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Florida schools roundup: Education bill, autonomy for schools and more

Education bill: The Florida House Education Committee passes H.B. 733, the nearly all-inclusive education bill that would cut standardized testing and make significant changes to the state’s K-12 education system. The bill does not include mandatory recess time for elementary students, which is in the Senate’s proposal. Miami Herald. Sunshine State News. Florida Politics. Included in a 76-page amendment to the bill are several provisions to help charter and virtual schools. redefinED. The feud between House and Senate leaders over the state budget continues, though several still think they can reach an agreement before the session is scheduled to end May 5. News Service of Florida. Sunshine State News.

Autonomy for schools: A bill passed by the House would broaden autonomy for principals from a pilot program in seven districts to the highest-performing 20 percent of all public schools. Under the pilot program, principals at low-performing schools have greater control over hiring and would be freed from some state regulations. redefinED.

Teacher contracts: Two special state magistrates have issued different interpretations to districts about whether they can negotiate contract renewal guarantees for teachers who are rated highly effective or effective. In both cases, the districts told the teachers unions a 2011 law did not allow guaranteed teacher contracts. Unions in St. Johns and Pasco counties wouldn’t agree to a contract without that guarantee. In St. Johns, a magistrate agreed with the teachers union. In Pasco, a magistrate sided with the district. Gradebook.

High school rankings: Pine View School in Osprey is rated the top high school in the state in the latest U.S. News & World Report’s rankings. Design and Architecture Senior High in Miami is second, International Studies Charter High School in Miami third, International Studies Preparatory Academy in Coral Gables fourth, and Westshore Junior/Senior High School in Melbourne fifth. U.S. News & World Report. Miami HeraldNaples Daily News. South Florida Business Journal. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Schools of hope, budget, bonuses, statue and more

Schools of hope: The Florida House approves a $200 million plan to recruit charter schools as options to persistently low-performing public schools. The so-called “schools of hope” proposal creates a fund to attract charter school companies to enter areas where traditional public schools have received D or F grades from the state for three straight years. There are 115 such schools in Florida now. “This is our ‘Hail Mary’ to the kids of Florida to try to give them better opportunity and a better life,” says Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater. Miami HeraldNews Service of Florida. Sunshine State News. Florida Politics. Sun-Sentinel. Here are some specific details in the schools of hope bill. Politico Florida. The House passes an $81.2 billion budget, which is about $4 billion less than the budget approved by the Senate. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. Naples Daily News.

Educator bonuses: The Florida House approves a plan to expand the state’s teacher bonuses program, and include principals in it. The bill widens the pool of eligibility and adds $200 million to the program. The Senate has no money proposed for teacher bonuses, but has indicated a willingness to negotiate an expansion that both chambers can agree on. WFSU.

Capitol statue: The Senate Appropriations Committee approves a measure to place a statue of educator and civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune at the U.S. Capitol, replacing the one of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith. News Service of Florida.

Student screenings: Thousands of students in Duval and Clay counties never got the mental health screenings the state paid a Fernandina Beach company to do. Florida Psychological Associates was paid $1 million through Florida State University to do the screenings. The university is now offering to return $200,000 to the state for money it had held back for “indirect costs.” WJAX. Tallahassee Democrat. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Construction funds, Title I, vouchers’ costs and more

Construction funds: Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet approve issuing up to $233 million in education construction bonds. Now legislators have to reconcile their differences on the amount they’ll commit to the Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) program. The Senate bill uses bonding and calls for $617 million for PECO, including $75 million each for public and charter schools. The House bill does not use bonding and allocates lower overall PECO spending, including $100 million for charter schools and $20 million for public schools. News Service of Florida. The Volusia County School Board considers ways to catch up on deferred school maintenance. District officials say many of the problems that have been temporarily fixed over the past 10 years now need a permanent solution, but they’re not sure they’ll have the money needed. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Title I spending: An amendment recently added to a bill that revises charter schools regulations would limit the amount of Title I funding school districts can spend on administrative overhead and required services for specific groups of students. Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, says the change aligns the bill with others that push more authority to school principals and away from centralized administrations. “We need to figure out how to get those dollars down to the school site, where the student is,” he said. redefinED.

Vouchers’ hidden costs: Many parents who accept state vouchers to help their special-needs children attend private schools are unaware that by doing so, they lose lose some or most of the protections of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). One of them, Tamiko Walker of Port St. Lucie County, whose son has a speech and language disability, found this out after accepting money from Florida’s McKay scholarship, the largest of 10 disability scholarship programs in the United States. “Once you take those McKay funds and you go to a private school, you’re no longer covered under IDEA — and I don’t understand why,” Walker said. New York Times.

