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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 →


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 →


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 →


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 →


Florida schools roundup: Per-pupil funding, longer school year and more

Student-funding bill: House PreK-12 Appropriations chairman Manny Diaz, R-Miami, files a bill that details the specific amounts the Legislature would allocate for per-student funding and other education initiatives. H.B. 3A would boost the base student allocation by $43.24 over the amount legislators initially approved, and slightly cut the required local tax effort for districts. Most of the other amounts for projects align with Gov. Rick Scott’s proposals. Gradebook. Several school superintendents continue to call Gov. Scott privately to lobby for a veto of H.B. 7069. Politico Florida. Volusia County school officials say the extra money for education Gov. Scott is proposing will help, but still isn’t enough to meet the district’s needs. Daytona Beach News-Journal. An education analyst discusses the pluses and minuses of the charter schools funding provisions in the education bill. WUSF.

School schedules: Lake County School Superintendent Diane Kornegay proposes an extension of the school day by an hour, and the school year to 11 months. She’s also asking for a boost in college-readiness efforts and for more opportunities for associate degrees and industry certifications. Kornegay is urging school board members to shift funding from existing resources to pay for the changes.  “Everyone wants to hold onto everything,” said Kornegay, who began her job in January. “And we can do anything we want — but we cannot do everything we want.” Orlando Sentinel. The Brevard County School District is sticking to its spring break schedule for 2018, from April 2-6, despite complaints from parents and students. Forty-four percent of those who took an online survey voted for that week because they think it will have a “lesser impact on testing” and allow “more instructional time in classroom prior to testing window.” Florida Today. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Reading test scores, achievement plan and more

Third-grade reading results: Eighty-one percent of the state’s third-graders posted passing scores on the Florida Standards Assessments reading exam this year, according to the Florida Department of Education. Fifty-eight percent of students scored at Level 3 or high, meaning they met grade-level expectations, which is an increase from 54 percent last year. The 19 percent who scored at Level 1 – about 43,300 students – face retention if they can’t pass an alternate test or demonstrate proficiency through a portfolio of classroom work. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel. Sun Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Florida Times-UnionSarasota Herald-Tribune. Space Coast Daily. Brevard Times. Bradenton Herald. Associated PressNews Service of Florida.

New achievement plan: An agreement is reached on a 10-year plan to eliminate or greatly narrow the achievement gap between white and black students in Pinellas County. The Concerned Organization for the Quality Education of Black Students had been suing the Pinellas County School District, alleging that it was shortchanging black students throughout the educational process. The agreement, reached Friday, addresses the lingering issues on graduation, student achievement, advanced coursework, student discipline, identification for special education and gifted programs and minority hiring. District officials have committed to providing quarterly progress reports and responding in a more timely manner with reliable information. Both sides are calling the agreement a “turning point” for the district. Tampa Bay Times.

From high school to med school: Four graduates of Florida Atlantic University High School have been admitted directly into the FAU College of Medicine. The four students will begin training as doctors in 2018 and be eligible for residency at age 22 or 23. It’s believed to be the only program of its kind in the United States. FAU High is a school where students can earn high school and college credits at the same time. Sun Sentinel. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Education bill, interim superintendent and more

Education bill: A national school choice group is urging Gov. Rick Scott to sign H.B. 7069. The Center for Education Reform, based in Washington, D.C., says the Legislature’s education bill would “help successful charter schools to grow and to serve more low-income students” and “ensure equitable distribution of Title I funds.” The bill would give charter schools a share of local property taxes, offer financial incentives for charter companies to start schools in areas with persistently low-performing traditional public schools, and more. Miami Herald. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, says he hopes the governor doesn’t veto the education bill. Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, who helped put together the bill, is urging Scott to read the bill, independent from misleading “rhetoric” critics have used, before making a decision. Miami Herald. More local districts, political leaders and groups are urging Scott to veto the bill. Sun SentinelOrlando Sentinel. Florida Today. Lakeland Ledger. Port St. Joe Star. Associated PressCreative Loafing Tampa.

Interim superintendent: The Duval County School Board chooses Patricia Willis to be interim superintendent. Willis is a former Duval deputy superintendent who retired in 2012. She takes over for Nikolai Vitti, whose last day is Friday, and will be paid $22,916 a month through Jan. 31, 2018, if necessary. Florida Times-Union. WJAX.

State of the schools: In her annual state of the schools speech, Orange County School Superintendent Barbara Jenkins says two of the biggest issues the district faces are the rapid growth of student enrollment and the shortage of teachers. WFTV.

Testing troubles: Pasco County students are not doing well in district-designed course finals, and teacher say the reason is that the tests do not reflect what the students have learned this year. The district is calling for a deeper look at the criticism to see if a new approach is warranted. Gradebook. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: ESSA, Brown convicted, a top teacher and more

ESSA implementation: The Florida Department of Education is going ahead with the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) despite Congress’ decision to repeal many of its key provisions. ESSA sets benchmarks of minimum student performances in a variety of areas. A group of school district leaders from around the state are working on the plan, and are expected to finish it by Sept. 18. Gradebook.

Brown convicted: Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, is convicted on 18 of 22 corruption counts ranging from mail fraud to filing a false federal tax return. Prosecutors say she used her office to collect $800,000 in contributions for her phony education charity, One Door for Education. Florida Times-Union. Associated PressPolitico Florida.

Teacher honored: Katelyn Fiori, a fourth-grade teacher at Vero Beach Elementary School, is chosen as one of five finalists for the Department of Education’s 2018 Florida teacher of the year award. Fiori was awarded $5,000. The winner will be announced July 13. TCPalm.

Charters and tax revenue: Some lawmakers have been trying for six years to direct property tax revenue to charter schools. This year, that measure was finally passed, and in the next school year charters may get almost twice the $75 million they received this year. redefinED.

School security: The education bill that allots $654,000 to improve security at Jewish day schools draws criticism from those who say that other religious schools – such as Muslim and Sikh – have also seen a recent spike in violent threats.“The fact that the funding singles out one religion raises serious concerns about unconstitutional discrimination, whether intentional or not,” says Kara Gross, ACLU of Florida’s legislative counsel. Miami Herald. Continue Reading →