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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 →

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 →

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 →

Florida schools roundup: Education and school safety bills, Parkland and more

Education bills: Both legislative chambers approve a sweeping K-12 education bill. If signed by Gov. Rick Scott, the bill would create the Hope Scholarship for students who are bullied or the victims of violence, give money to 3rd-graders to pay for tutors to help them pass the state reading test, require every school to prominently display the state motto “In God We Trust,” decertify teachers unions when membership falls below 50 percent of eligible employees, place restrictions on local school districts’ ability to close charter schools, and use sales taxes from commercial properties to expand the Gardiner and tax credit scholarship programs, among other things. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the Gardiner and tax credit scholarship programs. Associated PressNews Service of Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando SentinelredefinED. Gainesville Sun. Politico Florida. GateHouse. Here’s a breakdown of what’s in the nearly 200-page education bill. redefinED. Both chambers also pass the higher education bill, which permanently boosts the amounts students can receive if they qualify for Bright Futures scholarships, among other provisions. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. GateHouse. Other school choice issues are up for votes this week. redefinED.

School safety bill: The Florida Senate narrowly passes the school safety bill, but only after senators strip the provision to arm teachers. Instead, districts that choose to participate in the $67 million marshals program can have other personnel – such as custodians or principals – trained and armed. Another $97 million would be set aside for more school resource officers. Overall, the bill provides $400 million for school safety, including $69 million for mental health assistance.into mental health and school safety programs, $18.3 million for mobile crisis teams working with the Department of Children and Families and the schools and $500,000 for mental health first aid training. The bill also bans the sale of bump stocks, raises the legal age to buy a firearm from 18 to 21, and imposes a three-day waiting period on the purchase of all rifles and shotguns. Miami HeraldPalm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel. GateHouse. Tallahassee Democrat. Associated Press. WLRN. House leaders express disappointment over the Senate’s decision to not arm teachers. Politico Florida. Sheriffs say the amount set aside for arming school personnel is too much, and the amount for more school officers is too little. Tampa Bay Times. The Broward County School Board is expected to approve an agreement today to add school resource officers at four more schools. Sun-Sentinel. Monday is the first day for every Manatee school to have a resource officer. Bradenton Herald. Bay County School Superintendent Bill Husfelt says everything the Legislature is talking about is for next year. “I’m worried about today,” he says. “I have called the governor’s office several times and suggested they put the National Guard out in front of schools that don’t have armed security, since they’re already being paid.” Panama City News Herald. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: H.B. 7069 lawsuits, raises, top teachers and more

Suit dismissal denied: A Leon County circuit judge denies the state’s request to dismiss a Palm Beach County School Board lawsuit against a portion of the education law, H.B. 7069. The district says the law is unconstitutional because it infringes on the rights of local school boards by requiring them to share local property tax money with charter schools. The state says the Palm Beach board’s “claims are based on erroneous interpretations of the Florida Constitution” and contends the state has the authority to supervise the public school system. News Service of Florida. Meanwhile, the Florida Supreme Court is transferring another case, this one brought by nine school districts alleging that H.B. 7069 violates the constitutional single-subject rule for laws. The case will now be heard in a Leon County circuit court. The education bill began as a six-page proposal but expanded to 274 pages and dozens of subjects in the final days of the 2017 legislative session. Gradebook. Florida Politics. redefinEDPolitico Florida.

Pay raises coming: The Broward County School Board approves a pay raise proposal for teachers. Most teachers will get a raise of at least 2.5 percent, while ones rated as “highly effective” will get up to 3.6 percent. The raises are retroactive to July, and will appear in teachers’ paychecks in January. The deal, which was approved by 91 percent of the teachers who voted, will cost the district $24.3 million. Sun-Sentinel.

Teachers honored: Chasey Niebrugge, an exceptional student education teacher at River Hall Elementary in Alva, is chosen as the Lee County School District’s teacher of the year. WBBH. Fort Myers News-Press. Four finalists are chosen for the St. Johns County School District’s teacher of the year award. They are: Amy Grimm, 1st grade, Julington Creek Elementary; Kathleen Hunting, 2nd grade, Osceola Elementary; Chassity Johnson, 8th grade math, Sebastian Middle; and Jonathan Higgins, psychology, Pedro Menendez High. The winner will be announced Jan. 24. St. Augustine Record. Joseph Underwood, who teaches television production at Miami Senior High School, is one of 50 teachers in the world chosen as finalists for the 2018 Global Teacher Prize awarded by the Varkey Foundation. The winner receives $100,000 a year for 10 years. Patch.com.

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