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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 →

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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 →

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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 →

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Florida schools roundup: Security, hiring freeze, charter school ties and more

School security: Hillsborough County school officials may consider using the district’s own security staffers, who are not sworn law enforcement officers, to comply with the new state law requiring an armed officer in every school. They and Sheriff Chad Chronister had rejected considering the guardian program in the new state law, but a $16 million shortfall in security funding is forcing the cash-strapped district to look at all options. “We’re having those conversations and reviewing every aspect of this law to know how we implement it, ensure safety at every one of our campuses and come as close to in-budget as possible,” says Superintendent Jeff Eakins. Tampa Bay Times. Treasure Island, a small coastal town in Pinellas County, has 450 school-age children but no schools. Still, its police department is working with the district to lend a few officers to help meet the requirements of the new state law. Gradebook. More school officers and security measures are on the way to Wellington schools but the process will take time, residents are told by school and law enforcement officials at a town meeting. Palm Beach Post. The Parkland school shooting has prompted other states to re-evaluate their school security. Gradebook.

District hiring freeze: The Pasco County School District implements a freeze on all hiring and new purchases. Exceptions will be made on a case-by-case basis, says Superintendent Kurt Browning. District officials are trying to conserve money to help pay for unanticipated expenses, such as placing a resource officer in every school. Gradebook.

Charter school ties: The wives of two of the Legislature’s strongest supporters of charter schools and choice are on charter school boards that hope to open schools in 2019 in Leon and Martin counties. Anne Corcoran, wife of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, who founded a charter school, is helping with a proposed school in Tallahassee. Erika Donalds, wife of Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, is helping a group trying to open a school in Martin County. Neither is being paid, and both say they see no conflict of interest. Committees in the two counties have recommended their school districts approve the schools’ applications. Gradebook. Continue Reading →

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Florida schools roundup: Tax levies pass, school security, finances and more

Tax hike votes: Voters in Sarasota and Manatee counties approve an additional 1 mill on property taxes for schools, by a wide margin in Sarasota and a narrow one in Manatee. In Sarasota, the extra $55 million in each of the next four years will help pay for 30 extra minutes of classtime a day, higher teacher salaries and more art teachers and behavioral specialists. In Manatee, the extra $33 million a year for the next four years will be used to lengthen the school day by 30 minutes, pay teachers and other employees more, expand STEM and career programs and support charter schools. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Martin County School Board members are considering asking voters to approve a hike in property taxes to pay for teacher bonuses and construction projects. If approved, the measure could raise about $11.2 million a year for four years. TCPalm.

School security, finances: Putting a resource officer in every Pinellas County school by July 1 will cost $23.6 million, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri tells the county commission. The state’s contribution is $6.1 million, and the sheriff’s office and municipal police departments’ contribution is $1.6 million, leaving the school district to find $12.4 million to put 201 school resource officers in the 139 district schools and 18 charter schools. And, Gualtieri notes, there would be an additional $11.2 million needed for upfront costs such as cars, weapons, uniforms and computers. Neighboring Hillsborough County school officials say the district will get an additional $41 million from the state, but still is projecting a $16 million deficit because of new state requirements on school security, an expected 3,000 extra students and other expenses. Tampa Bay Times. Hillsborough County School Board member April Griffin talks about the district’s finances, and the new education and school safety bills. WMNF. The head of one of Florida’s largest charter school networks is asking the 13 districts where it has schools to provide resource officers on every campus by April 1. Gradebook. The Gulf Breeze City Council votes to fund the placement of part-time officers in all the city’s elementary schools through the end of the school year. WEAR.

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Florida schools roundup: Death penalty, walkout, school safety, tests and more

Death penalty proposed: Broward County prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty against accused Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz. Cruz, 19, is accused of murdering 17 people at the school on Feb. 14, and wounding 17 others. Cruz’s public defender says he will not contest guilt, but will focus on his troubled past to try to convince jurors to spare his life. Miami Herald. Associated Press. Palm Beach Post. CNN. An attorney for Stoneman Douglas High student Anthony Borges, who was gravely wounded in the shooting, wants both the prosecutors and public defenders off the Cruz case because they endorsed a program in 2016 to “eliminate the school to prison pipeline.” Sun-Sentinel.

National School Walkout: Students at about 3,000 U.S. schools are expected to join the National School Walkout today to protest gun violence. The protest comes one month after the shootings at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Time. Associated Press. The 74. Education Week. Vox. Students around the state plan to participate in the walkout, and schools are deciding how they will deal with it. Palm Beach PostOrlando Weekly. Tampa Bay Times. Pensacola News Journal. Florida Today. Fort Myers News-Press. WLRN. WFTV. WJAX. WFLA. The Florida ACLU is urging superintendents not to interfere with students or punish them if they participate in the walkout. Gradebook. How young is too young to participate in today’s walkout? New York Times. A Lake County School Board member apologizes for calling a Stoneman Douglas student a “crisis actor.” Daily Commercial.

