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Florida schools roundup: School arrests, back to school, marijuana and more

School arrests: The Orange County School District and county law enforcement officials agree on a plan to move away from arresting students for minor crimes, and instead will issue them civil citations. They think that will keep more students in school and out of the criminal justice system, which improves students’ odds of graduating. The district had a 6.4 per 1,000 students arrest rate in the 2015-2016 school year, which was less than Pinellas and Hillsborough counties but more than Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Duval. Orlando Sentinel.

Back to school: More Florida districts head back to school this week. Florida Times-Union. Orlando Sentinel. Palm Beach PostTampa Bay Times. Miami Herald. TCPalm. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Tallahassee Democrat. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Keynoter. Key West Citizen. Mold is found at Osceola Magnet School in Vero Beach and while the school opens as scheduled today, students will be moved around the avoid the rooms where the mold was found and will be released an hour and 40 minutes early every day while school officials await the results of air-quality tests. TCPalm. Martin County students who live within 2 miles of their school will be riding buses after all. Parents of 850 students had been notified that busing would end because of state rules. But the school board reversed that decision and the district will transport them when school opens Tuesday. School Board President Tina McSoley said busing will continue until the district can come up with a plan to help students who will be walking to arrive safely. TCPalm.

Medical marijuana: Florida school districts fear that they could be liable for helping students who are prescribed medical marijuana. Many are waiting for guidance from the state Department of Education. The Education Commission of the States, a group that studies education policy in the country, recently advised that schools could lose some federal funding if they help those students since the federal government enforces drug-free workplace policies. Sun-Sentinel.

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Florida schools roundup: Teacher shortages, spending, recess and more

Teachers needed: Just days before the school year begins, school districts in west-central Florida still need hundreds of teachers. Hillsborough County has the most openings, 205. Pasco needs 128, Polk more than 110 and Sarasota, Hernando and Citrus counties are also hiring. Pinellas County has just seven jobs left to fill. “You have 67 public school districts in Florida, so we’re all competing for that same small group of students that are graduating from Florida universities and colleges,” says Teddra Porteous, assistant superintendent in Polk County. WFTS. WTSP. Lakeland Ledger. WFLA.

Spending analysis: The Duval County School Board delays an outside audit of the district’s spending, opting first to have the board auditor and district staff do an analysis of how the district spent $21 million more than it was budgeted to last year. Two state representatives had asked for an audit, which board members rejected. Now those members are saying they will likely have an outside audit done after the spending analysis. Board chairwoman Paula Wright says the first analysis should be able to narrow the focus of the second, which should lower its cost. Florida Times-Union.

School recess: Elementary students in Pasco will get their 20 minutes of free, unstructured recess every day. The district’s new student progression plan calls for “at least 100 minutes of supervised, safe, and unstructured free-play recess each week for students in kindergarten through grade 5 so that there are at least 20 consecutive minutes of free-play recess per day,” according to the plan. Decisions on how to make that happen will be made by each school’s principal. Gradebook.

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Florida schools roundup: Teacher of the year, Bright Futures, charters and more

Teacher of the year: Tammy Jerkins, who teaches pre-calculus at Leesburg High School in Lake County, is named Florida’s teacher of the year by the Florida Department of Education. In the letter supporting her nomination, principal Dennis Neal wrote: “I have never seen her give up on a student, no matter how tough and/or unmotivated the student was she always provides the consistent, tough love that is more like that of a mother than a teacher.” Jerkins, 58, who is a graduate of Leesburg High, wins $25,000, a trip for four to New York City for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, a $1,000 wardrobe, $1,000 for her school, and a year out of the classroom to be an education ambassador for the state. The other finalists were Katelyn Fiori, an elementary school teacher from Indian River County; Diego Fuentes, who teaches children with disabilities in Marion County; Vanessa Ko, a middle school math teacher in Pinellas County; and Michael Miller, a 5th grade teacher in Osceola County. Each wins $17,535 and $1,000 for her or his school. Florida Department of Education. Orlando Sentinel. TCPalm. WKMG. Here are two profiles of Jerkins written earlier this year, when she was named one of three finalists for Lake County teacher of the year. Orlando Sentinel. Daily Commercial.

