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Florida schools roundup: ‘Schools of hope,’ waivers, scholarships and more

‘Schools of hope’: Just 11 struggling Florida schools are designated “schools of hope” by the Florida Board of Education. More than 50 schools applied, and the state’s new education law set aside about $52 million to provide extra funding to as many as 25 schools. Each of the 11 schools will get $2,000 extra per student to provide such additional services as tutoring, counseling, more teacher coaches and salary supplements for teachers to run student clubs. The “schools of hope” are Lucille Moore and Springfield elementaries in Bay County; Homestead Middle, Lorah Park Elementary, Miami Carol City Senior High, West Homestead K-8 and Toussaint L’Ouverture Elementary in Miami-Dade; Gove Elementary, West Riviera Elementary and Palm Beach Lakes High in Palm Beach; and Idyllwilde Elementary in Seminole County. Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says she will allow the schools that didn’t get chosen to amend and resubmit their applications. She said the next round will add no more than 14 schools to the program. News Service of Florida. Palm Beach PostGradebook. Politico Florida. WLRN. Florida Times-Union. State Board of Education member Gary Chartrand says the state needs to quickly complete its rules for implementing charter school legislation. The charter companies the state hopes to recruit are starting to make decisions now about where to open new schools, and need to know the rules before expanding into Florida. redefinED.

Waivers requested: The Central Florida School Boards Coalition, which represents 13 school districts, is asking the state to grant waivers for class size violations penalties because of the influx of students from the islands who were displaced by hurricanes. The coalition is also asking for more time to count students, more money to educate the displaced students and for “flexibility” on the state’s school accountability rules. School districts in the coalition are Brevard, Highlands, Hillsborough, Lake, Manatee, Marion, Orange, Osceola, Pasco, Polk, Seminole, Sumter and Volusia counties. Orlando Sentinel.

‘Schools without rules’: An Orange County private school with a troubled past took in $5.6 million in state scholarship money in five years even as it falsified fire safety inspections, hired people with criminal records and didn’t pay some of its teachers. Last summer, the state finally banned Agape Christian Academy from the scholarship programs for 10 years. Orlando Sentinel. A private school operator in Brevard County continued to benefit from the state scholarships even after one of his three schools was closed when he was charged with felony lewd or lascivious molestation. Orlando Sentinel. Here’s a list of private schools in Florida that have students who get scholarships from the state though the tax credit, Gardiner or McKay scholarship programs. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit and Gardiner programs. Orlando Sentinel.

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Florida schools roundup: Bright Futures, trafficking, makeup days and more

In the Legislature: A bill that would make the one-year expansion of Bright Futures scholarships permanent gets the approval of the Senate Education Committee. S.B. 4 was filed by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and would provide full and partial college scholarships to more than 100,000 students. Sunshine State News. Politico Florida. Miami Herald. News Service of Florida. The committee also approves a bill that would require schools to teach the signs and dangers of human trafficking as part of health classes. WFSU.

Makeup days: Miami-Dade County school officials are proposing to convert two teacher professional development days into instructional days and changing three early-release days into full days of classes to make up time lost to Hurricane Irma. The school board will consider the proposal Wednesday. Miami Herald.

Contract negotiations: The Brevard County teachers union rejects a 1 percent pay raise proposal, and asks the district to match the 5 percent raise Superintendent Desmond Blackburn was recently given. District officials say a 1 percent raise for the 4,600 teachers would cost about $2.9 million, and it cannot afford a 5 percent raise. Florida Today.

Schools honored: The state Department of Education is naming 640 schools in 44 counties as “Schools of Excellence” on Wednesday. Schools earn the designation by receiving an A or B grade from the state in each of the past three years and by being among the top 20 percent of the schools at their level in the grading system. These schools are rewarded with flexibility on several state rules: They may calculate class size by a schoolwide average, set daily start and finish times separate from the district, ignore the state’s minimum reading requirements, earn points toward certification renewal, and have greater latitude on hiring and budget decisions. Gradebook. About 700 schools around the state win Five Star School awards from the Florida Department of Education for their family involvement, volunteerism, community service by students, partnerships with the community and businesses, and the school advisory council. WJHG. Coral Springs Talk. Parkland Talk. Pensacola News Journal. Bradenton Herald. WJXT. Gradebook. Fort Myers News-Press. Florida Today. Space Coast Daily.

