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Florida schools roundup: Schools of Hope, Hope Scholarship and more

Schools of Hope extension: A Florida Senate committee is considering a plan that would give school districts another option for trying to turn around persistently low-performing schools. Right now, the state gives districts three options for those schools: close them, convert them to charter schools or hire an outside operator to run them. A fourth option would allow districts to place principals with highly effective performance reviews in charge of the struggling schools as well as their own. Those principals would be given the authority to make changes and pool resources between the schools. The schools, which would be called “franchise model schools,” would be eligible for money from the $140 million Schools of Hope program. redefinED.

Hope Scholarship: The Florida Senate Education Committee approves a revised version of the bill offering scholarships for students who are bullied or victims of violence. Principals would have 30 days to investigate claims from parents. If the claims are substantiated, the victimized students would be eligible for scholarships to attend private schools, or they could transfer to a public school of their choice. The committee also approves a measure that would increase oversight of the state’s K-12 private school choice programs. Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer Florida’s tax credit and Gardiner Scholarship programs. It would also help administer the Hope Scholarship program if lawmakers create it. redefinED. News Service of Florida. Associated PressSunshine State News. Politico Florida.

Choice in Florida: Almost 1.7 million Florida preK-12 students attended a school outside their attendance zone in the 2016-2017 school year, according to an analysis of Florida Department of Education statistics. That’s an increase of 207,000 students using school choice in the past five years. Step Up For Students did the analysis. redefinED.

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Florida schools roundup: Board pay, charters, Blaine Amendment and more

No end to board pay: The Constitution Revision Commission rejects a proposal to end pay for members of local school boards. A majority of the members expressed concerns that ending pay would limit the diversity of candidates, especially in poor and rural counties. “If you cannot work for free, you cannot be a school board member with this proposal,” St. Johns County Superintendent Tim Forson argued. Eight other proposed amendments will be discussed and voted on at a future meeting. Gradebook. Politico Florida.

Charter school authorizers: A proposed amendment to create charter school authorizers other than local school boards is changed to allow outside entities to also start public schools. By state law, that authority to start free public schools largely rests with local school boards. Commission member Erika Donalds, who introduced the original proposal, backs the amendment, which was brought by Patricia Levesque. redefinED.

Blaine Amendment: Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero urges the Constitution Revision Commission to support a proposal that would end the prohibition against state money going to religious institutions, including schools. Citing a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, Cantero says the Blaine Amendment is likely to be declared unconstitutional. redefinED. News Service of Florida.

Flu concerns: The flu virus is sweeping the state with 107 outbreaks already reported. Ninety-four percent of those reports are from schools and health-care facilities. Baker, Bradford and Holmes counties have had elevated activity, according to the Florida Department of Health, and 46 of the state’s 67 counties are reporting increasing flu activity. Only Jackson County has reported no cases. Several school districts have sent warnings home to parents. Tampa Bay Times. WOKV. Keynoter. Gainesville Sun.

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Florida schools roundup: Schools of Hope rule, Bright Futures bill and more

Schools of Hope: The Florida Board of Education approves a rule that will allow highly regarded charter organizations to apply for money from the state starting next month to open schools in areas with persistently low-performing traditional public schools. The rule outlines the process by which these companies can become operators of “Schools of Hope” as outlined in the education bill passed in last year’s Legislature. The bill set aside $140 million for the program. redefinEDGradebook. WCTV. Politico Florida. The San Francisco-based KIPP Foundation is making plans to open a charter school this fall in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood. It would be run in collaboration with the Miami-Dade County School District, and hopes to receive Schools of Hope grant money intended to lure nationally prominent charter networks to the state. WLRN. The state board also approved giving 14 schools about $20 million to provide additional social services, after-school learning programs and tutoring through the Schools of Hope program. Twenty-five schools are now receiving the extra $2,000 per student. Schools selected are in Brevard, Duval, Gadsden, Hamilton, Hernando, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk, Putnam and Volusia counties. WLRN. Capitol News Service. George W. Munroe Elementary School in Gadsden County is one of the schools awarded the extra funds. Tallahassee Democrat.

Bright Futures bill: The House Post-Secondary Education Subcommittee approves a higher education bill that expands Bright Futures scholarships, but only after adding a requirement that the state’s universities conduct an annual survey to assess the state of “intellectual freedom” on campuses. “What has been missing is a way to measure or determine if intellectual diversity actually exists,” says House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero. “And more importantly, particularly in this day and age, whether students and faculty feel safe and secure in expressing their own individual viewpoints.” The companion bill has already been approved by the Senate. News Service of Florida.

