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Florida schools roundup: Graduation options, suit, schools of hope and more

Graduation path options: A Florida legislator files a bill that would offer alternative paths to a high school degree for those students who earn enough credits to graduate but don’t pass the state algebra 1 and language arts tests. State Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Beverly Hills, wants those students to be able to use an industry-recognized certification or a portfolio of school work to earn a standard diploma. Gradebook.

H.B. 7069 lawsuit: When 13 state school districts filed suit against the state’s new education law, H.B. 7069, the largest district in the state was conspicuous by its absence. Miami-Dade County school officials have strongly criticized the law, but decided not to join the suit. Instead, school board members will lobby legislators to amend the law to address their concerns. “We made a very clear determination that ongoing dialogue, ongoing collaboration — until it was determined that it has been exhausted — is prudent,” says board member Steve Gallon. If the options are exhausted, Gallon says, the board will take another look at joining the lawsuit. WLRN.

Schools of hope: Two Bay County schools that were named “schools of hope” by the state Board of Education this week have different plans for the extra money they will receive. Springfield Elementary will spend its $903,424 grant on mental health services and counseling, and classroom support for teachers. Lucille Moore Elementary officials plan to use their $1,022,048 grant to boost parental involvement and engagement in students’ education, among other things. Eleven schools of hope were designated by the state. Each receives an extra $2,000 per student to provide provide such additional services as tutoring, counseling, more teacher coaches and salary supplements for teachers to run student clubs. Panama City News Herald. WJHG.

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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: Scholarship oversight, tests, charter ban and more

Scholarship oversight: Florida’s school scholarship programs serve about 140,000 students and redirect almost $1 billion a year to private schools, but state regulation of those schools is so weak that many employ teachers who aren’t college graduates, falsify safety records but continue to stay in business, and fail to educate students without suffering the consequences public schools face, according to a newspaper’s investigation. The number of students using tax credit, Gardiner or McKay scholarships has more than tripled in the past decade. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit and Gardiner scholarship programs. Orlando Sentinel.

Testing the tests: The Florida Department of Education hires a company to evaluate whether the SAT and ACT tests can replace the state’s 10th-grade language arts Florida Standards Assessments and algebra I end-of-course exams. The Legislature required the review as part of the new education law, H.B. 7069. The assessment is expected to be finished in time for Education Commissioner Pam Stewart to make a recommendation on the substitution by Jan. 1. Meanwhile, Stewart says the department won’t decide on whether to delay the spring assessments testing window until after the hurricane season is over. Gradebook.

Charters schools: For the first time, the 50 or so charter schools in Palm Beach County were banned from this year’s “Showcase of Schools,” an event to show parents some of the most popular programs offered in county schools. School Superintendent Robert Avossa says the charter movement is “about spurring competition. So if that’s the case, why would you invite the competition to your event?” The incident is the latest in the escalating fight between district officials and charter schools. Palm Beach Post. The Florida Commission on Ethics rules that charter schools are not public agencies, but instead are more similar to business entities. Politico Florida.

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Florida schools roundup: H.B. 7069 lawsuit, amendments, safety and more

H.B. 7069 suit filed: The lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the new state education law, H.B. 7069, has been filed in a Leon County circuit court. Thirteen school districts are suing over the law, which requires districts to share local property tax money with charter schools but limits the authority local boards have over those schools. School boards in Alachua, Bay, Broward, Clay, Duval, Hamilton, Lee, Orange, Pinellas, Polk, St. Lucie, Volusia and Wakulla counties voted to join the suit. Palm Beach County also is suing over the law, but in a separate caseOrlando Sentinel. Naples Herald. WBBH. WLRN.

Constitution and education: Dozens of education proposals are among the 700 changes suggested during meetings of the state’s Constitution Revision Commission, which convenes every 20 years to take a look at and potentially amend the constitution. Some of the proposals deal with every angle of an issue. For example, there are proposals to make all school superintendents elected, to make them appointed, or to do away with them altogether. There are amendments about charters, class sizes, funding and mandates, proposed both by commissioners and the public. Proposals must be approved by a majority of the commission by Dec. 14 to get onto the November 2018 ballot. Then, 60 percent of voters must approve the amendments for them to be added to the constitution. Tampa Bay Times.

Jewish school safety: Gov. Rick Scott says he will propose $1 million in the state budget to improve security at Jewish schools. There has been a wave of threats against Jewish schools and community centers in the past year, and the Legislature put $654,000 into a pool earlier this year for those schools for bulletproof glass, fencing and video cameras. “I know many Floridians have been horrified by the threats against our Jewish schools and communities,” says Scott. “We have absolutely zero tolerance for these hateful and anti-Semitic acts.” The proposal has other religious groups wondering why they aren’t being offered funds. Miami HeraldSun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. WQAM. Sunshine State News. Tallahassee Democrat. WPEC.

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Florida schools roundup: Waiting for aid, blaming the abused, displaced and more

Still waiting for aid: Thirteen years after Hurricane Ivan hit Florida, the Escambia County School District is still waiting to hear about claims it filed with FEMA. The district’s not alone. A review of claims shows that dozens are still pending from Ivan, Katrina and other storms that have affected the state and its schools since 1999. The majority are from 2004 and 2005, when eight hurricanes hit the state from multiple directions. Associated Press.

Blaming the abused: A review of abuse cases filed against the Palm Beach County School Board in the past few years has a common denominator: In its defense, the school district has always fully or partly blamed the abuse victims. In one case the victim was 6 years old. In another, 7. In three others, the children were 9. The strategy of assigning the person who brought the suit at least part of the blame has been used by Conroy Simberg, a Hollywood law firm that represents the district to try to reduce the damages the district has to pay, not to assign blame to the victims, says Dale Friedman, an attorney with Conroy Simberg. Several board members say the tactic is outrageous and want to ban it. The board will vote this week on a proposed settlement of more than $3.5 million for four abuse victims. Sun-Sentinel.

