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Florida schools roundup: Test scores improve, proposed tax hikes and more

FSA test results: Florida students improved their test scores in the state’s math, science and social studies exams, and in reading in some grades, according to results released Thursday by the Florida Department of Education. The Florida Standards Assessments measure reading and math for students in grades 3-12, science for 5th- and 8th-graders and end-of-course exams in biology, civics and U.S. history. Test results also show a narrowing of the achievement gap between white and nonwhite students in language arts, algebra 1 and geometry. Testing results are part of the formula used to assign grades to individual schools and districts. Orlando Sentinel. Sun-SentinelBridge to TomorrowFlorida Department of Education. More reports on how school districts around the state did in the testing. Ocala Star-Banner. Palm Beach Post. TCPalm. Tampa Bay Times. GradebookWJXT. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Gainesville Sun. Space Coast Daily.

Proposed tax hikes: If the Palm Beach County School Board agrees to the placement of a property tax increase on the November ballot, it would be the third school tax increase voters have been asked to approve in the past four years. This time, the request is for an extra $1 per $1,000 of taxable property value, which would be used for teacher salaries, school security and mental health care. The tax is projected to raise $200 million a year for four years. The board vote is scheduled Wednesday. Sun-Sentinel. A school tax referendum in Hillsborough County is likely to be delayed beyond November because it might take up to eight months or longer to get the financial audit that is now required by the state before voters can be asked to approve an increase in taxes. District officials say when they contacted the Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability to request the audit, they were told there might be a six-month wait and that the results would have to be posted for two months before a vote could take place. Tampa Bay Times.

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Florida schools roundup: School police chief, budgets, depression and more

School security: Paul Grohowski, who most recently worked as the director of public safety and chief of police for the Allan Hancock Joint Community College Police Department in Santa Maria, Calif., is hired as police chief for the Sarasota County School District. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Some of the everyday people being hired as school guardians in Polk County talk about their motives for taking the job. Lakeland LedgerCBS News. A survey shows that students in Boca Raton want improved active shooter drills, bulletproof windows installed and identification badges on campus enforced. Palm Beach Post. The Gulf County teachers union holds a community meeting to discuss school safety, motivating students and other issues. Port St. Joe Star.

Budget problems: The Volusia County School District is projecting a budget deficit of $4.49 million for the next fiscal year, and district officials and school board members have six weeks to close it before the scheduled board vote. Items unsettled include how much school security is going to cost, pay raises as the district continues to negotiate with the teachers union, and whether there will be money left over from the current budget year, which ends June 30. Dipping into reserves has been mentioned as an option to close the deficit. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Teaching with depression: Teachers who suffer from depression spend less time than other teachers in group instruction and explaining new assignments, according to research published in the Journal of School Psychology. Researchers studied 32 3rd-grade teachers and their 326 students in eight schools in north Florida three times over the course of a year, and theorize that depressed teachers may be choosing lessons that require less energy. Education Week.

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Florida schools roundup: Hope Scholarship rules, security and more

Hope Scholarship rules: Florida school districts are asking the state to clarify the rules to determine how bullied students can qualify for Hope Scholarships to attend private schools. “The way the statute reads, we would have to make the scholarship [notification] available even if the allegations were not merited,” Santa Rosa County assistant superintendent Bill Emerson said during a conference call with Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice officials. Those officials did not disagree with the interpretation. Local school officials have expressed concerns that the rules could be abused by parents who are more interested in getting the scholarship money than protecting a child. News Service of FloridaGradebook.

