Archive | Virtual Education

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 →


Florida schools roundup: Charter district, incentives, recess and more

Charter district: The Florida Board of Education approves a charter schools company taking over a public school district’s operations. Jefferson County, which had been struggling financially and with enrollment, will combine the elementary and middle/high schools on a single campus. The district hopes to have applications from charter schools companies by the first week in March. It’s the first time a Florida school district has ever ceded operations to a charter school company. redefinED. Tallahassee Democrat. Associated Press. WFSU. The Polk County School Board is considering closing struggling McLaughin Middle School and reopening it under the Bok Academy, an A-rated charter school. Lakeland Ledger.

Charter recruitment: Representatives from four national charter schools companies tell a Florida House committee that they’d like to expand into Florida. BASIS, IDEA, Achievement First and the SEED Foundation all express interest, if the state can set up equitable funding to public districts. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, has suggested such changes are being considered. redefinED.

Teacher incentives: Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, the Senate’s pre-K-12 education budget chairman, wants the Legislature to consider bumping the amount of money available for teacher incentives to at least $200 million. Gov. Rick Scott has recommended $58 million for teacher incentives. “I’m not concerned that we’re talking about $200-250 million,” said Simmons. “It’s an investment; it’s not an expenditure, and I think we can find it in an $83 billion budget.” Miami Herald. The statewide teachers union, the Florida Education Association, says the incentive programs are gimmicks, and that it wants better pay for all teachers. Miami Herald.

Recess doubts: Two members of the Senate PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee want lawmakers to consider the whole picture of education and the financial implications before approving a bill that would require 20 minutes of recess every day in Florida elementary schools. “This is an important issue, recess, but I think we need to look at it in a more holistic way,” said Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee. Gradebook. Continue Reading →

Computer coding and course access

Ethan Greenbarg

Ethan Greenberg testifies in favor of a computer science bill.

Florida lawmakers are once again pushing a proposal to expand computer science instruction and allow students to count high school credits in coding as foreign language classes.

A compromise bill that easily passed the Senate last year is back. It easily cleared its first legislative committee Monday. An identical version has been filed in the House.

The debate that still lingers around the proposal highlights the difficulty of giving students access to high-quality computer science courses.

Business and technology groups support SB 104 by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. They’re joined by students like Ethan Greenberg, a sixth-grader from Pembroke Pines. He told the Senate Education Committee he became interested in computer science as he struggled with dysgraphia, which made it difficult for him to recognize letters and numbers. He overcame that obstacle by typing on a computer, and has since started learning to code.

His mother, Ryan Greenberg, joined him testifying in favor of the bill.

“When kids have a choice, they come to the classroom excited to learn and more than likely, will get a good grade in the class they choose,” she said. “This will be an important step forward in our state’s need to integrate technology into our education curriculum.” Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Online education, PreK, charters and more

florida-roundup-logoMore on budget: An item in Gov. Rick Scott’s budget would eliminate restrictions on students’ eligibility for online classes. Right now, students in grades 2-5 cannot take virtual courses part-time, and students in middle and high schools can take select virtual courses only if they were in a public schools the year before. redefinED. Scott’s budget also includes $50 per student more for Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Program, boosting it to an average of $2,487. That’s still below the 2005 total of $2,500, and is far below the national average of $4,520. Orlando Sentinel.

Money for charters: Senate Education Appropriations chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, files a pair of bills that would create a consistent revenue stream to charter schools for construction and maintenance. S.B. 604 would allow districts to boost the property tax rate from a maximum of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value to $1.70. And S.B. 376 would funnel some of that money to qualifying charter schools. Gradebook.

Trafficking education: A bill is filed in the Legislature that would include instruction on the dangers of human trafficking in Florida schools’ health education curriculum. Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, says he got the idea for the bill, S.B. 286, from a high school student. WFSU.

School leasing: Palm Beach County School Board members express reservations about leasing a high school rather than building one and owning it, and decide to schedule a workshop to discuss the proposal further. Board members are open to the idea of a private-public partnership to get a high school built in Boynton Beach, but would want the district to eventually own it. Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel. Continue Reading →

Fla. Gov. wants to eliminate eligibility restrictions for virtual education

Tucked inside Gov. Rick Scott’s budget proposal is a plan to eliminate the last remaining restrictions on students’ eligibility for online courses.

Florida has long been a leader in K-12 virtual schooling, but as it’s expanded over the years, eligibility gaps remain.

Under existing laws, students in second through fifth grades can’t enroll in virtual courses part-time. Children in middle and high school can only take certain part-time courses if they were enrolled in public schools the previous year.

Those restrictions mean Florida Virtual School, its district-run franchises and their private competitors have to turn some students away. The statewide public virtual school has been expanding its elementary school offerings after a state law authorized them in 2011, but students typically can’t enroll in those courses unless they sign up for virtual school full-time or they attended a public school the previous year.

