Florida schools roundup: Education bill, competency promotions, tests and more

florida-roundup-logoEducation bill: The House has amended the massive education bill, HB 7209, and sent it back to the Senate for a vote. It does not include a provision that aimed to prevent charter school operators from using public dollars to construct or improve buildings they own. “If there’s a 150-page amendment or something that flies over here, and it’s a take-it-or-leave-it, we’ll probably leave it, and we won’t do it,” Senate President Andy Gardiner said. “And I think they would probably do the same thing, because that’s where you end up doing something you regret.” Miami Herald. Politico Florida.

Competency bill: The Legislature approves a bill to set up a five-year pilot program that allows students to be promoted if they can demonstrate they’ve mastered what they should be learning. Pinellas, Palm Beach, Lake and Seminole counties will take part in the competency-based education program, as will the P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School in Gainesville. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. Sunshine State News. WFSU. The bill would also ease certification requirements for science, technology, engineering and math teachers. Politico Florida.

Testing alternative: A Senate bill that would have allowed students to use alternatives to state exams appears to be dead in the House. The Senate is expected to pass the bill, which allows tests such as the SAT and ACT to be used instead of the Florida Standards Assessments. Politico Florida. Meanwhile, Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, proposes canceling the state’s standardized testing contracts. Politico Florida.

Teacher bonuses: Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, tells colleagues the amount for teacher bonuses was bumped up to $49 million because $44 million wasn’t enough to give teachers who qualify almost $10,000 apiece. Politico Florida.

Scott signs bills: Gov. Rick Scott signs a bill setting standards for school leadership programs that prepare educators to become administrators. Gradebook. He also signs a bill that changes the makeup of the 25-member Education Practices Commission, which judges whether to suspend or revoke educators’ licenses. Politico Florida.

Reading program: Included in the $82.3 billion state budget is about $400,000 for an intensive reading program to help five failing St. Petersburg elementary schools. The program was developed by the University of Florida College of Education’s Lastinger Center for Learning. Tampa Bay Times.

Student ‘overlooked’: A Polk County school bus driver and attendant are arrested after twice leaving a sleeping special needs student in the parked bus. Both times, the 13-year-old hitchhiked and walked the 30 miles home. The driver, 51-year-old Gale Brown, and attendant, 57-year-old Gwendolyn Simmons, each face two counts of felony negligent child abuse. Winter Haven News ChiefTampa Tribune. Orlando Sentinel. WFLA.

Americorps volunteers: Principals at the Leadership Schools at Eugene J. Butler were skeptical of the value of having City Year AmeriCorps volunteers in their classrooms. But after one semester, both say the program is a huge benefit to their schools. City Year is a national organization that places full-time AmeriCorps volunteers in public schools in high-need communities. The volunteers work with struggling students to improve their attendance, behavior and performance in English and math classes. Florida Times-Union.

Rape victim compensated: The Legislature approves a $1.8 million payment to a Pahokee girl who was raped on a Palm Beach County school bus in 2007. The girl received a $100,000 payment from the Palm Beach County Board, but the rest of the jury award had to be approved by the Legislature. Palm Beach Post.

Discipline policy: The Pinellas County School Board is expected to approve a change in the district’s discipline policy. The new rules would cut the number of days a student can be suspended out of school and prohibit the docking of students’ grades for absences. A vote is expected Tuesday. Gradebook.

Money for Hernando: Hernando County is expected to receive as much as $2 million from the state fund meant to help smaller school districts. The district is expected to use at least some of the money to boost its reserves, which have fallen below the state-recommended 3 percent. Tampa Bay Times.

Bus-tracking contract: The Hernando County School Board plans to cancel the district’s bus tracking system from Synovia Solutions. The system is supposed to allow the district to track every bus and every students on those buses, but has never worked to the satisfaction of school officials. Tampa Bay Times.

Interim CEO: Bay Haven Academy Principal Larry Bolinger is named interim CEO of the Bay Haven Charter Academy. Previous CEO Tim Kitts resigned last week. He had been accused of making inappropriate comments, creating a hostile work environment and religious and gender discrimination. Panama City News Herald.

Ex-teacher sentenced: A former Seminole County high school teacher is sentenced to 27 years in prison on federal child pornography charges. Gregory A. Vaughn, 59, was an Advanced Placement psychology teacher at Hagerty High School until his 2015 arrest. Tampa Tribune. Orlando Sentinel.

Guns at school: A student is arrested for having a gun at Terry Parker High School in Jacksonville. Florida Times-Union. A 12-year-old student at Treadway Elementary School in Lake County is arrested after he is found with a pellet gun and marijuana. Orlando Sentinel. Daily Commercial.

Opinions on schools: A bill outlining alternative ways to getting a teacher’s certificate doesn’t help teach those STEM professionals and graduate students how to teach. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. When it comes to terrible education decisions, few legislatures can hold a candle to the whiz-bang elected wizards of Florida. Peter Greene, Huffington Post.

Student enrichment: A new after-school program in Hernando County is helping 400-500 disadvantaged children who are doing poorly in school. The STEAM AfterSchool Program is financed by a grant from the Florida Department of Education. Tampa Bay Times. Students at Washington High School take a new slant to Shakespeare during their Shake Fest. Pensacola News Journal. The national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading has honored Sarasota County for its improvements in literacy for children in the third grade and below. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Matthew Krupka, a middle school student at Fort Myers Christian School, wins the Lee County School District’s Spelling Bee and will compete at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., in May. Naples Daily NewsFort Myers News-Press. Inlet Grove Community High School students rap their way to a national award in the United States SkillsUSA/Lowe’s Social Media Campaign Challenge. The Riviera Beach students produced a rap video on health eating. South Florida Times. Drone classes will be offered at two Gulf County high schools next year. Port St. Joe Star.

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BY NextSteps staff