Board term limits: A bill that would impose term limits on members of local school boards is approved by the Florida House PreK-12 Quality subcommittee, despite the misgivings of several legislators. Board members would have to leave office after serving eight consecutive years, though they could run again after a break. The bill would start counting years served after 2013. Gradebook. Politico Florida.

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Florida schools roundup: Cold again closing schools, pensions and more

Cold closing schools: A cold front is expected to bring freezing temperatures and icy conditions into north Florida today. The Walton, Escambia, Jackson, Holmes, Okaloosa and Santa Rosa school districts have closed all schools, and Bay County is limiting after-school activities. Northwest Florida Daily News. WMBB. WEAR. Pensacola News Journal. Destin Log. Panama City News Herald. The Leon County School District won’t be closing schools because of the weather today. Earlier this month the district closed for two days when cold weather, snow and ice moved into the area. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL.

Pension payments: Florida school districts will have to contribute an additional $54.4 million into the state pension fund this year, if a bill before the Legislature is approved. The state is forecasting a lower rate of return on the $160 billion pension fund, which would require school districts, colleges, universities, county governments and state agencies to pay a collective $178.5 million to ensure that there’s enough money to pay retirement benefits. News Service of Florida.

Computer coding bill: A bill promoting computer coding in schools, by allowing students to use it to satisfy foreign language requirements, is amended to include a requirement that a set percentage of schools in each district offer computer science courses, and providing financial incentives for teachers to become certified in the field. The amended bill is approved by the Senate Education Committee and now moves to the appropriations committee. Gradebook.

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Florida schools roundup: Adequacy suit, payments to charter schools and more

Adequacy review: Plaintiffs are asking the Florida Supreme Court to review a lower court’s decision denying their claim that the state doesn’t adequately fund public schools and therefore violates the state constitution. The lower court ruled that funding was adequate and that the lawsuit dealt with “political questions not subject to judicial review.” An appeals court agreed. The case, Citizens for Strong Schools v. Florida State Board of Education, was filed in 2009. Orlando Sentinel.

Payments to charters: The Palm Beach County School District’s request to block payments to charter schools is denied by a Leon County circuit judge. The district asked the court to temporarily block the provision of the new state education law that requires districts to share money district collect through local property taxes for school construction and maintenance. That law requires the Palm Beach County district to pay county charter schools $9.3 million by Feb. 1. School board chairman Chuck Shaw said, “We will continue to fight to protect local school board constitutional rights to control and operate our schools, and that includes making sure that every penny is properly spent with our oversight and not put into the hands of private property owners and managers.” Palm Beach Post. redefinED.

Teachers honored: Nicole Grebosz, a technology special area teacher at Citrus Grove Elementary School in DeLand, is named the Volusia County School District’s teacher of the year. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Cynthia Johnson, a music resource teacher for the Brevard County School District, wins the Florida Music Education Association Leadership Award. Space Coast Daily.

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Florida schools roundup: Graduation rate up, charters, funding and more

Graduation rate rises: Florida’s high school graduation rate rose 1.6 percentage points in 2017, to 82.3 percent, according to figures released Wednesday by the Florida Department of Education. The rate has gone up steadily since the 2006-2007 school year, when fewer than 60 percent of students got diplomas. Gilchrist County had the highest rate in the state, at 93.4 percent. Nassau and St. Johns were next at 90.9 percent, and Suwannee (90.5 percent) and St. Lucie (90.1 percent) were the other districts over 90 percent. Gadsden’s 50 percent rate was the lowest. Florida Department of Education. News Service of FloridaOrlando SentinelWTXL. Palm Beach County’s graduation rate jumps by almost 3 percentage points to hit an all-time high of 85 percent. Palm Beach Post. Boca News Now. Sun-Sentinel. Duval, Baker and Clay counties all show gains in their graduation rates, while Nassau’s and St. Johns’ drop slightly. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. Escambia County’s graduate rate increases by 3.4 percentage points in the past two years, and Santa Rosa’s has gone up 0.7 percentage points. Pensacola News Journal. The high school graduation rate rises in St. Lucie County, but falls in Martin and Indian River counties. TCPalm. Graduation rates top 80 percent for the first time in all four Tampa Bay area counties: Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando. Tampa Bay Times. WUSF. WTSP. Polk County’s graduation rate jumped 3.6 percentage points, to 75.4 percent. Lakeland Ledger. The Manatee County graduation rate slips, but stays above 80 percent. Sarasota’s rises incrementally. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. SRQ Magazine. Alachua County’s graduation rate jumps 4.3 percentage points, to 82.7 percent. Gainesville Sun. The Bay County graduation rate dips more than 2 percentage points and is below 80 percent. Panama City News Herald.