This diagram from House staff breaks down the current eligibility gaps for virtual courses.

This diagram from Florida House staff breaks down the current eligibility gaps for virtual courses.

Lawmakers have advanced bills to make virtual courses more widely available in previous years, but they haven’t crossed the finish line. Continue Reading →

Students lift voices to celebrate School Choice Week

This fall, after wowing millions of TV viewers, falling just short of the final round on NBC’s The Voice and gaining national exposure that she hopes will launch a lifelong music career, Shalyah Fearing tried something new. She started learning in a traditional classroom at a local public high school.

Now 16 and a junior, she takes three classes at River Ridge High School in New Port Richey, Fla. while managing the rest of her course load online.

Her family has experienced just about every flavor of school choice — public, private, virtual, home education. So it was fitting that they lent their voices to one of the first events of National School Choice Week, which runs Sunday through Jan. 28, and includes more than 20,000 events across the country.

National School Choice Week group

Students join Shalyah Fearing on stage during a celebration of educational options in Pasco County, Fla.

The events steer clear of politics and encompass multiple educational options.

Among others, Saturday’s celebration in Shady Hills featured local Catholic schools, the Pasco County school district’s career academies and the statewide virtual school that allowed Shalyah to take classes while she chased her musical dreams in California.

For most of Shalyah’s life, she and her six school-age brothers and sisters were homeschooled. As her mother puts it, they enrolled at Fearing Academy.

When she traveled to Los Angeles to compete on reality television, she took classes through Florida Virtual School. She tackled assignments as her schedule allowed, and kept up with teachers and classmates online and by phone.

“All I had to do was carry my laptop everywhere I went,” she said. “My teachers were always available.” Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Education spending, teacher pay, sub ban and more

florida-roundup-logoEducation spending: The chairman of the Florida House Appropriations Committee is anticipating cuts in education spending this year and next. Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, says with revenues expected to be flat, his committee is looking into two levels of spending based on expected revenues. The “easy” one would trim $164.8 million from recurring PreK-12 spending and $68 million in nonrecurring expenses. The aggressive one would more than double those cuts. Gradebook. News Service of FloridaPolitico Florida.

Scott on education: Gov. Rick Scott made a pitch Tuesday for affordable college degrees and a quicker path to graduation. Part of the plan includes broadening the allowable use of Bright Futures scholarships, and capping college fees. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel. News Service of Florida. Sunshine State News.

Teacher pay: Several Duval County School Board members say paying teachers and principals extra to work in struggling schools is producing mixed results, and they question Superintendent Nikolai Vitti’s plan to expand the program. Twenty-one of the schools in the program have shown improvement in school grades, while 11 have stayed at the same level and three have declined. Vitti’s plan lowers the incentive pay in order to expand the program. Florida Times-Union. Some Lee County teachers will get a pay raise at the end of the month after the school board approves a plan to spend $9.73 million for performance pay and as a market adjustment for veteran teachers. Fort Myers News-Press.

Substitute banned: A New York writing professor working as a substitute teacher at Venice High School has been banned because she assigned her senior Advanced Placement students to read a short story with sexual situations, explicit language and discussions of race and relationships. Lisa del Rosso had students read Alma, a short story written by Pulitzer-prize winning writer Junot Diaz that appeared in The New Yorker. A parent called the school office to complain, and del Rosso was banned from the district. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Bonuses, testing, bullying, fitness, loans and more

florida-roundup-logoTeacher bonuses: Almost 7,200 Florida teachers will receive bonuses of about $6,800 under the state’s Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program, the Department of Education announces. That’s 1,800 more than the number who got the bonuses last year, and represents 4 percent of the state’s teachers. First-year teachers can qualify if their SAT or ACT scores were in the top 20 percent, and experienced teachers need a highly effective evaluation too. The formula for qualifying has been criticized, and may be revised in the legislative session that starts in March. Orlando Sentinel. Bradenton Herald.

Testing targeted: Methods, times spent on assessment tests and the number of tests are all on the agenda as the Senate Education Appropriations Committee meets for the first time in 2017. House leaders say they’re open to an “honest conversation” about streamlining testing, but they’re focused more on school choice. Tampa Bay Times.

Bullying decline? An analysis of reports of bullying in Florida schools indicates just 0.1 percent of students were bullied in 2015, compared to 22 percent nationally. Just 3,000 incidents were reported, down from 6,200 in 2010. Experts and even some local school officials say the numbers are greatly underreported. In south Florida, for instance, almost 600 schools reported no incidences of bullying, Sun-Sentinel.

Fitness test bill: State Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Lecanto, files a bill that would end a personal fitness test as a substitute for the required Health Opportunities through Physical Education (HOPE) class. Instead, students could fulfill the requirement by being on a varsity or junior varsity team for two full seasons. Gradebook. Continue Reading →