School security: The city of Miami Beach agrees to place police officers at the six schools in the city, starting in August. It’s the first city in the county to come to such an agreement with the Miami-Dade County School Board. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho says he expects to reach similar agreements with other municipalities in the next few weeks. Miami Herald. WPLG. Two Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School security watchmen have been barred from campus and reassigned after reports that they saw confessed school shooter Nikolas Cruz come on campus Feb. 14 but did nothing to intervene. Sun-Sentinel. Broward County parents are offering to buy metal detectors for Stoneman Douglas High and nearby J.P. Taravella High School. The detectors cost about $3,500 each. Sun-Sentinel. The NRA sends questionnaires to politicians asking if they will repeal the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act passed by the Legislature after the Parkland shooting. The law created a three-day waiting period to buy guns and raised the legal gun-buying age from 18 to 21. Sun-SentinelTampa Bay Times. St. Johns County officials seem receptive to Superintendent Tim Forson’s proposal to have the school board pay for resource officers and armed security guards for schools, and the county pay for the SROs’ cars and equipment. St. Augustine Record. WJAX. WJXT. The Gulf County School Board rejects Superintendent Jim Norton’s recommendation that the district participate in the state program to arm school employees. Port St. Joe Star. The Green Cove Springs City Council approves an agreement with the Clay County School Board to supply resource officers for the two schools in the city, with the board paying the $143,000 cost. WJXT. An active shooter training exercise at Bayshore High School in Manatee County convinces at least two school board members that there should be a sworn officer in every school, instead of the current plan for a mix of armed guards and sworn officers. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. A study by the Police Executive Research Forum, commissioned by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, suggesting that the sheriff’s office and school district’s force should merge is rejected by both. The consultant’s report also concludes that the first officer to arrive at a mass shooting should move in to confront the shooter before backup arrives. Palm Beach Post.

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Florida schools roundup: Education lawsuit, commissions, security and more

Education lawsuit: The group suing the state over its funding of public education is asking the Florida Supreme Court to send the case back to lower courts for another review. Both a trial court and an appeals court have rejected the arguments made by the plaintiffs in the Citizens for Strong Schools v. Florida State Board of Education case, ruling that the language used in the constitutional standard for funding a high quality public education is not measurable. The plaintiffs disagree, saying the court’s traditional duty has been to interpret constitutional terms and decide if the other branches of the government have acted constitutionally. Gradebook. redefinED.

School safety commissions: The federal school safety commission set up after the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will not consider the role of guns in school violence, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos tells a Senate subcommittee. “That is not part of the commission’s charge per se,” DeVos said. “We are actually studying school safety and how we can ensure our students are safe at school.” Associated PressNBC News. Politico. Washington Post. Meanwhile, the chairman of the state commission looking into the shootings at Parkland acknowledges that its investigation and recommendations won’t stop school shootings in Florida. “Nobody should be mistaken about this: It’s not a question of if this is going to happen again,” says Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. “The question is when and where, and most importantly, what has been done to put things in place to mitigate the impact.” TCPalm. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Task force findings, cop talks, term limits and more

Security task force: Almost four months after 17 people were shot to death at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, a Broward County school safety task force recommends 100 ways to improve security for schools. Among them: installing portable metal detectors at Stoneman Douglas this fall and considering them for all schools, putting coverings over windows in doors, keeping classroom doors locked at all times, increasing the height of all outdoor fences, requiring ID badges for all students and staff, and reviewing the Promise program, which was created in 2013 as a way to offer alternatives to arresting students. The committee members also joined local officials in calling on the Legislature to boost funding for school safety. Sun-Sentinel. Miami HeraldWSVN. Politico Florida. WLRN.

A cop reflects: Scot Peterson, a Stoneman Douglas resource officer who did not enter the building where confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz was killing 17 people on Feb. 14, is haunted by that day, at times justifying his decisions (“How can they keep saying I did nothing?”) and at times questioning them (“Why didn’t I know to go in?”). He has considered changing his name or moving out of state, but knows there’s no escaping the infamy. “It’s haunting,” Peterson says. “I’ve cut that day up a thousand ways with a million different what-if scenarios, but the bottom line is I was there to protect, and I lost 17.” Still, he believes there is little or nothing more he could have done. Washington Post. Parents of students killed at Stoneman Douglas express outrage at Peterson’s comments. “I’m tired of him trying to paint himself as the victim,” says one, Fred Guttenberg, the father of 14-year-old Jaime Guttenberg. “He is not a victim. He created victims. He keeps referring to them as his kids. They are not your kids, Scot Peterson! You let them die!” Miami Herald. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Private school curriculum, education lawsuits and more

Private school problems: Three Christian publishing companies provide some Florida private schools and homeschooled students with a curriculum that denies evolution, says humans and dinosaurs shared the earth, downplays the horrors of slavery and treatment of native Americans, and disparages religions other than Protestant Christianity and cultures that didn’t descend from white Europeans, according to a review of the materials. Experts from several colleges and school districts say the lessons also are easier than those required in public schools, and do not prepare students for college. Orlando Sentinel. The principal of an Osceola County private school says he knew about the felony convictions of the man he hired as athletics supervisor, but didn’t know hiring him was a violation of state law. Orlando Sentinel.

