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Florida schools roundup: Teacher wins Tony, spelling bee, security and more

Teacher wins a Tony: Melody Herzfeld, the one-person drama department at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who saved 65 students during the shooting rampage at the school Feb. 14 by barricading them in a closet, wins a special Tony award for educators. The award is given annually to U.S. teachers who have “demonstrated monumental impact on the lives of students and who embodies the highest standards of the profession.” She wins $10,000 and a pair of tickets to the Tony ceremony and gala. Sun-Sentinel. New York Times. Associated Press.

National spelling bee: Two Florida students spell their way into Thursday’s finals at the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C, before being  eliminated. Simone Kaplan, a 12-year-old 6th-grader from Davie who attends St. Bonaventure Catholic School in Broward County, was eliminated in the ninth round when she spelled the word carmagnole as carmagnol. Marisa Langley, a 14-year-old home-schooled 8th-grader from Tallahassee, was eliminated in the eighth round when she spelled the word hausen as housen. The champion is Karthik Nemmani of McKinney, Texas. The 519 spellers who started the competition included 31 students from Florida. Associated PressScripps Howard Spelling Bee. Miami Herald. Sun-SentinelPalm Beach Post. TCPalm. 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: Rules for scholarships, special session and more

Scholarship rules: The Florida Department of education proposes rules for two new state scholarships. A one-page set of rules is proposed to determine eligibility for bullied students to receive state scholarships to attend new schools. The Hope Scholarship would be available for students who report being bullied or attacked. If they win approval, students could take the scholarship money and enroll in a private school or use it for transportation to another public school. A requirement that families substantiate the incident for which they are seeking a voucher has been removed. The other scholarship provides tutoring help for struggling elementary school readers. The Florida Board of Education has a public workshop June 6 to discuss the rules. Gradebook. Politico Florida.

Special session polling: Early polling results show a lack of support among legislators to call a special session to deal with education funding, according to Department of State officials. As of late Monday afternoon, 27 Florida House members supported a special session, while 36 opposed. Seven senators back the move, and six do not. Three-fifths of each chamber must support the request, made by two Democratic representatives, in order for a special session to be called. That means 70 yes votes in the House and 23 in the Senate. Polling ends Thursday at noon. News Service of Florida.

Virtual teachers out: Twelve out-of-state Florida Virtual School (FLVS) teachers and support staff were dismissed Friday. FLVS officials announced earlier this month that they intended to bring all jobs back into Florida, and gave 33 out-of-state employees a few days to decide if they would relocate. FLVS spokeswoman Tania Clow says some employees “decided to relocate, others retired and others took positions with FLVS Global.” WKMG. A technical glitch takes FLVS offline for hours on Monday. WKMG. Continue Reading →


Florida schools roundup: Backlash on backtrack, choice, security and more

Backlash on discipline backtracking: Broward County school officials face a torrent of criticism after the revelation that confessed school shooter Nikolas Cruz had been referred to a disciplinary program that promotes alternatives to arrests and suspensions. Superintendent Robert Runcie had previously denied any connection between Cruz and the PROMISE program. Ryan Petty, whose daughter Alaina was killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, called it a “stunning revelation” and says “the Broward County School Board has failed in its responsibility as an oversight body.” School officials say Cruz apparently did not complete the three-day program. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. Associated Press. Politico Florida.

Choice strategizing: School-choice advocates meet to discuss ways to get their message out during a time of polarization and a perceived “Trump effect” that could change the balance of political power in November. “Our coalition is holding together,” says Democratic pollster Deborah Beck. “It is under strain.” She says school choice may be losing support among urbanites and people of color. Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels says emphasizing civil rights could help shore up support. “I can’t think of a more crystalline example of social justice than enabling poor families to have the same rights and same power and same decision-making over their children’s education than rich people,” he says. “If that is not just, what is?” redefinED.

School security: The Brevard County School Board is expected to decide tonight whether to move forward with a security program that trains and arms school employees who volunteer. Teachers and students don’t want to arm school employees, while parents narrowly support the idea, according to a survey by the Brevard County School District. That split was reflected in the discussion at Monday’s town meeting in Titusville. Florida Today. The Broward County School Board is expected to decide today whether to ask voters to increase property taxes to raise money for school security. The tax would generate $93 million a year. School officials say some of it would be used for teacher bonuses. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach County school officials are trying to get a handle on how to proceed in protecting their schools. They say sprawling schools built with open campuses will make the creation of a single point of entry expensive. WPTV. The Manatee County School District will pitch a compromise plan to the county commission today to pay for putting a resource officer in every school. WFLA. The Pasco County School District has received 125 applications for one of the 53 armed security guard openings. Fifty-six people have applied for the job as director of safety and security. Gradebook. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Investigation of shooting, security, budgets and more

School shooting query: The design of classrooms at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School contributed to the massacre Feb. 14, witnesses tell a state panel investigating the shooting. Doors couldn’t be locked from the inside, and had small windows that confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz fired through to kill several people who were inside. Faulty 911 systems contributed to the chaos, and one report indicates that while Broward deputies took cover, at least one knew the location of Cruz. Witnesses also say Cruz studied the 1999 Columbine school shooting as he planned the attack. Associated Press. News Service of FloridaSun-Sentinel. Miami HeraldPolitico Florida. WLRN. A judge rules that Cruz is indigent and will continue to be represented by the Broward County Public Defender’s Office. Miami Herald. Here’s a list of the commission members. WPLG. Broward County School Board members want Superintendent Robert Runcie to create a page on the district’s website to debunk false information and share the district’s responses to events. Sun-Sentinel.

School security, budgets: The Polk County School Board approves a plan to hire 90 “safety specialists” to protect schools at a cost of about $3.72 million. Specialists will be trained and armed, but won’t have the authority to make arrests. Lakeland Ledger. The Marion County School Board agrees to spend $224,000 to have 34 resource officers in elementary and charter schools for the rest of this school year. Ocala Star-Banner. Bay County School Board members approve a resolution to ask voters in August to extend the extra half-cent sales tax to help pay for school security and construction projects. The request has to be approved by county commissioners. Panama City News Herald. The Clay County School will ask voters to approve a property tax increase to raise money to hire 44 school resource officers so there’s at least one in every county school, and county commissioners agree to provide $2.1 million to help. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. Brevard County residents split at a town hall meeting about whether to arm school employees. Florida Today. Citrus County commissioners tell school officials not to expect any financial help to hire school resource officers. Citrus County Chronicle. Martin County School Board members seem willing to make cuts in the district’s content coordinators and administrators overseeing specific areas such as math or social studies to save money and help pay for school security, but are hesitant to consider scaling back art, music, extended child care programs or outsourcing custodial and technology services.  TCPalmContinue 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: 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 →