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Florida schools roundup: Education trial, higher pay, construction debt and more

florida-roundup-logoEducation on trial: A circuit court judge grills Education Commissioner Pam Stewart about the laws governing state vs. local control of education. Judge George Reynolds specifically wants to know who is responsible for turning around underperforming schools, the state government or the local school officials. Stewart was testifying in the nonjury civil trial in which Florida is accused of not fulfilling its constitutional mandate to provide a quality education for all public school students. Here are videos of her testimony Thursday and Friday, and here are some of the exhibits. The trial is expected to last at least another three weeks. Politico Florida.

Incentive pay: Increasingly, school districts are turning to higher salaries to get teachers to work at struggling, low-income schools. But a decade of research shows “social working conditions are the things that matter for teachers way above and beyond pay,” says Nicole Simon, a research affiliate at Harvard University’s Project of Next Generation Teachers. “Money alone can’t do what people want it to do.” Tampa Bay Times.

Debt for construction: For the first time since 2011, Florida will issue bonds to pay for school construction projects. Gov. Rick Scott has approved a legislative plan to finance more than $600 million in education construction projects in the new budget. Gatehouse Media.

Education bill: Gov. Rick Scott has until April 14 to decide whether to sign the massive education bill the Legislature passed. Among other things, the bill would allow any student to enroll in any public school that has an opening and would give charter schools that serve children with disabilities or lower-income students a bigger slice of construction funding from the state. News Service of Florida. Fast-growing school districts, such as St. Johns County, have concerns that open enrollment will make it harder to enroll in-county students. Florida Times-Union.

Legislators graded: The nonprofit Foundation for Florida’s Future, a Jeb Bush-founded group that supports initiatives such as school choice, names 20 legislators to its honor roll. Florida Politics.

Preschool funding: Early childhood advocates are angry that per-student funding for the Florida’s Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten program is flat for the third straight year, and is less than it was when it started a decade ago. Florida voters approved a free and “high quality” state pre-K in 2002, and it began in the 2005. Orlando Sentinel.

Resolution on blue hair: Officials at at Discovery Middle School back off a threat to suspend a 12-year-old girl for dyeing her hair blue. Olivia Shaffer changed her hair color for a part in a school play. Initially, the school’s dean said she had until Friday to dye it back to her natural color or be suspended. Now school officials say they’ll allow Olivia to grow out her hair without dying it it back to her natural color, but she can’t dye it blue again unless the Orange County district’s dress policies change. Orlando Sentinel.

Politics in the classroom: Should current politics be a topic of discussion in public school classrooms. Teachers, parents and other Brevard County residents say politics is an important topic and that it ought to be taught, but many worry about the way that those topics might be introduced to children, with several warning about the risk of partisanship. Florida Today.

Opt-out movement: The Opt-out Florida network is growing as dissatisfaction with standardized testing spreads. In 2014, there were about 5,500 opt-outs. That ballooned to 20,000 in 2015. The network has tried to work with districts on ways to opt out without absences, with mixed success. So it has issued a how-to guide. WFSU. WBHM.

Sales tax request: Palm Beach County commissioners are worried that the inclusion of cultural projects and an economic development fund to the proposed penny hike in the sales tax will sap voter support. Palm Beach County.

School request denied: The Department of Education denies a request from the Leon County School District to build a high school in south Tallahassee. DOE officials say projected student enrollment figures don’t justify opening a new high school. Leon school officials plan to amend the request and refile it. Tallahassee Democrat. WFSU.

Battle over districts: The county commission and school board are squabbling over the redrawing of Jefferson County district maps. A federal judge ordered the maps redrawn, and the commission has taken the lead. School board members think they aren’t being properly consulted. WFSU.

School rezoning: The 720 students at Orange Ridge-Bullock Elementary School are preparing for change when the school closes. The Manatee County School Board will discuss various rezoning proposals Tuesday. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Teacher shortages: Florida is among the states reporting difficulty in filling open teaching positions. Tom Dana, associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Florida College of Education, says “we’re sort of back to the point where about 1,000 people a day move to Florida and a third of those are school-age children.” AMI NewsWire.

Employees honored: Brandon Kyle Jeter, an honors-level astronomy teacher at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, is named Broward County’s teacher of the year. Also honored were principal of the year Karlton Johnson of Blanche Ely High, assistant principal of the year Jacqueline A. Smith of Hollywood Hills High and employee of the year Nikole Gray, a paraprofessional at Dillard Elementary. Sun-Sentinel. Five Collier County teachers are given Golden Apple awards. They are Jenny Godley and McKenzie Morton from Naples High School; Eric Mazurkewitz from Immokalee High School; Bruce Peters from Lorenzo Walker Technical College; and Nancy Garousi from Tommie Barfield Elementary School. Naples Daily News.