ELL success story: English language learners (ELL) at High Point Elementary School are bucking the national trends by equaling or surpassing their peers at other struggling schools in Pinellas County on tests that are considered predictors of how students will perform on the Florida Standards Assessments. ELL students make up about a third of High Point’s enrollment, and about 80 percent of them are Hispanic. “They’re defying some national trends, which is pretty exciting,” said Joyce Nutta, a world languages professor at the University of Central Florida who has been developing teacher training methods at High Point. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Charter schools bills, reading, religion and more

Charter schools plan: State Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami, says the House proposal to turn over failing schools to charter schools “creates a separate but unequal system” that violates the Florida and U.S. Constitutions. The so-called “schools of hope” bill calls for traditional schools with D or F grades for three years to become charter schools. “These schools have failed these kids long enough,” said Rep. Manuel Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah. “These are kids trapped in generational poverty, and for us to create this illusion it [schools of hope] is a separate system? It’s not.” The House Appropriations Committee passed the bill, which now goes to the full House for a vote. Miami Herald. Politico Florida. redefinED.

Charter facilities funds: The House Appropriations Committee passes a bill that would nearly double the amount of money set aside from local property taxes for charter schools facilities. But a lobbyist for Charter Schools USA, Chris Moya, says the bill may actually reduce the money available for charters because districts can subtract the amount spent on debt service before the rest of the money is divided, and because sharing formula favors charters that enroll low-income students. Moya argues that the Legislature should “stop thinking about funding institutions or districts or even schools, and really think about funding the student.” The bill now moves on to the House vote. redefinED.

Extra reading narrowed: High-level readers at the 300 lowest-performing elementary schools in the state would no longer have to attend the extra hour of required reading under a Florida House bill that has been approved by the appropriations committee. Students who achieve Level 4 or 5 on the state language arts test would have the option of skipping the reading hour. Students who achieve Level 3 or below are required to attend. The bill would also give schools the option of fitting in that hour instead of requiring it to be an extra hour of school. The changes are at odds with the Senate version of the billGradebook.

Class sizes: The House approves a bill that changes the way class sizes are calculated to meet the requirements of a 2002 voter-approved amendment. If approved, schools could use a schoolwide average instead of counting individual classes. A similar bill is moving through the Senate. Associated Press. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Diverging recess bills, charter schools and more

Recess in schools: The Florida Senate unanimously approves a bill that would require 20 minutes of daily recess for the state’s nearly 1.3 million elementary school students. But the bill is at odds with the one moving through the House now, which would eliminate the daily mandate, allow schools to blend time in physical education classes with recess time, and not require any recess for fourth- and fifth-graders. Senate bill sponsor Anitere Flores, R-Miami, says she hopes the House gets the message that senators “feel strongly that if we’re going to have recess, it should be actual recess.” Miami HeraldSunshine State News. Politico Florida.

Charter funding challenge: The Florida Association of Independent Public Schools files an administrative challenge to the state’s new rules for charter school capital funding. The rule denies any construction and maintenance money to charter schools that receive an F grade from the state, or consecutive D grades. There are no such restrictions on traditional schools, and the association argues that all public schools should be treated the same. Gradebook.

Charter changes: Three Duval County middle schools could become charter schools in the next school year if the Legislature approves a bill that allows such transitions for traditional schools that get D or F grades for three years in a row. Ribault Middle School, Matthew Gilbert Middle and Northwestern Middle could all change hands, says school board chairwoman Paula Wright. “We still have time to pull together as a community so we make certain they understand that this is not what we want,” Wright said. Florida Times-Union.

School bus bill: The Senate Criminal Justice Committee approves a bill that would stiffen penalties for drivers who illegally pass stopped school buses and kill or injure someone. They would be required to pay bigger fines, lose their licenses for a year and perform community service in a trauma center or hospital. News Service of Florida. Continue Reading →


School choice? Si, se puede!

“Gradually,” Cesar Chavez predicted, “we’re going to see an awful lot of alternative schools to public education.” (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Cesar Chavez, the iconic labor leader, would have been 90 years old today, and progressives, including teacher union leaders, are pausing to honor him. But few of them probably realize Chavez’s vision of a better world – the same vision that led him to organize the most abused workers, and battle the biggest corporations – included scenes of community empowerment from earlier chapters in the school choice movement.

Chavez was a steadfast supporter of Escuela de la Raza Unida, a forgotten “freedom school” in Blythe, Calif. that sprouted in 1972, in the wake of mass parental frustration with local public schools. Some of his comments about this school in particular, and public education more generally, can be found in this rough-cut documentary about the school’s creation.

