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Florida schools roundup: Administrators of year, Lauren’s Kids, charters and more

Administrators of the year: Sarasota Booker High School’s Rachel Shelley is named 2017 principal of the year by the Florida Department of Education. She was appointed principal at Booker in 2011, after being principal at a school for at-risk students. Kelly Stedman, of James Stephens International Academy in Lee County, is named assistant principal of the year. Florida Department of Education. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Gradebook.

Lauren’s Kids: State Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, voted for a general appropriations bill in the Legislature last month that included $1.5 million for her nonprofit, Lauren’s Kids, from which she earns $135,000 a year as executive director. But apparently that’s not a conflict of interest. While Senate ethics rules forbid members from voting “on any matter” from which they or an immediate family member might profit, those rules don’t apply when voting on the annual general appropriations act. The Florida Department of Education had requested Lauren’s Kids be granted $1 million to continue its “Safer, Smarter” teaching program, which helps students, teachers and parents recognize signs of child sex abuse and the importance of reporting it. Florida Bulldog.

Charter complaints: Republican politicians in the Florida Panhandle say Gov. Rick Scott’s decision to approve H.B. 7069 could cause him problems in his expected 2018 campaign for Bill Nelson’s U.S. Senate seat. “He had a chance to stand up for public schools and he didn’t,” says Henry Kelley, who ran Scott’s 2010 campaign in Okaloosa County and is particularly unhappy with what he considers advantages charter schools were given in the bill. “They voted to harm what is arguably the region’s most valuable asset.” Sen. George Gainer, R-Panama City, agreed, saying “we’re all in trouble” if lawmakers don’t fix the inequities between charter and traditional schools in the next session. Miami Herald. Moody’s Investors Service is warning the state that requiring traditional public schools to share capital funds with charter schools could affect the credit ratings for districts with “significant” charter enrollment. News Service of Florida. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Private and charter school growth, lawsuit and more

Private, charter growth: Private school enrollment is up 6.5 percent in Florida, the sixth straight year of growth, and now makes up 11.6 percent of all pre-K through 12th grade students. There are 368,321 school students at 2,663 private schools in the state, according to the annual report from the Florida Department of Education. Miami-Dade County has the most at 76,022. redefinED. Hillsborough County school officials expect 21,626 district students to attend charter schools in the next school year, an increase of about 22 percent. Charter students now make up about 10 percent of all students in Hillsborough. Gradebook.

Students sue district: Two former Miami-Dade County School District students are suing the district after they found their Social Security numbers and test scores on the district’s website. District officials call the breach an isolated incident and say a forensic review is being conducted to find out where the information came from and whether it is authentic. Miami Herald.

District hires lobbyist: The Miami-Dade County School District hire Ballard Partners to lobby for the district’s interests in Congress and several federal agencies. The contract is for three years at a rate of $108,000 a year. It’s the first time since 2008 the district has had a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. “We’ve always had a very active presence at the federal level, but in light of the new players in the administration we felt it was prudent to seek assistance in being able to have additional access,” said Iraida Mendez-Cartaya, who runs the district’s office of intergovernmental affairs. Miami Herald.

Charter vendor arrested: Steven J. Kunkemoeller, charged with fraud and racketeering in connection with the operation of charter schools in Florida, is arrested in Pensacola. He operated two companies that allegedly sold school materials at inflated prices to Newpoint Education Partners. Newpoint founder Marcus May, who has also been charged with fraud and racketeering, has not yet turned himself in. Gradebook. An Escambia County commissioner accuses the school district of trying to hide misconduct at the counties’ three Newpoint charter schools. Jeff Bergosh says for a year, district officials ignored complaints about grade-fixing, organized cheating and student safety issues. School officials dismiss Bergosh’s allegations. Pensacola News Journal. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Project manager, budgets, charters and more

Managing the boom: The Palm Beach County School Board will consider a plan to hire a company to manage the district’s building boom, at a cost of $26.4 million over 10 years. California-based AECOM would act as the program manager in exchange for a 2.2 percent cut of the $1.4 billion the district is spending to repair old schools and build new ones. Voters approved a sales tax initiative in November to raise the sales tax for school infrastructure. “I think, at 2.2 percent, that is a terrific deal for the district,” says Mike Burke, the district’s chief financial officer. Palm Beach Post.