Confederate flag issue: If Indian River County school officials ban the Confederate flag on school properties, it would be the first state district to do so. The school board has agreed to consider an NAACP request for the ban. TCPalm.

Concrete concerns: Some residents of Escambia County are concerned that a proposed concrete crushing plant will spew harmful dust at four nearby schools. WEAR.

Records problems: The Polk County School District is refusing to release student records for those who want to attend Bok Academy, a charter school. “It is a direct violation of federal law to release student data other than directory information to anyone including a school without written permission from the parent or eligible student,” says Melissa Brady, director of charter schools for the district. Winter Haven News Chief.

Lawsuits discussion: The Manatee County School Board meets Tuesday to discuss five lawsuits pending against the district. Bradenton Herald.

Scabies at school: Two cases of scabies are detected at Spook Hill Elementary School in Lake Wales. The school has been cleaned and officials are monitoring students. Scabies occurs when a mite lays its eggs below the upper layer of the skin, causing itching and skin rash. Lakeland Ledger.

Band director fired: A Lee County band director is fired when he is found to be drinking a beer in his car during his lunch break, and several other cans of open beer were seen in the car. Cadrick Smith, 25, had been working at North Fort Myers Academy for the Arts  as part of the All-County Jazz Band. Fort Myers News-Press.

Duval discipline: Six Duval County school employees facing suspension or firing at the School Board meeting this week, including one teacher who allegedly pushed a second-grader’s head into a desk and another who brought a stun gun to school. Florida Times-Union.

Bomb threat suspect: The man accused of making bomb threats against several Palm Beach County schools pleads not guilty to the charges in a Fort Lauderdale court. Preston McWaters, 25, allegedly made the threats from Georgia and was trying to place the blame on a woman he used to work with and her boyfriend. WPEC.

Opinions on schools: Even though the bill allowing students to use computer coding as a substitute for a foreign language did not pass in Florida, at least it sparked an interesting conversation. Schools know they need to start offering coding and other STEM courses because they’re both in demand and should already be a part of a core curriculum. Software Development Times. The Legislature came through for the Brevard County School District. Desmond Blackburn, Florida Today. How about a new education reform push, one that focuses less on the teachers and more on the principals who supervise them? Dana Goldstein, Slate. The latest Florida testing outrage story is in Pinellas County. A school would not allow the mother of an autistic Florida Virtual School student to stay in the testing room to handle the service dog her son uses. Valerie Strauss, Washington Post. Restoring teacher planning time is a win for the Lee County School District. Jeanne Dozier, Fort Myers News-Press. The GED test was not meant to be harder to pass than what is required to graduate high school. Regina Browning, Tallahassee Democrat. Cheers to Gainesville kindergarten teacher Susan Bowles for standing up for students in a case challenging the adequacy of Florida’s school funding. Gainesville Sun. Florida should not give up on insisting that students learn algebra. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: Nine Florida teens were among the 100 students who were chosen for the ninth annual Disney Dreamers Academy with TV personality Steve Harvey and Essence magazine. Florida Courier. Madison Toonder, a 14-year-old student at the Florida Virtual School, has written two bills for the Florida Legislature to protect oysters and manatees. WJXT. Three southwest Florida students – Annalisse VanZanten, James Humpel and Maya Chandar – win top prizes at the 61st annual State Science and Engineering Fair. Fort Myers News-Press. Brevard students win four best of show awards and eight first place awards at the Science and Engineering Fair. Florida Today. High school athletic trainers reflect on the busy and important job. Bradenton Herald. Alex Carzola Jr., a Palm Beach Gardens High School senior, wins a situp competition against Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps platoons from 15 other Florida high schools. He did 347 situps in six minutes. Palm Beach Post. About 300 students from Maynard Evans High School take part in a string of community-service efforts from packing hygiene and food kits for the needy to beautifying their Pine Hills neighborhood by picking up trash and gardening. Orlando Sentinel. Students at Freeport High School launch a campaign to post sticky notes with inspirational messages throughout the school. Northwest Florida Daily News. Mary Mallory, a senior at Mosley High School in Lynn Haven, has accumulated more than $1 million in scholarship money. Panama City News Herald. King High School’s symphony orchestra and the wind band perform today at Carnegie Hall. WFLA.

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BY NextSteps staff