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Florida schools roundup: New ESSA plan, report cards going digital and more

Revised ESSA plan: The Florida Department of Education submits its revised plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. The state is asking the U.S. Department of Education for a waiver to limit state testing to either math or science every year for middle school students, instead of both, and wants to offer state tests in a language other than English only when 5 percent or more of middle school students speaks that language. In Florida, the plan says, that would be only Spanish. The state also wants to change the way it deals with migrant and homeless children, how it handles out-of-field teachers, and details how it will use demographic subgroups to determine what schools need additional attention. Gradebook. Politico Florida.

Digital report cards: Report cards for Lake County School District students will no longer be mailed to homes, school officials say. Instead, parents and students will have to look up grades online through the already-in-place Skyward Family Access portal. The switch is expected to save the district $35,000 a year. Parents can still get a paper copy by going to their child’s school and asking for one to be printed. Orlando Sentinel. Daily Commercial.

School security: A 16-member commission reviewing the Parkland school shooting meets for the first time today in Coconut Creek. The panel will look into law enforcement’s response and confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz’s background, and make recommendations to prevent future attacks. News Service of Florida. Miami Herald. Manatee County is unlikely to contribute to pay for armed security at the county’s schools, county officials are telling the school board. The county has split the costs in the past. School board member Charlie Kennedy says he hopes the county’s decision is negotiable. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Clay County School Board members want to put a resource officer in every school, which will cost $5 million, and are asking the county for more financial help. Clay Sheriff Darryl Daniels is frustrated by the delays in making a decision, and warns that time is running out to hire and train officers for schools. WJAX. Polk County School Board members are expected to vote today on a plan to hire at least 85 armed safety officers for county schools. WFLA. The first of three town hall meetings about using the school marshal program in Brevard County schools is tonight. The school board says putting a resource officer in every school is too expensive, and wants to consider arming school personnel even though Superintendent Desmond Blackburn and Sheriff Wayne Ivey are recommending against it. Florida Today. At least 31 students have been killed and 53 wounded in school shootings this year in the United States. The 74.

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Florida schools roundup: School security plans, budget blues and more

School security: The Sarasota County School Board approves a plan to create an internal school security department over the next two years. The plan, which would cost the district $3.1 million, calls for hiring 30 officers and placing them in elementary schools for the 2018-2019 school year, and adding 26 more the following year and putting them in middle and high schools. Superintendent Todd Bowden proposes negotiating with local law enforcement agencies to provide coverage in middle and high schools for 2018-2019, which could cost as much as another $2.5 million. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Both the Duval and Pasco school districts are considering plans to place safety “assistants” in elementary schools as a less-costly alternative to using sworn school resource officers. These assistants would receive less training and be paid less than SROs, and work only when schools are in session. Florida Times-UnionWJCT. WJXT. Gradebook. The Volusia County School Board is asking the county council for $2 million to help put a resource officer in every school. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Putnam County School Board members delay a decision on arming school employees until May 1 to wait for a recommendation from a school advisory committee. WJXT. Students are among about 50 people protesting against Brevard County School Board members who want to consider arming school employees. Florida Today. Broward County school officials are hosting the first of several school safety forums tonight. WLRN.

Budget problems: The Duval County School Board is facing a $62 million deficit in its $1.7 billion budget for next year, districts officials say. Last year the district dipped into its reserves to cover a $23 million deficit. Interim Superintendent Patricia Willis says overspending, higher costs for security, transportation, raises and money to charter schools are contributing to the deficit, and she’s asking department heads to look for 5 percent savings in their budgets. Florida Times-Union. Broward County school officials say they’re facing a budget deficit of nearly $15 million for the next school year, and are considering asking voters for an additional half-mill in property taxes so teachers can get raises. If approved by the school board, the tax measure would go on the November ballot. Officials estimate it would raise $93 million a year over its four-year life. Sun-Sentinel. Lake County School Superintendent Diane Kornegay is proposing to trim $2.1 million from the district’s budget by eliminating non-teaching positions in administration and support services. Daily Commercial.

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Florida schools roundup: School removing teachers, amendments and more

All teachers to be removed: Every teacher at a struggling Hernando County elementary school will be removed at the end of the school year, school officials said at a meeting Friday. Administrators decided to give Moton Elementary School a “fresh start” after it has received D grades from the state the past two years. District spokesperson Karen Jordan says without the move, the state would have taken over the school. Veteran teachers will be transferred, while newer teachers will have to apply for other open jobs in the district. Tampa Bay Times.

Education amendments: The Constitution Revision Commission will consider 12 ballot proposals this week. Two of them address K-12 education. Proposal 6003 would place an eight-year term limit on school board members, allow an alternative process for approving public and charter schools, and require civics education in public schools. Proposal 6008 would allow “high-performing” school districts exemptions from following some laws that apply to districts. The commission must send its ballot proposals to the secretary of state by May 10. News Service of Florida. redefinED. The proposal to bundle three education proposals into a single amendment for voters to consider in November is drawing criticism from education leaders around the state. Gradebook.