Financial problems: Hillsborough County School Superintendent Jeff Eakins acknowledges at a budget workshop that the district’s financial problems are even worse than previously known. The district’s reserve account lost $83.6 million between 2014 and 2015, and that was after the district transferred $55 million into it, and was on track to lose $130 million or more the following year. School board members brainstormed cost-cutting ideas, but no decisions were reached. Tampa Bay Times. Budget cuts could put the brakes on a proposed technology upgrade for the Pasco County School District. Chief finance officer Olga Swinson is recommending the elimination of $724,000 budgeted for new televisions and projectors to help teachers with presentations. She also suggests not spending the previously budgeted $642,000 for telecommunications upgrades and maintenance, and $310,000 in computer hardware, servers and software. Gradebook. Pasco County Superintendent Kurt Browning has been pushing the state to return to paper-and-pencil standardized testing, but he’s recommending the district continue to use computer tests because doing so will save money. Gradebook.

Sharing with charters: Under the new state education law, the Duval County School District will be compelled to turn over $16 million from its capital fund in the next five years to charter schools. School officials say the first payment will be $2.4 million for the next school year. Florida Times-Union. In Sarasota County, charter schools’ share of capital funds will be $9.3 million, up from the $5.5 million the board allotted this past school year. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Flagler County School District will have to send $570,000 from its capital fund to the county’s two charter schools. Flagler Live. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Fraud charges for charter founder, H.B. 7069 and more

Fraud, racketeering charges: The founder of a charter school company is charged with racketeering and organized fraud in connection with the operation of his schools in the Pinellas, Escambia, Bay, Hillsborough, Broward and Duval districts. According to a statewide prosecutor, Marcus May, who founded Newpoint Education Partners, took more than $1 million from the state, the six districts and the 15 schools he owned and used it to take trips, have plastic surgery, and buy homes and personal watercraft. Also charged is Steven Kunkemoeller, who owns two companies that allegedly sold supplies and furniture to May’s charter schools at inflated prices. The three companies also were indicted by an Escambia County grand jury a year ago on charges of grand theft, money laundering and aggravated white-collar crime. Tampa Bay TimesPanama City News Herald. Pensacola News JournalFlorida Times-UnionWJHG. WFLA.

More on H.B. 7069: One financial safeguard that was discussed early and often for inclusion in an education bill did not make it into H.B. 7069. There are no provisions to make sure that state funds for charter school construction aren’t pocketed for profit by charter company owners. Instead, charter companies will automatically get a proportion of funds based on enrollment, not need. Gradebook. H.B. 7069, and its push for school choice and charter schools, is now the law of the state. But the debate about it hasn’t ended. Critics of the bill say the “state-money-should-follow-the-student” catch-phrase many Republican legislators have adopted violates the state Constitution and a 2006 court precedent that outlawed state vouchers for private school tuition. Tampa Bay Times. Opponents of H.B. 7069 say they expect one or more districts to file a legal challenge to provisions of the bill. The Capitolist. Hillsborough County school officials should quit blaming the Legislature for their financial problems, says House Speaker Richard Corcoran. “It’s their bloat, inefficiency and gross overspending. Their problem is their mismanagement.” Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Cyberattacks on schools, education bill and more

Schools cyberattacked: A cyberattack launched last fall against the Miami-Dade County School District and three others ultimately failed, but it did show vulnerabilities of districts trying to protect the personal information of current and former students, their parents and school employees. Experts say school wifi networks are traditionally easy to connect to, and the proliferation of cell phones among students gives hackers opportunities to get access to those networks. Miami Herald.

Education law impact: Brevard County teachers worry that the new education law will put jeopardized promised raises, and school officials are concerned with the availability of money for capital projects. Florida Today. Some northwest Florida schools will benefit from the new law, and some could be negatively affected. WTXL. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, architect of the K-12 education bill, gets a hostile reception at an event in Tampa. Florida Politics. Corcoran may be the Legislature’s most interesting man, but he may also be the most contradictory. Miami Herald. In an interview, Corcoran defends the education bill. WFLA. Hillsborough County School Superintendent Jeff Eakins doesn’t expect an immediate increase in the number of charter schools – so-called “schools of hope” – moving into areas with persistently low-performing schools. Charter companies have to find locations, submit applications and build a staff, and the Legislature still hasn’t written the rules to be followed, he noted. Gradebook. State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, tries to explain how H.B. 7069 came about. GradebookPolitico Florida.

Civil rights queries: The U.S. Education Department says it is scaling back on civil rights investigations of public schools and universities. Officials say rules set during the Obama administration greatly increased the number of complaints about such things as disproportionate disciplining of minority students and the mishandling of sexual assaults claims. They expect the new policy will help the department more quickly resolve cases it does take. New York Times. Meanwhile, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights says it will investigate the U.S. Department of Education and other agencies over their practices in enforcing civil rights laws. Education Week. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Education bill, impact for charters, reaction and more