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Florida schools roundup: Virtual school, dropouts, charter schools and more

Virtual school outreach: More than 20,000 Puerto Rican students displaced by Hurricane Maria will be offered free access to course offered by the Florida Virtual School, whether they’re at home or in Florida. “I am glad that Florida Virtual School has stepped up to help these families as they rebuild their lives,” says Gov. Rick Scott. “The state of Florida will continue to do all we can to help them during this challenging time.” The state is also encouraging all 67 school districts to accept displaced students. Many districts are already see enrollment of students from Puerto Rico and other areas hard-hit by the hurricane. WJHG. WFLA. WESH. WQAMMiami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. WWSB. WPLG. WUSF.

Dropout dollars: For-profit dropout recovery schools in Florida, Ohio and Illinois are aggressively recruiting at-risk students and counting them as enrolled even after they stop attending school in order to keep collecting public money, according to a review of public records and state auditors. Dropout recovery schools are enrolling an increasing number of struggling students who are offloaded by traditional high schools that want to keep test scores and graduation rates up. ProPublica.

Charter conversion: The Florida Department of Education has begun a process that could lead to the transfer of control of the Madison County Central School to a charter company. The state has informed the district it must reassign some teachers and form a community assessment team by Oct. 18. By Nov. 15, the school board would be presented three options: close the school, bring in an approved charter company to take over the school, or hire a charter company that is managed by the district. Superintendent Karen Pickles says the district-managed charter plan is the only acceptable option. Madison County Carrier.

Charter application: The Marion County School Board will vote Tuesday on a charter school application from Charter Schools USA. The for-profit charter company wants to build the Southeast Marion Charter School, which would start at K-6 with 615 students but add a grade in each of the first two years to top out at K-8 and 745 students. The company plans to build the school with state funds. If it fails, the property would be owned by Charter Schools USA. Ocala Star-Banner.

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Florida schools roundup: Teacher recruiting, H.B. 7069, retention and more

Teacher recruiting: The Palm Beach County School District is trying to fill open positions in part by recruiting teachers from neighboring Broward County. Broward teachers have received postcards boasting about Palm Beach County’s “highest teacher salary in south Florida” as well as affordable health insurance.“We’re trying to think differently about how to attract teachers. The traditional ways don’t work,” says Palm Beach County schools chief human resources officer Gonzalo La Cava. Thirty-eight Broward teachers have moved to Palm Beach County this year, which is slightly more than in 2016. Sun-Sentinel. If the best teachers in Manatee County are driving south to Sarasota for better pay, Manatee County School Board member Charlie Kennedy says, Manatee should offer the same pay scale as Sarasota. Kennedy says the proposal could improve the chances of voters approving a 1-mill hike of property taxes in a special election in March. Bradenton Herald.

H.B. 7069 lawsuit: The Collier County School Board will decide this week whether to join other districts in suing the state over the constitutionality of the new education law, H.B. 7069. The bill will force the district to share $3 million in property taxes with the county’s six charter schools. Naples Daily News. Florida students need access to charter schools as an alternative to failing public schools, says State Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton. He also criticized school officials who are suing over the state education bill, which encourages more charter schools to open. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Retention bill: State Rep. John Cortes, D-Kissimmee, files a bill that would end the state rule requiring retention for 3rd-graders who don’t pass the state reading test or have a good cause exemption. Cortes filed the same bill in the last legislative session, but it never got a committee hearing. Gradebook.

State oversight bill: State Rep. Kim Daniels, D-Jacksonville, files a bill that would increase state oversight of local school board financial management. Last summer, Daniels joined Rep. Jason Fischer, R-Jacksonville, in criticizing the Duval County School Board for not requesting an audit after district officials discovered they had spent $21 million more than budgeted. Florida Politics.

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Union challenges ‘Best and Brightest’ teacher bonuses

By Jim Saunders

News Service of Florida

The Florida Education Association teachers union has filed a potential class-action lawsuit alleging that the state’s controversial “Best and Brightest” bonus program discriminates against older teachers and minorities.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in federal court in Tallahassee, names as defendants the Florida Department of Education and school boards throughout the state.

Lawmakers approved the Best and Brightest program in 2015 to provide bonuses to teachers. But the program has been controversial, in part, because it uses teacher performances on SAT and ACT college-entrance exams — in some cases, exams that teachers took decades ago — to help determine eligibility for the bonuses.

The lawsuit, which also includes seven individual teachers as plaintiffs, alleges that the Best and Brightest program violates state and federal civil-rights laws because of the use of the SAT and ACT scores. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Teacher bonuses, H.B. 7069, charters and more

Teacher bonuses: The Miami-Dade School District is asking the state for $2.3 million grant though the “schools of hope” program to pay highly rated teachers extra to work in five of the district’s failing schools. If the schools are selected by the state for the program, teachers who are rated “highly effective” could earn up to $11,500 in bonuses if they transfer in or stay at one of the five schools, help students improve and have good attendance. Broward County is also asking for money for teacher recruitment and retention bonuses for teachers at three struggling schools. If the schools are among the 25 selected by the state for the program, those teachers could earn an extra $8,000 or $9,000 in bonuses. Miami Herald.