“We know public education has not … been able to deal with the aspirations of the minority group person or, in our case, our kids who have been involved with the struggle for social betterment,” Chavez tells an interviewer at about the 7:30 mark in the video.

“The people who run the institutions want everybody to think the same way, and it’s impossible,” he continued at another point. “We have different likes and dislikes, and different ideals. Different motivations. And so I’m convinced more and more that the whole question of public education is more and more not meeting the needs of the people, particularly in the case of minority group people … “

The success of Escuela de la Raza Unida is proof, Chavez said, that truly community-led schools are needed – and can work.

“Gradually,” he predicted, “we’re going to see an awful lot of alternative schools to public education.” Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Turnaround schools, recess, unions and more

‘Schools of hope’: The House Education Committee approves a bill that would tighten the timetable for districts to turn around low-performing public schools, and start a new program to bring well-regarded charter schools – called “schools of hope” – that have a history of success with large numbers of low-income students into areas with persistently struggling schools. There are 115 schools that have been in the state’s mandatory turnaround plans for four or more years, according to the Department of Education. “We have to change the way that we do things and have a new approach,” said Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater. The bill calls for a $200 million grant program to help those schools recruit teachers, pay for longer school days, buy buses and cover other costs. Loans would be available to help pay for facilities. redefinED. News Service of Florida. Associated PressWFSU. Politico Florida.

School recess: The Florida Senate approves the bill that calls for daily recess for elementary school students. The final reading is next week. The Senate bill is being called “the good one” because it maintains a requirement of 20 minutes of daily recess. The House bill removed that requirement. Gradebook.

Union bill passes: The House passes a bill that could make it more difficult for public-sector unions to maintain certification. The bill would require unions for teachers and other public employees – except for firefighters, police and corrections officers – to have more than 50 percent of the workers they represent paying dues or face decertification. Opponents call it a “union-busting” bill. Miami Herald. Florida Politics.

Job-training bill: A bill is filed in the House that would create a new committee within the Department of Education to analyze career education standards and propose ways to improve job-training programs. It’s sponsored by Rep. Al Jacquet, D-Delray Beach. Florida Politics.

School choice rankings: Florida leads the nation with five school districts named among the top 25 on the Brookings Institution’s 2016 Choice and Competition Index. Pinellas (10th tie), Duval (17th tie), Lee (17th tie), Seminole (17th tie) and Broward (23rd tie) counties made the list, which ranks districts by such criteria as the breadth of school choice options, availability and access. redefinED. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: K-12 funding, recess, choice, charters and more

K-12 funding: The Senate Budget Committee proposes a boost of $790 million in spending in the next school year for Florida’s K-12 public schools. Almost 68 percent of that would come through higher property taxes for local districts. Gov. Rick Scott has proposed an $815 million increase for K-12 schools, also with 68 percent of the boost coming from local property taxes. House leaders, who have said they won’t accept any tax increase, propose an increase of $251.3 million. The House budget’s chief priority is $200 million to attract charter school networks into areas where traditional public schools have struggled. News Service of FloridaPolitico Florida. Politico FloridaFlorida Politics.

Recess bill: The Florida House K-12 Innovation Subcommittee makes significant changes to the mandatory recess bill, then passes it. The original bill called for at least 20 minutes of unstructured but supervised recess every day for the state’s elementary school students. The amended bill changes the daily requirement to at least twice a week, lets schools count recess time toward physical education requirements, and removes the recess requirement for fourth- and fifth-graders. Miami HeraldSunshine State News.

School choice: The House Education Appropriations Subcommittee approves a bill that would increase the money students can receive through the state’s tax credit scholarship program. But removed from the bill was an expansion of eligibility and triple the money for Gardiner scholarships for students with disabilities. Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer both programs. The subcommittee also stripped the bill of a provision that would have allowed McKay scholarships for students with special needs even if they hadn’t attended a public school for an entire school year. redefinED. News Service of Florida.

Charter schools: The House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee approves a bill that could make it easier for high-performing charter schools to expand, give charter networks the ability to received federal funding directly, allow school districts an extra 30 days to review charter applications, and make public schools accountable for the academic performance of students who transfer to private or alternative charter schools. Ralph Arza of the Florida Charter School Alliance says his group supports nearly all the bill, but said alternative charters should be held responsible for students who transfer from traditional schools. redefinED. The committee also approves a bill that would require school districts to proportionately split local property tax revenues with charter schools after the money districts set aside for construction debts is deducted. The state’s 556 charter schools would receive about $148 million, or nearly double what they now get. redefinED. Continue Reading →