Capital for charters: Florida charter schools will get $91.2 million from school districts as part of a capital funds sharing program approved by the Legislature last year. The money comes from local districts’ property taxes collected for building and maintaining schools. Districts with high debt service won’t have to share their funds. The fund-sharing is part of last year’s education bill, H.B. 7069Gradebook. The Flagler County School Board will vote next week on a mediation agreement that would require the district to share money with a charter school in the district. Imagine School at Town Center has been asking for money from the district since 2012. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

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Florida schools roundup: School oversight, merit pay, testing and more

Private school oversight: A bill is filed for the legislative session beginning today that would tighten some standards for private schools receiving state scholarships. Under the bill, filed by state Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, private schools would be required to hire only teachers with at least a bachelor’s degree. The proposal would also tighten financial accountability, ban school owners with recent bankruptcies from receiving scholarship money, increase school inspections by the state and make it more difficult for schools to submit falsified fire or health inspection reports. Simmons says his bill is an attempt to strike a balance between too much regulation and not enough. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit scholarship and Gardiner scholarship programs. Orlando Sentinel.

Teacher merit pay: Two Republican legislators want to delete the requirement in state law that student test scores be used to evaluate teachers. The bills, filed by Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando, and Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, would give schools boards the option of using student test scores in evaluations. “We don’t think student test scores should be tied to our evaluations,” says Plasencia. “It’s frustrated many teachers, and it’s driven some really good teachers out of the profession, a lot of them early.” Orlando Sentinel.

Teacher test-taking: The rising numbers of teachers failing the state’s newly revised Florida Teacher Certification Exam prompts state Rep. Robert Asencio, D-Miami, to file a bill that would require the Florida Department of Education to appoint a task force to study whether the test is appropriately measuring teacher competency and other issues. “Whenever we have such a high failure rate we have to figure out what’s going on,” says Asencio. WPTV.

Legislative session: Gov. Rick Scott delivers his final state of the state speech today at the opening of the legislative session. It’s expected to contrast his first one in 2011, when he called for sharp cuts in education spending. News Service of Florida. Associated PressTampa Bay Times. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WCTV. Politico Florida. The Senate is expected to pass a higher education bill Thursday that would permanently expand Bright Futures scholarships, and will consider a bill that would require high school students to complete a financial literacy course in order to graduate. News Service of Florida.

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Florida schools roundup: Legislative preview, possible sanctions and more

Legislative preview: Fighting over the state budget is expected to dominate the Legislature in this election year. The top education issues being considered are potential revisions in H.B. 7069, which boosts charter schools, expanding Bright Futures scholarships and a bill providing scholarships for bullied K-12 students. Other issues include a bill requiring completion of a financial literacy course to graduate, an effort to expand computer coding, the use of schools as emergency shelters and a bill that would allow some employees to carry guns into schools. Tampa Bay TimesTallahassee Democrat. Orlando Sentinel. News Service of Florida. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Associated Press. Palm Beach Post. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Schools face sanctions: Thirty-one Florida private schools face possible sanctions for failing to file financial reports as the state requires by the Sept. 15 deadline. The law requires any private school that receives $250,000 or more in Florida Tax Credit Scholarships for low-income students or Gardiner Scholarships for students with special needs to submit reports to the nonprofits that administer the scholarships. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer both scholarship programs. redefinED. A troubled Pine Hills private school will close if it can no longer receive money from the state’s scholarship programs, the school’s attorney tells the Department of Education. Agape Christian Academy filed false fire inspections, hired people with criminal records and failed to pay its employees, according to records, leading to a state ban on any state scholarship money going to the school. Education Commissioner Pam Stewart will make a decision on the school’s appeal of the ban. Orlando Sentinel.

Private school restrictions: A bill is filed that would prohibit individuals who have filed for bankruptcy within the past five years from operating private schools that accept students who receive state scholarship money. Filed by Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, the bill would apply to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, which serves more than 100,000 students. Orlando Sentinel.

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