frequent, standardized testing and giving schools grades outweigh the benefits of the testing. State Department of Education officials say stability in the testing and assessing school grades are crucial to accountability. “We can’t assess ourselves into greatness,” State Education Commissioner Pam Stewart has said. “But we also won’t be great if we don’t know how our students are performing.” Sun-Sentinel. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Online education, PreK, charters and more

florida-roundup-logoMore on budget: An item in Gov. Rick Scott’s budget would eliminate restrictions on students’ eligibility for online classes. Right now, students in grades 2-5 cannot take virtual courses part-time, and students in middle and high schools can take select virtual courses only if they were in a public schools the year before. redefinED. Scott’s budget also includes $50 per student more for Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Program, boosting it to an average of $2,487. That’s still below the 2005 total of $2,500, and is far below the national average of $4,520. Orlando Sentinel.

Money for charters: Senate Education Appropriations chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, files a pair of bills that would create a consistent revenue stream to charter schools for construction and maintenance. S.B. 604 would allow districts to boost the property tax rate from a maximum of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value to $1.70. And S.B. 376 would funnel some of that money to qualifying charter schools. Gradebook.

Trafficking education: A bill is filed in the Legislature that would include instruction on the dangers of human trafficking in Florida schools’ health education curriculum. Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, says he got the idea for the bill, S.B. 286, from a high school student. WFSU.

School leasing: Palm Beach County School Board members express reservations about leasing a high school rather than building one and owning it, and decide to schedule a workshop to discuss the proposal further. Board members are open to the idea of a private-public partnership to get a high school built in Boynton Beach, but would want the district to eventually own it. Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Graduation, common exams, growth and more

florida-roundup-logoGraduation path: State Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Citrus County, files a bill that would give students a way to graduate without passing the Algebra I or the 10th-grade language arts Florida Standards Assessment exams. H.B. 407 would allow graduation for students who have earned 24 credits with a 2.0 GPA if they earn an industry certification, complete a classroom performance portfolio or post an adequate score on an alternative test. Gradebook.

When a 66 is an A: The Pinellas County School Board approves the use of common exams for high school health and physical education, biology, U.S. history and art classes. Common exams, which are already used in the county’s middle schools, have a wider grade scale range. In history, for example, a score of 66 is considered an A. School officials say the tests are hard, and the scale doesn’t lower standards but are a valid way to bring uniformity across the county. Tampa Bay Times.

Board issuing bonds: The Manatee County School Board authorizes the issuing of $150 million in sales tax revenue bonds to build three new schools. The schools are a 2,000-student high school in Parrish for $80 million, an 823-student elementary school for $20 million and a 1,164-student middle school for $45 million. Bradenton Herald.

Addressing growth: The Brevard County School Board will consider a plan to deal with expected growth over the next five years. For the next school year, the plan would include portable classrooms, converting a district building into a school, adding classrooms at existing schools and redrawing boundaries for some schools. In future years the plans also include new construction. Florida Today. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Education bills, absentee students, homeless and more

florida-roundup-logoLegislative bills: More education bills are filed for consideration in this year’s legislative session, which begins in March. Among them are a bill to require Bright Futures recipients to do community service to renew their scholarships, have the Florida Department of Education commission a study of other states with high-performing middle school students in reading and math, and an expansion of charter schools’ ability to enter into financial arrangements. Politico FloridaGradebook.

Absentee students: Almost 13 percent of Pinellas County students miss 21 or more days of school every year, well above the state average of 9.7 percent and highest among the state’s largest school districts. The numbers prompted the district to launch an attendance awareness campaign, and officials say the early results are promising. Tampa Bay Times.

Homeless students: The number of homeless students in St. Johns County is rising. School officials blame damage caused by Hurricane Matthew in October. There are almost 700 homeless now, and district officials expect to end the school year with more than last year’s 807. St. Augustine Record.

Magnet process: Two Marion County magnet elementary schools will begin filling seats through a lottery system, school officials announce. Admission to Dr. N.H. Jones Elementary School and Madison Street Academy had been determined by test scores and race. School officials are changing the process to meet state and federal requirements. Ocala Star Banner.

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Florida schools roundup: Financial literacy, religion, start times and more

florida-roundup-logoFinancial literacy: Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, files a bill that would require students to take a half-credit course of financial literacy in order to graduate from Florida high schools. She’s been trying to get this bill passed since 2014. Hukill is the new chairwoman of the Senate Education policy committee. Gradebook.

Religion in schools: State Rep. Kim Daniels, D-Jacksonville, files a bill that would prohibit school districts “from discriminating against students, parents, and school personnel on basis of religious viewpoints or expression,” would require a school district to “treat a student’s voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint on an otherwise permissible subject in the same manner that the school district treats a student’s voluntary expression of a secular viewpoint” and would allow students to wear clothing, jewelry or accessories with a religious message. Florida Politics.

DeVos protest: Teachers in several areas of Florida join a national protest against Betsy DeVos, the nominee to become U.S. secretary of education, and for public schools. Similar rallies were held in at least 25 states. Protesters worry that DeVos will emphasize school choice, and especially charter schools, at the expense of public schools. WKMG. Miami Herald. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

School start times: Start high school later in the day, says a majority of the 30,000 people in Orange County who took a district survey. Students, their parents, employees and others were asked to choose from three options: keep start times the same, start 20 minutes later than the current times that range from 7:10 to 7:30 a.m., and start no earlier than 8 a.m. School board members, who caution that changing schedules is complicated, will discuss the survey Thursday. Orlando Sentinel. Continue Reading →