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Florida schools roundup: K-12 funding, big bills, testing, opting out and more

florida-roundup-logoK-12 funding: The Florida Senate and House are close to an agreement that would raise K-12 spending by $458 million, or $71 per student to $7,178. Most of the increase will be absorbed by the state instead of raised through local property taxes. In his budget proposal, Gov. Rick Scott wanted an extra $507 million for K-12 education, but almost 90 percent would have come from local property taxes. Legislators say the plan amounts to $428 million in tax relief. Politico Florida. Tampa Bay Times.

Education bills: What’s in the two broadly drawn education bills that still must win approval in the full Senate and agreement in the House? Teacher bonuses, a change in charter school authority, open enrollment and much more. Gradebook.

Testing season: Florida’s testing season begins today, and the Florida Department of Education is hoping for improvements from last year’s problems of technical glitches. The Florida Standards Assessments vendor, American Institutes for Research, has upgraded software, hardware, security and its help desk, officials say. Orlando Sentinel.

Opting out: In west-central Florida counties, opting out of the Florida Standards Assessments tests isn’t easy. Some parents wonder why, especially when they see other counties work with parents to avoid disruptions for students who opt out. Tampa Bay Times. The Department of Education denies a request that an Oak Park School student be exempted from taking the Florida Standards Assessment due to medical complexities. Maddy Drew’s cerebral palsy prevents her from being able to speak, use the restroom on her own, or communicate beyond an occasional gesture with her one good hand. Her angry mother says she will take Maddy out of school until testing is completed. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Computer coding: Teachers and students talk about the possibility of computer coding fulfilling foreign language requirements. Sun-Sentinel. Panama City News Herald.

Leadership program: Forty Florida teachers are chosen for a new leadership program aimed at improving teachers’ classroom skills and student achievement. The Florida Teacher Leader Fellowship is funded by a $764,553 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and starts Tuesday in Tallahassee. Orlando Sentinel.

School recess: Parents and educators talk about their wishes to see recess required at Florida elementary schools. Palm Beach Post.

Board vs. superintendent: The Duval County School Board meets March 8 to discuss its rocky relationship with Superintendent Nikolai Vitti. The friction between them is not new for Duval County, or unusual in big city school districts. Florida Times-Union.

Raises or reserves: The Clay County School Board has a dilemma: Raise the financial reserves to the state-recommended 3 percent or give raises to teachers. The district just committed $2.5 million to bring the reserves to 3 percent, but the teachers want to use the money for raises. The unions representing teachers and the support staff are at an impasse with the district. Florida Times-Union.

Cough medicine: A bill is moving through the Legislature to restrict the sale of cough medicines that contain dextromethorphan, also known as DXM, to teenagers. The spokesman of the Florida Association of School Resource Officers spokesman, however, says the issue has not come up in any Florida high schools. Naples Daily News.

Computer science: More than 80 percent of Broward County’s elementary schools have mixed computer science in with math and science classes for kindergarten students. Sun-Sentinel.

Virtual reality: The Polk County School District is one of two U.S. districts using Nearpod VR virtual reality lesson plans. Using Google Cardboards, teachers can help students experience planets and historical places as a different form of learning. Fortune.

Dress codes: Students in Florida and around the country are pushing for gender equality in school dress codes. CNN, via WXII.

GradPoint abuse: GradPoint is a credit recovery program that the Pinellas County School District uses to help students who are falling behind catch up and graduate. But some students and teachers say the program is being used to give students grades they didn’t earn. WFTS. Tampa Bay Times.

SpringBoard review: Hillsborough County school officials are re-evaluating their use of the SpringBoard teaching materials. Several school board members say they have heard widespread criticism of the program from teachers. Tampa Bay Times. SpringBoard is not without its supporters. Gradebook.

Graduation help: Catapult Academy, a privately operated school that specializes in helping students graduate, is growing rapidly. Last year the school, which contracts with the Hillsborough County School District, had 188 students; this year it has 409. Tampa Tribune.

