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Florida schools roundup: Culture of leniency, school security, pre-K and more

A district’s discipline: The Broward County School District has developed a culture of leniency that allows students to commit what could be considered criminal offenses with little or no punishment and treats students as first-time offenders even if it’s their 10th offense for the same thing, according to discipline records and people familiar with the process. The emphasis on promoting punishment alternatives, known as the Promise program, provides a public relations boost with fewer arrests, expulsions and suspensions for misbehaving students, but has led to a message that “the students are untouchable. Habitual negative behavior means nothing anymore,” according to notes from a recent faculty meeting. Sun-Sentinel. The district’s response to the siege it’s been under for the shooting and the discipline problems has been to try to withhold information and to release statements that are later shown to be incorrect. Superintendent Robert Runcie has even blocked parents from his Twitter account, saying he won’t tolerate “profanity, hate speech or false information.” Sun-Sentinel.

School security: With a deadline approaching and under financial pressure, the Pinellas County School District is now planning to hire armed guards for some positions as a “stopgap measure” to provide security to all schools. Some school board members say they prefer school resource officers, but that Superintendent Michael Grego’s latest plan is understandable as a temporary solution. Tampa Bay Times. Volusia County officials say the school district and sheriff need to develop a plan on school safety before the county commits any money to help pay for it. The agencies meet today to discuss how to proceed to get an armed officer in schools before they reopen in August. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Two months after it passed, the state’s gun reform law is still a focus of debates in school districts. WFSU. WUSF.

Student preparedness: About 45 percent of the students in the state’s voluntary pre-K program students are not ready for kindergarten, according to a report from the state’s Office of Early Learning. The report also concludes that about 42 percent of the state’s VPK providers should be put on probation for having fewer than 60 percent of their students pass the state’s readiness test, but the office is asking for one more grace year before implementing that provision. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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Florida schools roundup: Top court takes education suit, school security and more

Top court takes case: The Florida Supreme Court agrees to review a nearly 10-year-old lawsuit that claims the state has failed to meet its constitutional duty to provide a high-quality system of public schools. The case, brought by the group called Citizens for Strong Schools, has already been rejected by a Leon County circuit judge and the 1st District Court of Appeal, and the state had argued against the Supreme Court’s involvement. When the suit was filed in 2009, it alleged that funding for schools was inadequate and that schools were hamstrung by regulations such as standardized testing. The suit was broadened in 2014 to argue that the state’s school choice programs harm public education (Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer two of those programs). The court ordered the plaintiffs to file legal briefs by May 21. News Service of FloridaredefinED.

Securing schools: School officials around Florida are struggling to find ways to comply with the new state law that requires armed security on every campus. Last school year there were about 1,500 school resource officers for about 3,800 state K-12 schools. “The biggest hurdle is not lack of willingness, it’s not even an issue of funding,” says Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. “It’s that everyone across the state … is going to be hiring law enforcement at the same time.” Twenty-three of the state’s 67 districts responded to a survey updating their progress at fulfilling the state requirement. Some are considering tax hikes. Some are working with law enforcement to share costs of officers. Some are considering arming school personnel. And some are hiring safety “assistants” who aren’t sworn officers. Tampa Bay Times. The Duval County School Board is expected to vote today on a proposal to hire 103 armed safety assistants to guard elementary schools. WJCT. Continue Reading →


Fla. lawyers to high court: Keep ‘legal cloud’ off McKay Scholarship program

Florida’s school voucher program for special needs students is constitutional. If the state Supreme Court entertains arguments to the contrary, it will create an unnecessary “legal cloud” for thousands of families.

That’s the argument lawyers defending the McKay Scholarship program made in court papers filed this week.

Late last year, a state court of appeal rejected a lawsuit that took aim at 20 years of Florida education policy and argued the state had systematically underfunded public schools. The plaintiffs in that case want the high court to hear their appeal.

The lawsuit also contended McKay Scholarships, vouchers that help the families roughly 30,000 special-needs children pay private school tuition, are unconstitutional. It’s the last surviving legal attack on a Florida private school choice program after courts declined to hear lawsuits targeting tax credit scholarships

When the First District Court of Appeal upheld McKay Scholarships, it cited, of all things, a lawsuit that struck down a voucher program in 2006.

In that case, known as Bush v. Holmes, the Florida Supreme Court ruled the Opportunity Scholarship Program created an unconstitutional, “parallel” public education system. That’s because the program allowed a theoretically unlimited number of students in low-performing public schools to take taxpayer money and attend private schools instead. Continue Reading →

The ethics of private school choice

The latest edition of the New York Times’ “Ethicist” column features a parent facing a perceived dilemma about school vouchers.

The key word is “perceived.”

An unnamed parent writes about a child who attends a private Montessori preschool. The parent is concerned about what will come next.

My son is thriving in his current environment, and the approach of traditional public schools is significantly different from Montessori’s. If money were no object, I would strongly consider keeping him at his current school.

Our state has a school-voucher program, which uses public money to help low-income families pay for private-school tuition. My family would probably qualify. But I believe that taxpayer dollars would be better spent to fortify public-school systems and should not be funneled to private schools. Given my beliefs, may I apply for a school voucher?

