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Florida schools roundup: Charters, recess, bathrooms, food truck and more

Gambling and charters: Under a gambling bill filed in the Florida House, a third of the estimated $400 million revenue from the state’s agreement would go to charter schools, a third to K-12 teacher bonuses, recruitment and training, and a third to recruiting and retaining higher education faculty. The House bill would protect the status quo for gambling in the state, while the Florida Senate’s bill would greatly expand slot machines and Indian gaming. Miami Herald. Politico Florida.

Recess movement: While some educators and legislators say they’re concerned that mandating daily recess for all the state’s elementary schools could hurt classtime flexibility for teachers, there does not appear to be an organized movement to block the measure. State Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando, said, “there’s no one that’s actively lobbying against” the effort. Miami Herald.

Bathroom access: School leaders around Florida say they will continue to protect the rights of transgender children despite President Trump’s decision to rescind a directive that urged schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of the gender they identify with. But districts without specific policies are looking for direction on ways to accommodate transgender students within the law. Orlando Sentinel. Miami Herald. Sun-SentinelTampa Bay Times. WPLG. WFTV.

District’s food truck: The Alachua County School Board has bought a food truck for $154,000, and will move it around between schools to try to get students interested in eating healthier food. The truck is expected to be ready for service by mid-April. Gainesville Sun. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Spending, bill for scholarships, bathrooms and more

School tax hike: The K-12 education budgets of both Gov. Rick Scott and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, count on an extra $400 million-plus that would be raised through rising property values on unchanging local property tax rates. Neither considers that a tax hike. But Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, does, and Wednesday he sent an emphatic message to Scott and Negron: “That’s a hell no. That’s a hell no. We’re not raising property taxes to fund government waste.” Gradebook.

More for scholarships: A bill filed in the House would raise the amount of money students would receive from the state’s tax credit scholarship program and widen eligibility for Gardiner scholarships for students with disabilities. H.B. 15, filed by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, would give low-income students a higher percentage of the current per-student funding to attend a private school. Right now the tax credit scholarship provides 82 percent of the state’s per-student rate. It would go up to 88 percent for elementary schools, 92 percent for middle schools and 96 percent for high schools. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer both scholarships. News Service of Florida. redefinED.

Bathroom access: The Trump Administration rescinds the federal directive allowing transgender students to use school bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. The Obama Administration issued the directive last year. “This is an issue best solved at the state and local level,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said. “Schools, communities and families can find — and in many cases have found — solutions that protect all students.” New York Times. Associated Press.

Higher education: Senate and House committees hear pitches for ideas to include in the higher education budget. Among them: $2.8 million for the University of Central Florida to develop a community schools program to help turn around low-performing schools, $300,000 to fund a robotics competition at Florida Atlantic University for high schools students, an expansion of the amount students receive for Bright Futures scholarships and how they can be used, more vocational training programs and $375,000 for academic mentoring programs for black high school students in the Big Bend area. Senate President Joe Negron says he plans to combine the two main higher education bills into one. Florida Politics. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Continue Reading →

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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, incentives, recess and more

Charter district: The Florida Board of Education approves a charter schools company taking over a public school district’s operations. Jefferson County, which had been struggling financially and with enrollment, will combine the elementary and middle/high schools on a single campus. The district hopes to have applications from charter schools companies by the first week in March. It’s the first time a Florida school district has ever ceded operations to a charter school company. redefinED. Tallahassee Democrat. Associated Press. WFSU. The Polk County School Board is considering closing struggling McLaughin Middle School and reopening it under the Bok Academy, an A-rated charter school. Lakeland Ledger.

Charter recruitment: Representatives from four national charter schools companies tell a Florida House committee that they’d like to expand into Florida. BASIS, IDEA, Achievement First and the SEED Foundation all express interest, if the state can set up equitable funding to public districts. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, has suggested such changes are being considered. redefinED.

Teacher incentives: Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, the Senate’s pre-K-12 education budget chairman, wants the Legislature to consider bumping the amount of money available for teacher incentives to at least $200 million. Gov. Rick Scott has recommended $58 million for teacher incentives. “I’m not concerned that we’re talking about $200-250 million,” said Simmons. “It’s an investment; it’s not an expenditure, and I think we can find it in an $83 billion budget.” Miami Herald. The statewide teachers union, the Florida Education Association, says the incentive programs are gimmicks, and that it wants better pay for all teachers. Miami Herald.

Recess doubts: Two members of the Senate PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee want lawmakers to consider the whole picture of education and the financial implications before approving a bill that would require 20 minutes of recess every day in Florida elementary schools. “This is an important issue, recess, but I think we need to look at it in a more holistic way,” said Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee. Gradebook. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Testing reform, funding, incentives and more

Testing reforms: Under the proposed “Fewer, Better Tests” bills filed Wednesday in the Legislature, all K-12 assessment testing would take place in the final three weeks of the school year, starting in the 2017-2018. S.B. 926 and H.B. 773 would also require results be returned to teachers within a week of testing, and that an understandable report be sent to parents. It also directs the education commissioner to study the feasibility of replacing the Florida Standards Assessments with the SAT or ACT. If the changes are approved, the state would also have to renegotiate its contract with testing vendor American Institutes for Research. Bill sponsors Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami; Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah; and Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, say the goal of the bills is to reduce stress and anxiety among students, parents and teachers. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. News Service of Florida.

Per-student funding: Florida’s spending per student ranks well below the U.S. average among states, according to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics. In the 2013-2014 school year, Florida spent $8,714 per student. The U.S. average was $10,936. Miami-Dade County spent the most per student among districts, $9,106. Gradebook.

Teaching incentives: Senators on the Florida PreK-12 education budget committee react coolly to Gov. Rick Scott’s $58 million proposal for incentives to recruit and retain teachers. Specifically, senators criticized Scott’s proposal for $10 million in hiring bonuses for new teachers who score in the top 10 percent in their subject-area exam. “It concerns me that we continue to look for the best performers in college — and not the best teachers,” said Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze. Miami Herald.

Gun-free zones: Bills filed in the Legislature this week are aimed at ending gun-free zones in Florida – including at K-12 schools. Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, and Rep. Don Hahnfeldt, R-Villages, filed S.B. 908 and H.B. 803 to eliminate all restrictions on where people with concealed-carry permits can take their guns. Miami Herald. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Merit pay, education funding, club policy and more

Merit pay study: A study nationally and in Orange County concludes that tying teacher pay to students’ performance on standardized testing has not produced the results expected. The study, shared with the Central Florida Public School Boards Coalition, indicates there has been no “significant or stable improvements” in student achievement since Florida adopted a merit pay law in 2006. Orange County School Board members say they will share the study with Florida legislators. Orlando Sentinel.

Education funding: Two influential Democratic state representatives say they are encouraged by House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s weekend pledge to boost education spending for the 2017-2018 school year. State Reps. Larry Lee Jr., D-Port St. Lucie, and Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, said in a statement: “Now that the speaker has made this commitment, we are hopeful that our committees will move away from looking at ways to cut education funding and instead begin to focus on giving our hardworking teachers a raise, and increasing per-pupil funding to actually historic levels that take into account inflation.” Sunshine State News. Florida Politics.

Club policy: The Lake County School Board will consider a proposed policy change that would allow a Gay-Straight Alliance at Carver Middle School in Leesburg. The district proposed the change after a federal appeals court ruled that denying the group’s application for the club was a violation of the Equal Access Act. Several school board members say they support the change, as long as students get parental consent. Daily Commercial. 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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