Displaced students: Florida school districts are asking both the federal and state governments for aid to accommodate the thousands of students displaced by hurricanes and expected to enroll in state K-12 schools. But they are pessimistic. Orange County Public Schools spokesman Scott Howat says the odds of getting additional state money are zero unless the Legislature intervenes. The state says districts must see an enrollment influx of at least 5 percent to qualify, and individual schools must see a 25 percent growth. Nearly 30,000 people have arrived just from Puerto Rico, according to a spokesperson in Gov. Rick Scott’s office. The 74. Education Week. NPR. Associated Press. Orlando Sentinel.

Free meals extended: Lee, Collier and Monroe counties will continue to offer free meals at schools through Nov. 30. The free meals began after Hurricane Irma swept through the state. The three districts have 191 schools and 138,000 students. Fort Myers News-Press.

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Florida schools roundup: Schools of Hope, and Excellence, charters and more

‘Schools of Hope’ rules: No charter school companies have yet applied to the Florida Department of Education to become “Schools of Hope.” Part of the reason is that no rules have been established for the program, which offers financial incentives for charter schools to move into areas where traditional public schools have struggled persistently. Adam Miller, the director of the state’s school choice office, says the first round of rules is expected to be published in time for the Florida Board of Education to consider at its November meeting. redefinED. The state Board of Education will wait until its next meeting Oct. 18 to announce the public schools that will receive $2,000 more per student under the “Schools of Hope” legislation. The Legislature set aside $51.5 million for up to 25 schools, and 50 applied. Gradebook. No charter school conversions are on the agenda for next week’s Florida Board of Education meeting. redefinED.

‘Schools of Excellence’: Six hundred and forty Florida schools in 44 counties are designated by the Florida Department of Education as “Schools of Excellence.” The designation allows the schools to 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 gives them greater latitude in hiring and budget decisions for the next three years. Here are the lists for elementary, middle, high and combination schools. Gradebook.

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Florida schools roundup: Displaced students, budgets, charters and more

Displaced students: Almost 300 students from Puerto Rico already have enrolled in Orange County schools, and officials anticipate hundreds – if not thousands – more will follow. The district also has hired some bilingual Puerto Rican teachers and plans to hire more. Orlando Sentinel. The 74. The chairman of the Osceola County School Board thinks as many as 2,000 students from Puerto Rico and other islands displaced by Hurricane Maria will enroll in the county’s schools. The county has already added 130 students affected by hurricanes. WMFE. The Florida PTA joins educators and lawmakers in urging the state to relax the rules in order to make more money available for all school districts that take in displaced students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Gradebook.

District budget problems: An audit of the Duval County School District’s finances shows officials overspent last year’s $1.7 billion budget by about $17.8 million. That’s about $3 million less than originally thought. The auditor stressed there was no misappropriation of funds. The district spent $8.8 million more than budgeted on personnel, $8 million more in contracted services, and the state also cut funding to the district by $1.39 million. The overspending was taken from a reserve fund, which still exceeds the minimum required by the state. Florida Times-Union.

Charter school conversion: Jefferson County school officials are cautiously optimistic that their conversion to a charter school district – the first of its kind in Florida – is going well. Christian Steen, a student testifying before the Florida House Education Committee, says students are more focused and fewer of them are skipping school under the new Somerset Academy charter management organization. Committee chair Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, says he’s “encouraged” by the news from Jefferson County and wants to organize a field trip for a closer look. “This is a long-term effort,” he says. redefinED.

Charter application rejected: A charter school company’s application to build a 745-student school in Marion County is rejected by the Marion County School Board. Superintendent Heidi Maier told the board that while she favors “giving parents school choice,” the school proposed by the for-profit Charters Schools USA offers nothing new or innovative. The company can appeal the decision to the Florida Department of Education. Ocala Star-Banner.

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Florida schools roundup: Rules waived, extra funding, class times and more

State rules waived: Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Education Commissioner Pam Stewart waive rules to allow students displaced by Hurricane Maria to enter schools in the state. Schools may now accept students who don’t have documentation and hire teachers who don’t have the paperwork proving they are certified. Stewart also waived the residency and student record rules for college students. Orlando SentinelGradebook. News Service of Florida. Sun-SentinelSunshine State News. Capitolist. Naples Herald. WMFE. WKMG. Only a fraction of the schools in Puerto Rico have reopened. Education Week.

Funding for arrivals: Florida school districts have been urged to accept any and all students displaced by the hurricane, but the Department of Education has not guaranteed it would provide extra dollars for those students. The DOE says the only districts that will get supplemental funding are those that see an enrollment increase by 5 percent or more, or schools with an enrollment bump of 25 percent or more. Legislators who urged the state to welcome displaced students are now lobbying state officials to cover all students. Miami Herald. Palm Beach Post.

Class time variations: When it came time to make up days lost to hurricanes, school officials quickly discovered a wide variation in classroom instruction time from district to district and even school to school within districts. That happens because, while every school has a minimum amount of instruction time required by the state, it also has discretion to set daily schedules that can lead to significant differences in classroom time. Some school officials say the discrepancy is no big deal, while others worry that some students are being shortchanged. Tampa Bay Times.

School marketing: Many for-profit schools in Florida and other states are offering rewards to students who persuade other students to enroll or who endorse the school on social media. The promotions often coincide with the time the states count enrollment to determine how much money each school receives. ProPublica.

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