Charter schools’ troubles: Even as the Eagle Arts Academy charter school missed making a payroll for its teachers, it continued to pay another company owned by school founder Gregory Blount for the use of the school name, logo, website and data-processing system, according to school records. The company has been paid at least $42,000 since last June by the Wellington school. Palm Beach Post. Eagle Arts Academy teachers got a full paycheck Friday, though they remain concerned about the checks they’re due at the end of the month. District officials say they’ll close the school within the next 90 days unless it can balance its budget and pay more than $700,000 in back rent. Palm Beach Post. The Brevard County School Board will decide Tuesday whether to close the Legacy Academy Charter School in Port St. John. District officials say the 200-student K-6 school is in a financial emergency, employs noncertified teachers and operates without basic instructional materials. Florida Today. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: ‘Safety specialists,’ budgets, testing and more

Security in schools: The Polk County School District and Sheriff Grady Judd are working on a plan to have an armed “safety specialist” in all county elementary schools this fall. The district is finalizing a job description, but the specialists will fall between a sworn school resource officer and an armed school employee. As many as 90 will be hired, and the school district will pay for them. Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd says the pay will be “significantly less” than what resource officers and teachers make. Judd says the specialists’ job is to be a “visual deterrent to an active shooter, and be trained to suppress the active shooter threat” if necessary. Lakeland Ledger. WKMG. WFLA. Manatee and Sarasota school districts are struggling to find funding to comply with the state law to have an officer in every school by fall. Law enforcement authorities in both counties contend that since the school districts are getting some money from the state, they should be responsible for the full costs of school security. WWSB.

Budget ‘crisis’: Volusia County School Board members say the district is in “crisis mode” after the preliminary budget shows a deficit of $4.2 million. School officials blame a small increase in funding from the state, an underfunded state mandate on school security and proposed 1 percent teacher raises for the deficit. “I’m a little alarmed by it and very cautious about what we must do,” says board chairwoman Linda Cuthbert, who noted that decisions need to be made soon. “It’s certainly going to be a difficult budget cycle,” says Deb Muller, chief financial officer for the district. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Testing cautions: National Assessment of Educational Progress testing results have positive news about Florida, and particularly several three large school districts. But they also show there’s work to be done, especially in 8th-grade math and in closing the achievement gap between racial and ethnic groups. redefinED. Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says her top goal is to close the academic achievement gap between students of different racial and economic backgrounds. She says part of the problem is chronic teacher absenteeism. “I can tell you … with our most vulnerable students that we have our teachers that are less motivated and less capable. We’ve got to make that shift and we’ve got to help them become better or help them find another profession,” Stewart said in a speaking appearance in Sarasota. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Board wants to arm school staff, forgotten gun and more

School security: While the Brevard County school superintendent and sheriff now agree that the school district should reject the state’s guardian program, a majority of school board members say they want to move forward with the program to arm select employees. The district needs $5 million it doesn’t have to put a resource officer in every school, and board members say the guardian program can help bridge the gap. Florida Today. Clay County school officials say meeting the state mandates on school security will cost the district at least $15 million, and the district won’t get nearly that much from the state. Florida Times-Union. Clay Today. Collier County school officials say they’ll improve school security by locking school doors, adding access control systems and requiring photo IDs from every visitor. “We didn’t get any additional (state) funds for hardening schools or for safety equipment,” says Superintendent Kamela Patton. “We think this new layer of security across the district is a really good value for what we’re doing.” Naples Daily NewsWGCU. Manatee County commissioners want the school district to foot the bill for putting a resource officer in every school. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Leon County School District begins negotiations with law enforcement officials to determine how to put a resource officer into 21 elementary schools that don’t have one. Tallahassee Democrat. Monroe County School Board members agree to ask voters in August to increase their taxes to raise money for school security. Key West Citizen. Lee County school officials say Bonita Springs High School, which opens in August, has special security measures built in and will be a model of safety for future schools. Fort Myers News-Press.

School shooting developments: A Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School teacher who says he’d be willing to carry a gun in school to protect students is arrested and charged with failing to safely store a firearm. Broward sheriff’s deputies say Sean Simpson forgot his handgun in the public bathroom at the Deerfield Beach Pier. A drunken homeless man found it and fired a bullet into a wall before Simpson was able to disarm him. Sun-SentinelMiami Herald. WPLG. Confessed Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz wants to donate whatever inheritance he’s due to a charity that will help his victims, his lawyer says. Sun-Sentinel.