Education lawsuits: Lawyers for the state say 10 members of the 1998 Constitution Revision Commission should not be permitted to file a brief supporting the group Citizens for Strong Schools in its suit filed nine years ago that alleges the state has not adequately funded school education as required by the constitution. Those members, who include former attorney general Bob Butterworth, former Supreme Court justice Gerald Kogan and former House speaker Jon Mills, say they want to explain their intent in framing the constitutional amendment requiring the state to provide a high-quality public school system. Gradebook. News Service of Florida. State lawyers also argue that the appeal of the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Legislature’s 2017 education law, H.B. 7069, should continue in the standard appeals process instead of being certified quickly to the Florida Supreme Court, as the school boards that brought the suit are requesting. News Service of Florida.

Bittersweet graduation: Sunday’s graduation ceremony for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School seniors was a bittersweet affair, the excitement tempered with the memory of the Feb. 14 massacre of 17 people, including four students who would have graduated. Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon made a surprise appearance as a guest speaker, telling students, “When something feels hard, remember that it gets better. Choose to move forward. Don’t let anything stop you.” Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. Palm Beach Post. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Legislators graded, virtual schools study and more

Teachers grade lawmakers: The state’s largest teachers union, the Florida Education Association, releases the grades it’s given to legislators. Most Republicans got F’s, while most Democrats got A’s and B’s. The Senate grades are here, and the House grades here. The grades given were almost the inverse of those handed out in April by Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future. Unlike the foundation, the FEA calculated a grade based on the 2017 and 2018 legislative sessions, and also considered factors such as bill votes, committee work, lobbying and accessibility to union members. Gradebook. WFSU. Tallahassee Democrat.

Virtual schools: A study by the National Educational Policy Center questions the performance of the nation’s virtual schools, saying there’s “overwhelming evidence” they don’t work. The report finds that virtual schools have high teacher-to-student ratios, huge enrollments and underperform academically. Virtual schools run by districts perform far better than those run by charter schools, the researchers found. Enrollment in virtual schools have been growing steadily, and is now up to nearly 300,000 students. T.H.E. Journal.

Higher education offer: Walmart announces it will subsidize college educations for its 1.4 million U.S. workers, who will have to pay just $1 a day for 365 days a year as long as they’re enrolled in one of three universities – the University of Florida, Brandman University in Irvine, Calif., or Bellevue University in Bellevue, Neb. Walmart thinks as many as 68,000 of its employees could enroll under the plan. USA Today. Washington Post. New York Times.

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Florida schools roundup: School security app, portables, voting and more

School security: The Florida Department of Education and the Attorney General’s Office are collaborating to build a suspicious activity reporting app for students and others that would allow them to anonymously report “unsafe, potentially harmful, dangerous, violent or criminal activities” to local law enforcement. The app, called Fortify FL, is scheduled to be launched before the beginning of the next school year. Tampa Bay Times. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Safety Task Force wants “as many security enhancements in place before the start of the school year,” says member Max Schachter, whose son Alex died in the shootings Feb. 14 at the school. He says the task force is developing short-term and long-term solutions in perimeter security, cameras, doors, locks and glass, and predicts metal detectors will be in place at the school in the fall. Sun-Sentinel. Security needs are putting a strain on the Broward County School District budget, and 35 administrative positions are eliminated as the district tries to close a $13.6 million deficit. Sun-Sentinel. Bradford County deputies begin training 16 school employees who volunteered to carry guns at schools under the state’s guardian program. WJXT. Sarasota County School Board chairwoman Bridget Ziegler wants to meet with local law enforcement officials to clarify their partnership as the district prepares to start its own police department. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Thirty-five people died in school shootings during the 2017-2018 school year. Education Week.

Portable classrooms coming: The 25 classrooms that are now closed because of the shootings at Stoneman Douglas High will be replaced by portables this summer, according to school officials. Superintendent Robert Runcie says most, if not all of the classrooms will be in place by Aug. 8, when teachers return to school. The school board approved a $2.5 million contract for the replacement portables and 17 others. The building where the shootings took place will be torn down after confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz’s trial. Sun-Sentinel. Continue Reading →