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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: 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: Bright Futures, trafficking, makeup days and more

In the Legislature: A bill that would make the one-year expansion of Bright Futures scholarships permanent gets the approval of the Senate Education Committee. S.B. 4 was filed by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and would provide full and partial college scholarships to more than 100,000 students. Sunshine State News. Politico Florida. Miami Herald. News Service of Florida. The committee also approves a bill that would require schools to teach the signs and dangers of human trafficking as part of health classes. WFSU.

Makeup days: Miami-Dade County school officials are proposing to convert two teacher professional development days into instructional days and changing three early-release days into full days of classes to make up time lost to Hurricane Irma. The school board will consider the proposal Wednesday. Miami Herald.

Contract negotiations: The Brevard County teachers union rejects a 1 percent pay raise proposal, and asks the district to match the 5 percent raise Superintendent Desmond Blackburn was recently given. District officials say a 1 percent raise for the 4,600 teachers would cost about $2.9 million, and it cannot afford a 5 percent raise. Florida Today.

Schools honored: The state Department of Education is naming 640 schools in 44 counties as “Schools of Excellence” on Wednesday. Schools earn the designation by receiving an A or B grade from the state in each of the past three years and by being among the top 20 percent of the schools at their level in the grading system. These schools are rewarded with flexibility on several state rules: They may 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 have greater latitude on hiring and budget decisions. Gradebook. About 700 schools around the state win Five Star School awards from the Florida Department of Education for their family involvement, volunteerism, community service by students, partnerships with the community and businesses, and the school advisory council. WJHG. Coral Springs Talk. Parkland Talk. Pensacola News Journal. Bradenton Herald. WJXT. Gradebook. Fort Myers News-Press. Florida Today. Space Coast Daily.

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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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Florida schools roundup: Virtual school, dropouts, charter schools and more

Virtual school outreach: More than 20,000 Puerto Rican students displaced by Hurricane Maria will be offered free access to course offered by the Florida Virtual School, whether they’re at home or in Florida. “I am glad that Florida Virtual School has stepped up to help these families as they rebuild their lives,” says Gov. Rick Scott. “The state of Florida will continue to do all we can to help them during this challenging time.” The state is also encouraging all 67 school districts to accept displaced students. Many districts are already see enrollment of students from Puerto Rico and other areas hard-hit by the hurricane. WJHG. WFLA. WESH. WQAMMiami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. WWSB. WPLG. WUSF.

Dropout dollars: For-profit dropout recovery schools in Florida, Ohio and Illinois are aggressively recruiting at-risk students and counting them as enrolled even after they stop attending school in order to keep collecting public money, according to a review of public records and state auditors. Dropout recovery schools are enrolling an increasing number of struggling students who are offloaded by traditional high schools that want to keep test scores and graduation rates up. ProPublica.

Charter conversion: The Florida Department of Education has begun a process that could lead to the transfer of control of the Madison County Central School to a charter company. The state has informed the district it must reassign some teachers and form a community assessment team by Oct. 18. By Nov. 15, the school board would be presented three options: close the school, bring in an approved charter company to take over the school, or hire a charter company that is managed by the district. Superintendent Karen Pickles says the district-managed charter plan is the only acceptable option. Madison County Carrier.

Charter application: The Marion County School Board will vote Tuesday on a charter school application from Charter Schools USA. The for-profit charter company wants to build the Southeast Marion Charter School, which would start at K-6 with 615 students but add a grade in each of the first two years to top out at K-8 and 745 students. The company plans to build the school with state funds. If it fails, the property would be owned by Charter Schools USA. Ocala Star-Banner.

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Florida schools roundup: Charter appeal, constitution review, recess and more

Charter denials upheld: An appeals court rules that the Florida Board of Education overstepped its authority by overruling the denial of two charter school applications by the Indian River County School Board in 2015. The 4th District Court of Appeal judges ruled that Indian River County board had “clear and convincing evidence” to support the denial of the proposed Somerset Academy Inc. charter schools, and that the board had “painstakingly pointed out how Somerset’s applications patently showed that Somerset’s intended budget was financially unrealistic and untenable.” Backers of the Somerset schools had appealed the denial to the state Board of Education. The state board has lost similar cases at the appellate level in Seminole and Polk counties. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics. Sunshine State News. Politico Florida.

Constitutional review: The education committee of the Constitution Review Commission meets today, and one of the proposals it could consider is an amendment that would invalidate any current or future legal challenges of state education laws by local school districts. At least 14 districts have already decided to join forces to challenge the constitutionality of the state’s new education law, H.B. 7069, which requires local districts to share property tax revenues with privately run charter schools. The commission meets every 20 years to propose changes to the state constitution. Capitol News ServiceGradebook.

Recess time: The Alachua County School District is adding five minutes to the end of each elementary school day to meet the state-required 20 minutes of daily recess. Gainesville Sun.

State testing: The Miami-Dade County School District is asking the state to push back the dates standardized testing to allow schools to recover the time lost to Hurricane Irma. District students were out of school seven days, and Superintendent Alberto Carvalho is asking for a week’s delay in testing. WLRN. Duval County school officials are warning that the Florida Board of Education’s plan to raise the standards for some tests required for graduation will result in steep declines in the graduation rate. Kelly-Coker Daniel, Duval’s assistant superintendent of accountability and assessment, says graduation rates in the county could fall 10 percent if the changes are approved. Florida Times-Union. The Hernando County School District announces a cutback in the number of tests it will require students to take. WTVT.

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Florida schools roundup: Testing, charters, pay, makeup days and more

School testing: Florida students’ scores on the SAT and ACT tests continue to lag behind the national average. Eighty-three percent of the state’s high school seniors took the SAT last spring. The average score was 1,017 out of a possible 1,600, while the national average was 1,070. About 73 percent of the state’s seniors took the ACT. The average score of 19.8 out of a possible 36 trailed the 21.0 average nationwide. Orlando Sentinel. A five-year slide in testing scores by Marion County students is reversed in 2017, and Superintendent Heidi Maier attributes the improvement to new policies, new principals and new ways to deliver teaching materials to students. Ocala Star-Banner.

The charter fight: The political fight over the state’s new education law, H.B. 7069, is moving soon into the courtroom as well. One school district has already filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of one portion of the law, and a broader suit by at least 14 districts should be filed in the next few weeks. Supporters of the bill, which includes several provisions favorable to charter schools, plan to launch a public relations campaign that closely examines districts’ spending and start looking for school board candidates who will support the bill. Miami Herald. The Martin County School Board is expected to decide Tuesday whether to join 14 other school districts in suing the state over H.B. 7069. TCPalm. School choice continues to spread in Florida and nationally, but schools in south Florida districts are holding their own by improving their grades and offering a variety of program choices. Enrollment in charter schools is down so far this school year in Palm Beach and Broward counties, while enrollment in traditional public schools is up.  Sun-Sentinel.

Pay proliferation: The number of Palm Beach County School District employees being paid more $140,000 a year or more has nearly tripled in the past two years, according to an analysis of district salaries. The number of staffers making $120,000 a year or more has doubled, and the number of those earning $100,000 or more is up 45 percent. In that same time period, the number of teachers earning $50,000 or more has increased by 5 percent. Superintendent Robert Avossa has contributed to the surge by creating at least 16 new, high-level administrative jobs paying $120,000 or more. Palm Beach Post.

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