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Florida schools roundup: Florida aces nation’s report card, security and more

Nation’s report card: Florida is the only state that improved in the National Assessment of Educational Progress math exam, according the annual report from the National Center for Education Statistics. Florida is also just one of nine states showing improvement in the reading exam. Among the nation’s larger districts, Hillsborough County was first in 4th-grade reading and math, and 8th-graders tied for first in reading and were tied for second in math. NAEP exam results are called the “nation’s report card” because they are a common test that can compare student academic performance across the country. “Something very good is happening in Florida, obviously,” says Peggy Carr, associate commissioner of assessment at the NCES. “Florida needs to be commended.” Nationally, test results showed little or no gains. Orlando SentinelTampa Bay Times. Chalkbeat. Hechinger Report. U.S. News & World Report. For the first time, a majority of U.S. students took the tests on computer tablets. Some educators are concerned that the change makes year-to-year score comparisons unreliable. Chalkbeat.

School security: The Jefferson County School Board votes against allowing school employees to carry concealed weapons in schools. School Superintendent Marianne Arbulu and Sheriff Mac McNeill agree that only deputies and resource officers should be armed on campus. WTXL. Manatee County School Superintendent Diana Greene says the district will need to find $1.8 million to put a resource officer in every school in August. The state is contributing $3.4 million to the district for the officers, but the total cost will be $5.2 million, Greene says. She also provided details of how the district will spend money from the voter-approved increase in property taxes for schools. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Citrus County commissioners are considering using  law enforcement impact fees and the other drug seizure funds to pay for school resource officers. Citrus County Chronicle. Student leaders from Lake County high schools collaborate to create a survey on school safety for students. Daily Commercial. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Anti-charter fight, graduation rates, security and more

Fighting against charters: Leon County School Superintendent Rocky Hanna is ignoring the recommendation of a review committee and is asking his school board to reject the applications of two companies that want to build charter schools. Hanna says the schools aren’t needed, and that he doesn’t like that charters don’t have the same regulations as public schools. “If we start opening mom and pop schools on every corner we’re going to slowly bleed our traditional schools to death. … Until we have some type of oversight on their expansion, I’m going to keep denying these requests,” said Hanna, who further explains his position in an op-ed column. The board votes on the applications April 10. If they are rejected, the charter schools can appeal to the Florida Department of Education. Tallahassee Democrat.

Graduation rates warning: The Duval County graduation rate could drop 10 percentage points next year because the state is raising the scores students need to pass alternative tests to the state’s assessments, warns assistant superintendent Kelly Coker-Daniel. She says as many as 1,000 students who complete the course requirements but can’t pass the Florida Standards Assessments standards take an alternative test, such as the ACT or SAT, to meet the requirements for graduation. The state recently announced it was sharply raising the passing grades for all tests. Florida Times-Union.

Security in schools: Brevard County students and residents will discuss a proposal to arm school employees at a town hall meeting Saturday in Satellite Beach. The meeting is one of 100 or so Town Halls for Our Lives being held around the United States. Meanwhile, Brevard Sheriff Wayne Ivey makes his pitch for arming school employees by citing a 1764 school massacre. “To those that want to use this most recent tragedy for anything but finding a solution to protect our children, I say: ‘Stop it,’ ” Ivey demanded in a Facebook video. “This is not about politics, the Second Amendment or automatic weapons. … It’s about implementing strategies that will stop an active shooter today, not two years from now.” Florida Today. The Volusia County School District is considering hiring a private firm to provide security at county schools. WFTV. Improving school security in Martin County will cost $12 million, school board members are told. They are considering raising the sales tax or property taxes. TCPalm. Citrus County officials are trying to determine if the Academy of Environmental Science, the only charter school in the county, will be required to have a resource officer. AES has just 73 students. Citrus County Chronicle. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Testing, vouchers, home-schooling and more

Alternative tests: The Florida Department of Education is proposing to toughen the passing standards for students who use alternatives to the Florida Standards Assessments 10th-grade language arts and algebra 1 exams in order to graduate. In 2017, more than 35,000 of the 168,000 Florida high school graduates used the SAT, ACT or other tests instead of the FSA. If approved by the Florida Board of Education, the higher standards could be in place as early as Aug. 1. Orlando Sentinel. Gradebook.

Voucher capital: Florida already leads the nation in the amount of tax money given to school voucher programs, and the expansion is continuing. The Legislature just passed a law to pay for students who are bullied to go to private schools, and spends nearly $900 million a year on various scholarship programs for almost 140,000 students. Ohio has the second-largest program, spending about $266 million last year, according to the school choice advocacy group EdChoice. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, recently said in a speech: “You voucherize the entire system and put that power in the hands of parents, you change education.” Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit and Gardiner scholarship programs. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Despite the charter-friendly atmosphere in the state, two additional voucher proposals won’t make it to the state ballot in November. redefinED.

Home-schooling bill signed: Gov. Rick Scott signs H.B. 731, which restricts the amount of information school districts can require from parents who want to home-school their children. Some parents had complained that certain districts were making it hard to register for home-schooling. Among the 17 other bills Scott signed were ones giving refunds to university students with excess credits who graduate within four years and establishing a statewide program accountability system for school readiness providers. redefinED. WKRG. Florida Politics. Continue Reading →