After-school programs: The Collier County School District puts out a call to private groups to bid on contracts for after-school programs. Schools may choose one of the companies or develop their own program. Naples Daily News.

District marketing: The Hillsborough County School District is hiring a public relations company to help it put together a strategic communications plan. Tucker/Hall will be paid $30,000. Gradebook.

Reducing violence: Members of the Terry Parker High School community and school staff meet to talk about reducing violence at the school. School officials say efforts are working, with arrests down 36 percent. Florida Times-Union.

Teacher honored: Kristy Imhof has been named Escambia County’s teacher of the year. Imhof is a language arts teacher at Ransom Middle School. Pensacola News Journal.

A fateful turn: Two years ago, Leon County assistant superintendent Paul Byrd was arrested for trying to avoid a narcotics checkpoint. That led to an FBI investigation in the district’s handling of school construction funds as well as an “active and ongoing” investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Tallahassee Democrat.

Teacher poisoned: Three 12-year-old Deltona Middle School students are arrested and accused of trying to poison their teacher. The girls allegedly spiked a soda with spicy hot pepper that sickened their teacher as an act of revenge for being disciplined. WESH. WFTV.

Notable deaths: Rufus Brooks, a longtime educator and former president of Orange County’s NAACP branch, has died at age 88. Orlando Sentinel.

Employees arrested: A Pinellas County teacher is arrested and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, possession of a controlled substance and resisting an officer without violence. Karen Boehm is a fourth-grader teacher at Curlew Creek Elementary School. Tampa Tribune. A customer service representative for the Orange County School District is arrested and accused of food stamp fraud. WFTV.

School threats: A 19-year-old Irish man goes on trial March 10 for making bombs threats against schools in Polk County and around the United States in 2012. Irish Mirror. Manatee School Superintendent Diana Greene is asking parents to help put an end of the recent series of threats against Manatee County schools. Bradenton Herald.

Opinions on schools: If the lawsuit against school choice is successful, parents lose. Marlene Desdunes, South Florida Times. Florida is tops among states in educational results per spending, according to a recent study. William Mattox, Florida Politics. Education in Florida is becoming a consumer product. Teresa Jenkins, Charlotte Sun. Lunch Pals is a promising mentoring plan to help Pinellas County students in need. Tampa Bay Times. Focusing on whether schools are properly integrated misses the point – the focus should be on the education provided to students. Joe Brown, Tampa Tribune. The Manatee County School District’s change in reporting expulsions is an improvement, but withholding the name of the schools involved is not serving the public’s right to know. Bradenton Herald. Cheers to Brian Tate for being one of three CIS site coordinators in the United States named a 2016 “Unsung Hero” by the national office of Communities in Schools. Tate works at Arlington Middle School. Florida Times-Union. The Studer family’s Pensacola Pledge Scholarship Program has provided a model for the type of investment needed to grow and enhance our community by building and tailoring opportunities for individuals who have a dream to pursue higher education. Dr. Brendan Kelly, Pensacola News Journal. The Manatee County School District is correct in proposing to close three schools and rebalance student enrollment. Bradenton Herald. Standardized testing takes the joy out of learning and teaching. Lacorya Lynn, Gainesville Sun. The Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation is ignoring a few facts in its self-congratulatory message about educational improvements. Joanne McCall, Ocala Star Banner. A teacher of special-needs students talks about her job and her students. Tania Travieso, Ocala Star Banner. Teachers are asking for respect and a living wage in negotiations with the St. Johns County School District. Kate Dowdie, St. Augustine Record.

Student enrichment: Sreeniketh Vogoti is the winner of the 14-county North Florida spelling bee, and moves on to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May. Vogoti is a seventh-grader at Fruit Cove Middle School in St. Johns County. Florida Times-Union.

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BY NextSteps staff