School safety plans: School superintendents are lobbying members of Congress to revise the STOP School Violence Act so it won’t be extended to private schools. “We support a revision to ensure that any resources made available to non-public school settings be funneled through an ‘equitable services’ provision, already in place through the Every Student Succeeds Act,” according to a letter from the American Association of School Administrators. Politico Florida. U.S. House Democrats will hold a forum next week to review ways to prevent violence in schools. Politico Florida. Teachers can already carry guns in 14 states. USA Today. Parents of students murdered at Parkland urge the Constitution Revision Commission to let Florida voters decide on a three-day waiting period and on raising the age limit to buy guns. In Lakeland, the father of another murdered Parkland student asks the Polk County School Board to approve a plan to arm some school employees. Tampa Bay Times. GateHouse. Lakeland Ledger. Members of the public urge the Bay County School Board not to arm school employees. Panama City News Herald. A majority of the St. Johns County School Board members oppose arming school workers. St. Augustine Record. The Citrus County School Board is asking the sheriff to split the cost of adding five resource officers to schools for the rest of the school year. Citrus County Chronicle. Pinellas County School Board members vote to not arm any school workers other than law enforcement officers. Gradebook. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Shooting video release, walkout, new bills and more

School shooting video: A circuit court judge rules that video taken outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during the shootings Feb. 14 that killed 17 people must be made public. Several news organizations had sued the Broward County Sheriff’s Office and the school board for refusing to release the video, arguing that it was crucial in analyzing law enforcement’s response. The judge ruled that prosecutors didn’t prove how releasing the video could hamper the ongoing investigation, but delayed the release until Thursday to give the sheriff and school board a chance to appeal. Sun-Sentinel. Associated Press. Miami Herald.

Walkout Wednesday: At least 2,500 U.S. schools expect students to stage a walkout Wednesday to protest the shootings at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Feb. 14 and call for stricter controls on guns. The walkouts are expected to start at 10 a.m. and, in many cases, last 17 minutes to honor each of the 17 murdered victims. Sun-Sentinel. Students around the state plan to participate in the walkout, and schools are deciding how they will deal with it. Fort Myers News-Press. Bradenton Herald. Gainesville Sun. Northwest Florida Daily News. St. Augustine Record. The 74. Six things to know about the National Student Walkout. Education Week. About 500,000 people are expected to congregate in Washington, D.C., March 24 in the March For Our Lives rally calling for school safety and stricter gun laws, and other rallies will be held in cities around the country, including Parkland. Sun-Sentinel.

New education bills: The school safety bill and the K-12 and higher education bills got most of the attention, but other education-related bills also were passed in the Legislature. Here are some of them. Gradebook. Private schools that accept state scholarship students will have some new rules to follow under the new education bill, H.B. 7055. The state will now be permitted to visit all private schools, starting in 2019, and provisions will make it harder for those schools to hide criminal convictions of owners or file phony fire inspection reports. But they’ll still be able to hire teachers without college degrees. Orlando Sentinel. H.B. 7055 also boosts school construction funding for K-12 schools and higher education institutions. News Service of Florida. The Legislature created a scholarship program to help bullied students move to private schools. It’s the first program of its kind in the United States. Will it start a national trend? TrustED. U.S. News & World Report. Here’s a recap of the biggest issues in the Legislature this year, as well as some of the bills that passed and failed. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. News Service of Florida. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Budget, safety, other bills, board term limits and more

State budget: The Florida Senate and House overwhelmingly approve an $88.7 billion state budget that increases per-student spending by an average of $101.50 statewide, but is lower in some of the state’s largest districts. “How can anyone justify per-student increases of $65.06 and $52.35 for Miami-Dade and Broward, respectively?” tweeted Miami-Dade School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. Earlier Sunday, Gov. Rick Scott signed the higher education bill that permanently boosts spending for Bright Futures scholarships, and the K-12 bill that includes a new scholarship program for bullied victims. News Service of FloridaTampa Bay TimesPalm Beach Post. Orlando Sentinel. Politico Florida. Tallahassee Democrat. GateHouse. The Legislature also passed a $170 million tax cut bill that includes a three-day tax holiday on school supplies. News Service of Florida. Associated Press.

School safety bill: Gov. Scott signs the $400 million school safety bill, despite being lobbied by educators who don’t like the idea of arming school personnel and NRA officials who don’t like the new restrictions on gun sales. The NRA quickly files a suit in federal court against the law, calling it a violation of the Second Amendment. News Service of FloridaAssociated PressPolitico Florida. Tampa Bay Times. redefinED. Palm Beach Post. GateHouse. Here’s what the new school safety bill does. Palm Beach Post. Stoneman Douglas students and parents had vowed that “this time would be different.” And it was. But school students say while it’s a start, it isn’t enough. Miami Herald. Some private schools are ahead of public schools on security issues. Palm Beach Post. President Trump backs away from his earlier proposals on gun restrictions and is now calling for the creation of a federal Commission on School Safety, led by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, to make long-range policy suggestions. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. Associated Press. No one really knows how many students bring guns to schools, because schools are lax in reporting those incidents and the information detailing it is inconsistently collected and outdated. Stateline.

Reaction to safety bill: Law enforcement and school officials say there isn’t enough money in the bill to put an armed resource officer in every school. They say $360 million is needed but the bill only provides $162 million, which means arming school personnel may be the only option for full coverage. Tallahassee Democrat. Why the state’s school superintendents opposed the bill. Washington Post. Miami-Dade school officials are working on a plan to put armed officers at every school. Miami Herald. Central Florida educators say they want police officers, not teachers or other school workers, to be armed on campuses. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. Manatee County school officials join other large districts around the state in saying they’re unlikely to arm any school personnel other than resource officers under the new law. Bradenton Herald. The Citrus County School Board will be asked to place school resource officers into more schools. Several elementary schools share a deputy. Citrus County Chronicle.

School board term limits: A proposal before the Constitution Revision Commission to limit school board terms is revised. Sponsor Erika Donalds now wants to limit board members to serving eight consecutive years, starting Nov. 6, 2018. The earlier version, which had been approved by a CRC committee, would have begun with service since 2015. Gradebook. Several education issues are among the proposals CRC members will consider in its final report to the secretary of state May 10. Florida Today. Continue Reading →