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Florida schools roundup: Graduation investigation, charter schools and more

Graduation investigation: The Florida Department of Education launches an investigation to see if school districts are dumping struggling students in their senior years into alternative schools to improve the graduation rates at traditional high schools. Last month, the investigative news website ProPublica reported that alternative schools in the Orange County School District are used as “release valves” that take in students unlikely to graduate. State Board of Education member Gary Chartrand described the report as a “very serious allegation,” and Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said, “It’s critical that every decision is made with the best interest of the students in mind.” Associated Press. Orlando Sentinel. WFSUPolitico Florida.

Charter capital funding: The Florida Board of Education adopts rules that would deny construction funds to charter schools that received two consecutive grades below a C from the state, starting in the 2017-2018 school year. Board members say they are simply trying to follow state law, which requires charter schools to show “satisfactory student achievement” to be eligible for capital funding from the state. Members of the Florida Association of Independent Public Schools, who challenged the rules before with state’s administrative law court, don’t like these revisions either. “This seems like deja vu all over again,” said Mark Gotz, the president of School Development Group. “Charter schools are public schools and need to be treated equally and equitably.” redefinED. Gradebook. Politico Florida.

Charter district: The plan to turn over operations of the struggling Jefferson County School District to a charter company is approved by the Florida Board of Education. The Jefferson board and Somerset Academy are expected to finalize a contract in April, with the charter company opening the county’s elementary, middle and high schools at a single location in August. Jefferson will become the first all-charter district in the state. WFSU. Tallahassee DemocratPolitico Florida.

More from state board: Department of Education officials tell the Florida Board of Education that they are proposing several amendments to the state’s rules on English-language learners (ELL) to adjust to new federal standards. One of the changes would lower the proficiency levels required for ELL students, which some critics think could push those students out of the program before they are ready. The board will vote on the proposed changes at its next meeting. Gradebook. The state board also approves a pilot program that would give select principals in seven counties greater autonomy over the operations at their schools. Broward, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Duval, Jefferson, Madison and Seminole counties will participate. redefinED. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Charter district, tests, home-schooling and more

Charter district: The Jefferson County School Board agrees to turn over operations of the district’s struggling schools to the charter school company Somerset Academy. The proposed deal will be taken to the Florida Board of Education today for approval. If the deal is approved, Jefferson would become the first charter district in the state. In its application, Somerset said it will operate an elementary, middle and high school on a single campus led by a single principal, bring in a rigorous curriculum, including Advanced Placement classes, pay teachers 7 percent more than they can get in surrounding counties, pay competitive benefits, and work to bring students attending the alternative school back into the traditional schools. redefinEDWFSU.

Testing debate: The debate over the state’s standardized testing intensifies at a Senate Education Committee meeting Tuesday. Supporters of former Gov. Jeb Bush are backing a moderate revision of the current system, while others want more significant changes, including fewer tests. Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, who is leading the committee in the medical absence of Chairwoman Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, said no decision has been made on what direction the bills will take, and that Hukill will make that call. News Service of Florida.

Help for home-schoolers: Students who are home-schooled would have greater access to college classes and career education courses offered by school districts in a bill approved by the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee. Districts also would be required to accept home-education registrations as long as parents and their children meet the state’s requirements. redefinED.

Religious expression bill: The Florida Senate moves the so-called “religious expression” bill to a third and final reading. If approved, the bill would be sent to the House, which has a slightly different version. The bill would give students more freedom to express religious thoughts in public schools. Gradebook. News Service of Florida. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Teacher pay, true costs, safe schools and more

Teacher pay: Prospects for a statewide $200 million raise in pay for teachers have dimmed after proponent Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, says he is no longer pursuing the hike. Instead, Simmons says, he is backing an expansion of the teacher bonuses program, known as the Best and Bright Teacher Scholarship. Both the Senate and House are considering bills that would increase the money for bonuses and widen eligibility. Naples Daily News.

Public education spending: The true cost of educating one public school student in Florida for a year is $10,308, according to a report from Florida TaxWatch. The Florida Education Finance Program funding formula expenditure was $7,178 per student for the 2015-2016 school year. But TaxWatch says other tax dollars spent by districts take the total spending per student to more than $10,000. redefinED.