The ethicist answers yes, on the grounds that parents’ obligation to their children trump societal concerns. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: School security plans, budget blues and more

School security: The Sarasota County School Board approves a plan to create an internal school security department over the next two years. The plan, which would cost the district $3.1 million, calls for hiring 30 officers and placing them in elementary schools for the 2018-2019 school year, and adding 26 more the following year and putting them in middle and high schools. Superintendent Todd Bowden proposes negotiating with local law enforcement agencies to provide coverage in middle and high schools for 2018-2019, which could cost as much as another $2.5 million. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Both the Duval and Pasco school districts are considering plans to place safety “assistants” in elementary schools as a less-costly alternative to using sworn school resource officers. These assistants would receive less training and be paid less than SROs, and work only when schools are in session. Florida Times-UnionWJCT. WJXT. Gradebook. The Volusia County School Board is asking the county council for $2 million to help put a resource officer in every school. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Putnam County School Board members delay a decision on arming school employees until May 1 to wait for a recommendation from a school advisory committee. WJXT. Students are among about 50 people protesting against Brevard County School Board members who want to consider arming school employees. Florida Today. Broward County school officials are hosting the first of several school safety forums tonight. WLRN.

Budget problems: The Duval County School Board is facing a $62 million deficit in its $1.7 billion budget for next year, districts officials say. Last year the district dipped into its reserves to cover a $23 million deficit. Interim Superintendent Patricia Willis says overspending, higher costs for security, transportation, raises and money to charter schools are contributing to the deficit, and she’s asking department heads to look for 5 percent savings in their budgets. Florida Times-Union. Broward County school officials say they’re facing a budget deficit of nearly $15 million for the next school year, and are considering asking voters for an additional half-mill in property taxes so teachers can get raises. If approved by the school board, the tax measure would go on the November ballot. Officials estimate it would raise $93 million a year over its four-year life. Sun-Sentinel. Lake County School Superintendent Diane Kornegay is proposing to trim $2.1 million from the district’s budget by eliminating non-teaching positions in administration and support services. Daily Commercial.

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Florida schools roundup: Education amendment, funding request and more

Education amendment: A proposed constitutional amendment that bundles three education issues will appear on the November ballot. The Constitution Revision Commission, in a 27-10 vote, approves Proposal 6003, which calls for eight-year term limits on school board members, gives the authority to approve charter schools to an entity other than local school boards, and requires civics to be taught in public schools. It was one of eight amendments approved on Monday. Another education proposal, which would have allowed “high-performing” public school districts to apply for an exemption from following some state laws and regulations, as charter schools can now, was rejected by the CRC. There will be 13 amendment proposals on the ballot. Each must be approved by 60 percent of voters to take effect. Miami Herald. News Service of FloridaGradebook. redefinED. Orlando SentinelAssociated Press. Politico Florida.

Education funding: The state’s school superintendents say that if legislators are going to be called for a special session on gambling, they should also reconsider funding for education. The Florida Association of District School Superintendents wants the Legislature to increase the base allocation by $152 per student, which would cost the state about $300 million. It also wants to be able to use money from the program that calls for arming school employees to instead hire school resource officers. A previous request by the group for a special session to take another look at education funding was denied. Gradebook. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: State wins H.B. 7069 suit, teacher v. officer pay and more

H.B. 7069 suit tossed: A Leon County circuit judge throws out a lawsuit by 14 Florida school districts challenging the constitutionality of the Legislature’s 2017 education bill, H.B. 7069. The districts argued that the bill is unconstitutional because it takes powers away from local schools boards and forces districts to share local property taxes with charter schools. The state contended the districts had no standing to sue, and that their disagreement with the law was strictly political. The districts are considering whether to appeal. Orlando SentinelTampa Bay Times. Politico FloridaThe 74. 

School officers’ pay: Resource officers being hired to protect Pinellas County schools will be paid more than many of the teachers in those schools. The new resource officers will be paid $46,410, which is about the same as a Pinellas teacher with 13 years of experience. One major difference: The officers work year-round, while teachers have set vacation breaks and time off in the summers. The district and the sheriff’s office are hiring 156 new officers so every county school can have one, as required by the new school security law. Tampa Bay Times.

Audit raps state DOE: State auditors say Florida Department of Education officials obstructed their review of the state’s administration of millions of federal student loans by restricting access or delaying responses. “This lack of cooperation and responsiveness created redundancies in audit requests, postponed or frustrated the performance of audit procedures, and provided our auditors little assurance as to the completeness and accuracy of some Department-provided information,” auditors reported. Education Commissioner Pam Stewart defends her staff, saying the procedures cited by the auditor are “designed to ensure that responses are timely, accurate, and complete.” Politico Florida. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Amendments, H.B. 7069, educator bonuses and more

12 amendments proposed: The Style and Drafting Committee of the Constitution Revision Commission has consolidated 24 proposals into 12 amendments that it is recommending for the November ballot. Three education-related ideas — school board term limits, requiring a civics course for graduation and allowing the state to create a new entity to authorize charter schools — are consolidated into a single amendment. The other education proposal, which would allow high-performing school districts to have the same regulatory flexibility as charter schools, would stand alone. The proposals must be approved by the full CRC by May 10. Proposed amendments must be approved by 60 percent of the voters to be added to the state constitution. Miami Herald. News Service of Florida.

H.B. 7069 lawsuit: Lawyers on both sides of the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Legislature’s 2017 education law present their arguments to a Leon County judge and ask for a summary judgment. Those challenging H.B. 7069 say it strips local school boards of their constitutional authority, creates a separate system for charter schools outside local district control and changes the way local taxes are collected and spent. Lawyers for the state say the plaintiffs say provisions of the law are political decisions outside the court’s jurisdiction, and that the plaintiffs don’t have standing to bring the suit. Judge John Cooper did not rule Gradebook.

No bonuses for you: More than 1,000 Duval County educators have discovered that they won’t be getting their expected bonuses from the state under the Best and Brightest scholarship program. A revision in the law limits the bonuses to current classroom teachers, and excludes such employees as academic coaches, deans of students and school counselors, media specialists, psychologists, social workers, specialists and others. The district says it’s in no financial position to step in with payments for those who are missing out. Florida Times-Union.

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