Bright Futures: In a letter this week to universities and colleges, the Florida Department of Education confirms that top award winners of Bright Futures scholarships will have full tuition and fees covered this year and next summer, and also receive $300 stipends for the fall and spring semesters. The state budget provided money for the upgrade, but it hadn’t been confirmed by the DOE until Wednesday. More than 40,000 students will benefit from the boost from about $3,000 last year to about $6,000 this year. Orlando Sentinel. Tallahassee Democrat.

Charters win a battle: An administrative law judge rules that the Palm Beach County School Board exceeded its authority by imposing several restrictions on charter schools. The judge says the district engaged in an “an invalid exercise” of their legal authority by requiring charter schools to prove they are innovative, can’t open near traditional schools and that charter school board members must be county residents. Palm Beach Post.

Board member sanctioned: A member of the Miami-Dade County School Board loses his Florida teaching license over an arrest in New Jersey in 2010. Steve Gallon, who was elected to the school board in November, was accused of using a false address to send his godsons to school in Plainfield, N.J., where he was superintendent. The charges were later dropped, but the New Jersey Department of Education revoked Gallon’s school administrator certificate in 2012. Thursday, the Florida Education Practices Commission revoked Gallon’s license and permanently barred him from reapplying for certification. The decision has no impact on his position on the school board. Miami Herald. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Homework ban, Newpoint indictment and more

District homework ban: Marion County School Superintendent Heidi Maier is banning daily homework for the district’s 20,000 elementary school students. Instead, school officials are asking parents to read with their children for 20 minutes every night. Maier says the decision is based on research by Richard Allington, a University of Tennessee professor who found that reading to a child has more positive effects on children than homework. Ocala Star Banner.

Charter company charged: Newpoint Education Partners, a charter school management company, is indicted by a grand jury in Escambia County for alleged fraudulent billing of charter schools for computers, furniture and curriculum services, and concealing it by laundering the money through multiple bank accounts. Earlier this year the founder of Newpoint, Marcus May, and an associate were charged with fraud and racketeering in connection with the operation of 15 charter schools in Escambia, Bay, Broward, Duval, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. WJXT, Associated PressWFLA. Pensacola News Journal.

Safety for exchange students: Miami-Dade County School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho is calling on the federal government to tighten screening of potential hosts for foreign exchange students. A host parent, the husband of a district administrator, was arrested recently in Cutler Bay on charges of molesting an exchange student. He then killed himself. Miami HeraldWSVN.

Foreign languages: About 21 percent of Florida K-12 students studied a foreign language during the 2014-2015 school year, according to a report from the American Councils for International Education. The national average is 19.66 percent. More than 80 percent of the Florida students take Spanish, and about 10 percent take French. Education Week. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: District lawsuit to target H.B. 7069, charters and more

District to sue state: The Broward County School Board votes to pursue a lawsuit against the state over H.B. 7069, saying the law improperly forces districts to share property tax revenue with charter schools and strips local boards of the authority to approve or deny charter applications. The Miami-Dade, Orange and Pinellas districts are considering joining the suit, says the Broward board’s attorney, Barbara Myrick. The board set aside $25,000 to begin work on the suit, which will argue that some provisions of the bill are unconstitutional. Myrick couldn’t say when the suit will be filed, but there’s a six-month window to file a suit under the single-subject clause. Sun Sentinel. Miami HeraldTampa Bay Times. News Service of FloridaThe Capitolist. WSVN.

Change talk ‘premature’: Many politicians and educators are already pushing for the Legislature to revise H.B. 7069, the broad education bill signed into law last month and effective since July 1. But Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, who chairs the House’s pre-K-12 education budget committee, says any talk of change is “way too premature. Making adjustments going forward — we first have to see what happens instead of jumping the gun.” The primary complaint about the bill is the money it sets aside for charter schools. Miami Herald. Levy County School Board members add their voices to those complaining about the education bill. Board members say it excessively favors charter schools, restricts local decision-making and doesn’t adequately fund public education. Cedar Key Beacon.