Protecting undocumented: The Miami-Dade County School Board declares its district a safe zone for undocumented immigrant students, and will review what else it can do to protect those students from U.S. immigration officials. The intent, says board member Lubby Navarro, is “to ensure that our schools are safe havens for all students and that this message resonates throughout entire communities, our neighborhoods, our barrios, so that everyone knows that our schools are safe for our children and our families.” Miami Herald.

Teacher program: The Palm Beach County School District and Nova Southeastern University will partner to create a teacher-training program that promises students jobs in the district after graduation. Students will be paid substitute teachers during their senior year at Nova, and will be offered fulltime teaching positions when they graduate as long as they meet certification and other requirements. Nova is hoping to enter into similar partnerships with Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Sun-Sentinel. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Weapons, security bill, open enrollment and more

Weapons at schools: Two legislators file bills that would stiffen criminal penalties for people who carry guns and other weapons within 1,000 feet of a public school. Anyone breaking the law would be charged with a second-degree felony and could get up to 15 years in prison or fined $10,000, according to the bill filed by Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation. Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura, filed the House companion legislation. Sunshine State News.

Security at Jewish schools: The Florida House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee approves a bill that provides $1.5 million to boost security at all Jewish day schools in Florida. The bill would pay for bulletproof glass. Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, says the bill is a response to the increasing number of bomb threats to Jewish schools in the state. Florida has 35 Jewish day schools in nine counties. redefinED. Florida Politics.

Open enrollment: More than 3,000 students in Osceola and Lake counties want to transfer schools under the state’s new open enrollment law, which allows transfers to any public school that has openings. The Osceola school district has received 2,477 applications, and the Lake district about 900. Orange and Volusia counties are taking transfer applications now, and Seminole begins signups April 16. Officials in all four counties say there are limited spaces available in schools. Orlando Sentinel. The Clay County School Board is expected to vote April 6 on a proposed plan to deal with open enrollment. District officials say 11 schools are under the 85 percent enrollment threshold, and 1,557 spots at those schools will be available for transfers. Florida Times-Union.

That’s our satellite: A satellite built by students at the Weiss School in Palm Beach Gardens will be launched into space by NASA sometime in 2018, 2019 or 2020, according to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. The WeissSat-1 will study bacteria that has thawed after being trapped in ice. The Weiss satellite is one of 34 chosen by NASA, and is only the second built by elementary and middle school students. Palm Beach Post. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Bonuses, science instruction, choice and more

Teacher bonuses: The Florida House education committee approves a revamped teacher bonuses program that would broaden the qualifying requirements and also make principals eligible. Rep. Manny Diaz, Jr., R-Hialeah Republican who chairs the House’s education budget committee, says the House could approve spending up to $125 million for the Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program. That’s about half of the amount the Senate is proposing. Miami Herald. WFSU. Politico Florida. Orlando Sentinel.

Teaching science: State Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, says his bill that sets criteria for classroom instruction materials is meant to require “quality instructional material” meeting Florida standards, and to provide a way for the public to challenge classroom materials they deem inappropriate. And, he notes, any curriculum changes would have to be approved by the local school board. Critics say the bill opens a door for climate change and evolution critics to influence how those issues are taught, or if they are taught at all. Naples Daily News.

Call for school choice: Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York City is calling for a nationwide school choice bill. Dolan, writing in the Wall Street Journal, urged President Trump to“push Congress to make scholarship tax credits available to working-class families.” Seventeen states have tax credit scholarship programs, including Florida, and Dolan said children in the other states “deserve the same opportunities.” Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the Florida program. Crux. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Bright Futures, budget cuts, guns, AP tests and more

Bright Futures: The Senate passes a higher education bill that would allocate $151 million to restore Bright Futures funding to 100 percent and allow recipients to use the scholarships for summer classes. Also in the bill are a scholarship program for migrant workers and their children and an expansion of benefits to National Merit Scholars. Miami Herald. Sunshine State News. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. The bill is a top priority for Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, but he somehow missed the vote even though he was present in the chamber. He said he intended to vote after the roll call, but it was locked down before he could. Miami Herald.