H.B. 7069 signed: Gov. Rick Scott signs H.B. 7069, the Legislature’s massive $419 million public education bill, at the private Morning Star Catholic School in Orlando. The bill provides $140 million to recruit high-profile charter schools into areas with persistently low-performing schools, requires 20 minutes of recess every day in public elementary schools, sets aside more than $200 million for teacher and principal bonuses, moves standardized state testing to the end of the school year, and expands the Gardiner scholarship program for special-needs students, among other things. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the Gardiner program. Orlando Sentinel. redefinED. Miami Herald. Palm Beach Post. Florida Times-Union. Sarasota Herald-TribuneNaples Daily News. Gradebook. Lakeland LedgerAssociated Press. News Service of FloridaSunshine State News. Florida Politics. Politico FloridaWashington Post. More reaction to the signing of the bill and how its components could affect some school districts. Tampa Bay TimesFlagler Live. Bradenton Herald. Gainesville Sun. Miami Herald. WOKV. Cape Coral Daily Breeze. WJAX. WJHG. WTVT. Why would Scott sign the controversial H.B. 7069 and veto S.B. 374, the higher education bill? Many think it’s political payback to Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, for the Senate’s attempts to override Scott’s vetoes. Politico Florida.

Bill’s impact: Charter schools are the big winners in the education bill. Sun Sentinel. Here are some details of other things that will change with the bill’s signing. Palm Beach Post. Florida districts are starting to look into how to fit 20 minutes of recess into their school days. Gradebook. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Education spending deal, H.B. 7069 and more

Special session: A last-minute deal was struck on increasing per-pupil K-12 spending and providing more money for economic development and tourism, and the Legislature adjourned as scheduled Friday after a three-day special session. Per-pupil spending will go up about $100. Gov. Rick Scott says he’s still deciding whether to sign two other education measures: H.B. 7069, a bill that broadens school choice and funding for charter schools, and a higher education bill that would expand Bright Futures scholarships. Tampa Bay Times and Miami HeraldNews Service of Florida. Associated PressSun Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Naples Daily News. Tallahassee Democrat. WFSUPolitico Florida. When the Legislature couldn’t agree on key legislation, Gov. Scott swooped in to take advantage. Mary Ellen Klas, Miami Herald. Was the education budget agreement a hollow victory? Many education advocates say the increased spending still isn’t enough. Miami Herald.

Bills signed: Gov. Scott signs 16 bills into law, including one that strengthens the right to religious expression for students and staff in K-12 schools. Miami Herald. Gradebook.

Testing results: Here are more reports on the results of Florida Standards Assessments testing from districts around the state. Miami HeraldNorthwest Florida Daily News. TCPalm. Space Coast Daily. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Bridge to Tomorrow. Sarasota school officials are encouraged by improvements made by students in testing, and hope they’re enough to maintain the A grade the district has received every year since grades were first given in 2004. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Special session, testing, prayer case and more

Special session: A proposal to change the way K-12 schools are funded fails in the Senate, and the chamber appears to be closer to agreeing to the House’s spending plan for K-12 education. But the special session could collapse over a dispute about spending for higher education. Speaker Richard Corcoran says the House will not join the Senate in overriding Gov. Rick Scott’s veto of about $75 million in projects for colleges and universities, as Senate President Joe Negron has demanded. His escalating feud with Negron over education priorities and the agreement Scott and Corcoran reached last week is threatening to sink the special session. Today is the final scheduled day. Miami Herald and Tampa Bay TimesPolitico FloridaMiami Herald. News Service of Florida. Palm Beach PostFlorida Politics. Gradebook. redefinED. Sunshine State NewsPolitico Florida.

State testing results: Florida sophomores post a 62 percent pass rate on the Florida Standards Assessments algebra 1 exam, up 7 percentage points over last year’s performance, say Florida Department of Education officials. There was no change in the 50 percent pass rate on the language arts exams. Orlando Sentinel. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Department of Education. WJXTHere are reports on testing results, and potential effects of those results, from districts and schools around the state. Sun Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Florida Times-UnionGradebook. GradebookBradenton Herald. Fort Myers News-Press. Gainesville SunOcala Star Banner. Florida Today. Lakeland Ledger. TCPalm. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Flagler Live. Panama City News Herald. WFLAOnly 11 percent of Florida’s high school seniors who had to retake the algebra 1 end-of-course test passed it, according to the Florida Department of Education. GradebookPolitico Florida.

Prayer court decision: A federal judge rules against a Tampa Christian school that claimed its free speech rights were violated when the Florida High School Athletic Association did not allow it to broadcast a prayer before a football game. The FHSAA denied Cambridge Christian School’s request to use a stadium loudspeaker for a prayer before a state championship football game in 2015, saying allowing it would have implied an endorsement of the message. The federal judge’s decision concluding the school had no right to broadcast the prayer concurred with the recommendation from a magistrate judge in February. News Service of Florida. Continue Reading →

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