School traffic safety: Traffic studies urge the Flagler County School District to encourage bus riding and discourage parents driving their children to and from school. The traffic endangers students and causes congestion, according to the studies of each of the county’s elementary and middle schools. The studies were sponsored by the Transportation Planning Organization, which is made up of elected officials from all local governments. Flagler Live. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Capital for charter schools, a hack attack and more

Charter schools: Florida charter schools could get an extra $96.3 million from school districts that will now have to share the tax money they collect for capital projects, according to Florida House estimates. That’s nearly 7 percent of the money school districts could have after debt service is subtracted, as H.B. 7069 stipulates. The $96.3 million is a maximum  estimate, says Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah. Charter schools need to meet certain academic and financial standards and have been operating for two or more years to be eligible for the money. Miami-Dade and Broward will be among the districts hardest hit in sheer dollars, but tiny Sumter and Franklin counties will have the highest percentages of shared dollars, at 33 and 24 percent, respectively. Miami Herald. Manatee and Sarasota counties are two of the counties that will have share higher percentages of their capital funding with charter schools under the new education law. Sarasota is third in the state at 13.54 percent, and Manatee is 11th at 9.26 percent. Manatee School Superintendent Diana Greene says the district will continue with plans to build three new schools, but the law could have an impact on smaller projects. Bradenton Herald. Wayman Academy of the Arts is one of five charter schools in Duval County to earn an A grade  from the state this year. The school, which draws its students from a poor neighborhood in Jacksonville, now has received every possible grade from the state in its 17-year existence. Florida Times-Union.

District hacked: The St. Lucie County School District’s Twitter account was hacked last week, and several racially charged messages were posted and stayed online for more than nine hours before being removed. The cyberattack was just one of several against school districts around the United States, according to St. Lucie School Superintendent Wayne Gent. School officials are unhappy with the difficulty they had contacting Twitter and its response time. “It took way too long,” Gent said. “It should’ve been done immediately.” TCPalm.

Fighting failure: As the 2016-2017 school year began, another first year of a rebuilding process began at Fairmount Park Elementary School. It had a new principal, new and inexperienced teachers, and a history of failure. Fairmount is located in a poor St. Petersburg neighborhood and in 2014, was one of five city elementary schools labeled a “failure factory.” But this year it had a plan, and better resources, and hope. Tampa Bay Times. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Education bills signed, politics, hiring freeze and more

Bills signed: Seven education bills are among the 29 that Gov. Rick Scott signs into law. They are: H.B. 3A, which boosts per-pupil spending in K-12 schools by $100 a year; H.B. 15, which expands Gardiner scholarship eligibility and funding for students with special needs; H.B. 989, which allows any resident to challenge textbooks and materials used in school; H.B. 1109, which allows private school students to participate in some public school extracurricular activities; H.B. 1239, which hikes the penalties for injury-accidents resulting from a school bus passing violation; H.B. 899, which relates to transitional educational programs; and H.B. 781, which revises rules on school grades for feeder schools. News Service of Florida. Associated PressGradebook. WCTVPolitico Florida. Last week Scott signed H.B. 749, which allows charter school and Florida Virtual School employees to be eligible for state employee adoption benefits. Palm Beach Post.

Educational politics: How much of a factor will the recently enacted education bill, H.B. 7069, be in next year’s elections? The architect of the bill, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, thinks the answer is a lot. Corcoran, who is widely thought to be a candidate for governor, recently tweeted: “The bill is virtually 100% public school funding. It will be an issue in 2018. A referendum on who cares more about low income education!” And U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat who is expecting a challenge from Republican Gov. Rick Scott, bashed Scott’s signing of the bill in a recent letter asking for support. Gradebook.

Hiring freeze lifted: The less-than-1-month-old Hillsborough County School District hiring freeze has been lifted for teachers. It remains in effect for all non-classroom personnel except school bus drivers. Gradebook. Continue Reading →

HB 7069 lifts Florida’s last remaining virtual education restrictions

Gov. Rick Scott signed a major education bill last week that, in addition to equalizing funding for Florida charter schools, also removes the state’s last remaining restrictions on virtual education eligibility for elementary school students.

HB 7069 also eliminates geographic boundaries for virtual education and creates statewide open enrollment for virtual charter schools.

Florida Virtual School functions like a statewide school district, enrolling students in online classes full and part-time.

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 years. Continue Reading →