Education budget cuts: Rep. Manny Diaz, Jr., R-Hialeah, says he will release details next week on a pair of House education budget-cutting exercises. One of the plans trims higher education and K-12 spending by $232.7 million, while the other cuts $485 million. Diaz says specific cuts under the plans may or may not be part of the House’s final education budget. Politico Florida.

Guns in schools: Two Republican senators from Miami-Dade can control gun bill votes on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and one of them has publicly stated she opposes the guns in school zones proposal. Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, also opposes several other gun-related bills, but says that doesn’t mean she would oppose any gun bill. Sen. René García, R-Hialeah, says he can’t support any gun bill that doesn’t include a mental health component. Miami Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

AP test improvements: Florida is fourth among U.S. states in the percentage of graduating seniors who passed at least one Advanced Placement exam, and more than half the growth came from low-income students, according to the Florida Department of Education. The percentage of low-income graduating seniors in Florida who passed an AP exam went up 500 percent from 2006 to 2016. redefinED. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Capital funding, budget cuts, testing and more

Capital funding for schools: A bill that would allow school districts to raise local tax rates for construction and maintenance also would require those districts to share the money with charter schools. Now, Senate PreK-12 Appropriations chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, says if the bill passes, “there won’t be a need” for the state to provide money for capital funding. This year, that amount was $150 million. Miami HeraldPolitico Florida. redefinED. WFSU.

Education budget cuts: Senate PreK-12 Appropriations chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, releases a list of $46.3 million in cuts to education as “a starting point for our budget discussions.” The largest cuts are $14 million from the program for school uniforms, $13.95 million from teacher bonuses and $7 million from administrator professional development. Meanwhile, the Florida House identifies $485 million in education budget cuts in an exercise to meet Speaker Richard Corcoran’s call to trim $2 billion from the state budget.  Gradebook. Naples Daily News.

Testing bill: A bipartisan group of Florida state senators are urging the state to make a “common sense” decision to cut back on testing. Their bill would eliminate some tests, move the testing dates to the end of the school year and allow districts to give paper-and-pencil exams instead of online, among other things. Orlando Sentinel. Politico Florida. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Opt-out ruling, Legislature, scholarships and more

Opt-out ruling overturned: An appeals court overturns a ruling that some state school districts improperly retained third-graders who had opted out of the Florida Standards Assessment language arts test. The appeals court concluded that lawsuits against the state over the retention policy should have been heard in local courts instead of a circuit court in Tallahassee. In August, the Leon County judge ruled largely in favor of 14 parents from several districts who refused to let their children take the tests, then sued districts that held back those students. “The test can only achieve that laudable purpose (assessing reading skills to determine promotions) if the student meaningfully takes part in the test by attempting to answer all of its questions to the best of the student’s ability,” the appeals judges wrote in their opinion. “Anything less is a disservice to the student — and the public.” Orlando Sentinel. Tampa Bay Times. News Service of FloridaWUSF. Associated Press.

State of the state: In his State of the State address to open the 2017 legislative session, Gov. Rick Scott urges lawmakers to approve his increase in education funding for K-12 schools and colleges and universities while also cutting taxes. Sunshine State News. Florida Politics. Associated Press. The transcript of the speech. News Service of Florida.

Leaders’ priorities: Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, expands his priorities for the Legislature’s session to include the bill that protects students’ religious expression in schools. “I think it’s very important that students of any faith or no faith” have a right to free speech, Negron said in his speech on the opening day of the 60-day legislative session. Miami Herald. Negron also says charter schools should get a fair share of state funding for construction and maintenance. Politico Florida. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, says his top budget priority for the legislative session is to put an end to the state’s so-called “failure factories,” or underperforming public schools. While Corcoran has not detailed how he’d do that, he’s hinted that adding charter schools is part of the solution. Politico Florida.

Scholarships expansion: A Florida House education subcommittee approves a bill that expands scholarship programs for low-income and disabled students. The amount available for disabled students under the Gardiner and McKay scholarships would jump from $73 million to $200 million, and the number of disabilities covered would be expanded. The bill also increases the per-pupil amount for low-income students who qualify for the tax credit scholarship program. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the Gardiner and tax credit scholarship programs. Orlando Sentinel. redefinED. Continue Reading →

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