Charters warned: Charter schools are in line to get an extra $10 million from the Palm Beach County School District this year because of the new education law. But school officials are warning the charters to not commit that money to any projects before the legal fight over H.B. 7069 is over. “If the school board’s challenge is successful, these provisions will be struck down,” wrote Mike Burke, the district’s chief financial officer, in a letter to the 48 charter schools. “Therefore the purpose of this notice is to advise you and all relevant parties to refrain from pledging any and all future revenue(s) derived from (the property tax dollars).” Palm Beach Post. There’s a lot in the new state education bill that Brevard County school officials don’t like, but they are not likely to be joining other districts in suing the state over H.B. 7069. Superintendent Desmond Blackburn says he will “turn the corner” in his disappointment over the bill to make it work in Brevard County. Most school board members agree, with saying joining the lawsuit could damage their relationships with local legislators who supported the bill and potentially affect future funding. Florida Today. Text messages obtained through a public records request show Republican legislators lobbying black Democrats to support H.B. 7069 during the last legislative session. Politico Florida.

Years of mold: In 2003, a Broward County grand jury ordered the school district to fix the mold problem in schools that was making teachers and students sick. But records recently obtained indicate the district is slow to respond to complaints, with many unresolved even years after they were filed, and doesn’t have accurate records on repair orders or if they were completed, or even if the repairs fixed the reported problem. “The information that you’re trying to extract is information that we would love to extract, but we cannot,” says Leo Bobadilla, chief facilities officer. Sun-Sentinel.

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Florida schools roundup: Bright Futures, board term limits, DeVos visit and more

Bright Futures: State Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, files a bill that would make the expansion of Bright Futures passed in this year’s legislative session permanent. Under it, more than 46,000 qualifying Florida students would have state university tuition and fees fully covered. Senate leaders say they also want to expand the payments to Medallion Scholars, the next scholarship tier down, to cover 75 percent of tuition and fees. Sun-SentinelGradebook. Bradenton Herald. Politico Florida. Associated Press. Sunshine State News.

Board term limits: State Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, files a bill that would limit school board members to two four-year terms. If the measure is approved in the Legislature, it also would need to be approved by 60 percent or more of voters since it would amend the state’s constitution. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WUSF. Monroe County School Board members are divided over the term limits proposal. Keynoter.

DeVos visit: On the second day of her visit to Florida, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos meets privately with education, business and advocacy group leaders to urge them to reshape the state’s education system so it provides more choice for students and better prepares them for jobs. She also says the K-12 and higher education systems need to work better together. News Service of Florida. Miami Herald.

The sleep-in effect: A RAND Corp. study concludes that Florida would get a $9 billion economic boost over the next 15 years if schools adjusted their schedules to allow later starting times for students in middle and high schools. Later times would cut fatal car crashes and boost student performance, the theory goes, which in turn would boost the likelihood of students graduating and going to college. Miami Herald.

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Florida schools roundup: Retention and H.B. 7069 suits, DeVos visit and more

Retention lawsuit: Parents who launched a legal challenge against the state’s policies on 3rd-grade retention are now asking a court to dismiss the case. They had challenged the policy that required students to take the Florida Standards Assessments reading test to be eligible for promotion, regardless of their academic performance. But they lost that case, and an appeal for the Florida Supreme Court to consider it, largely on the question of venue. The state contended the suits should have been filed in local courts. Gradebook.

H.B. 7069 lawsuit: Leon County school officials won’t ask the school board to join the lawsuit challenging the state’s new education law, H.B. 7069. The Florida Association of District School Superintendents also says it will not join the suit, saying those decisions are for local school boards. Eleven school boards have voted to join the suing coalition. They say the new law is unconstitutional because the bill covers more than one subject, and it forces districts to share tax money with charter schools while stripping those districts of authority over charters. WFSU.

DeVos visit: U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos tours a private religious school and a charter school during a stop in Tallahassee, and touted the schools as “examples of what schools should aspire to be.” Her trip extends into today, when she will visit another private religious school. News Service of Florida. Tallahassee Democrat. Miami HeraldUSA TodaySunshine State News. WFSU. Leon County School Superintendent Rocky Hanna is critical of DeVos’ trip, saying “it’s insulting that she’s going to visit the capital of the state of Florida, to visit a charter school, a private school and a voucher school.” Tallahassee Democrat. DeVos gave no indication during her trip if the U.S. Department of Education would be receptive to Florida’s request for a waiver from requirements of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. Politico Florida.

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