Florida schools roundup: Choice, testing, scholarships and more

florida-roundup-logoMeetings agenda: School testing and choice will be the focus of next week’s legislative education committee meetings. The House committee will meet Tuesday to discuss “closing the opportunity gap” for low-income students, and the Senate committee will meet Wednesday to discuss ways to cut back on testing. Politico Florida.

Education bills: Two bills are filed in the Florida House that are intended to make college more affordable. One would allow students to use their Bright Futures scholarships to cover summer tuition, and the other increases the number of credit-hours an in-state student can take before incurring a 100 percent tuition surcharge. Both were filed by new Rep. Amber Mariano, R-New Port Richey, a 21-year-old University of Central Florida student. Gradebook. Politico Florida.

Out-of-school suspensions: Orange County School District principals must now consult with their bosses before imposing out-of-school suspensions on students for all but the most serious offenses. The new policy is meant to encourage principals to consider other options. About 1 in 15 Orange students were given out-of-schools suspensions in the 2014-2015 school year, which is slightly higher than the state average. For black students, the rate was 1 in 8. Orlando Sentinel.

School elections: The Manatee County School Board is considering a change in how school board members are elected. The current system elects board members to at-large seats, voted on countywide. Board member Charlie Kennedy wants to change that to single-member districts, arguing that would cut campaign costs and the influence of outside money. Making the change would require a countywide referendum. Bradenton Herald.

Teachers honored: Six finalists for Hillsborough County teacher of the year are announced. They are: Katerina Pawloski, Tinker K-8 School; Lauren Schnebly Hackworth, Mitchell Elementary; Maria Torres-Crosby, Memorial Middle; Carrie Donatelli, Turner Bartels K-8; Cathelyn Gregoire, Armwood High; and Becky Walker, Spoto High. Diversity educator of the year and support employee of the year finalists were also announced. Winners will be revealed Feb. 28. Tampa Bay Times.

Teacher salaries fight: Sarasota County School Board member Eric Robinson’s request for data to compare school-by-school budgeted teacher salaries with actual payouts was voted down by the board. But Chief Financial Officer Mitsi Corcoran says Robinson’s presumption that teachers make less at schools with higher percentages of students from lower-income families is probably correct. She says she could provide the data, and that it’s likely to show the reason for the disparity is that vacancies at poorer schools get filled by less experienced teachers. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Accounting method criticized: Polk County teachers are unhappy that the school district is using an online accounting system to track how teachers spend the $250 they receive annually from the Florida Teachers Classroom Supply Assistance Program. Teachers say ClassWallet was put in place because the district doesn’t trust teachers. District officials refute that, saying they are required to use it by the Florida Department of Education, and that all other districts use it. Lakeland Ledger.

Pension concerns: The state’s estimated rate of return in the state pension system is overly optimistic, says the Department of Management Services. State officials recently revised a 7.65 rate of return estimate to 7.6 percent, but the state’s actuarial consultant advised assuming a 7 percent rate of return in the $144 billion system that provides pensions for teachers, school employees and other state workers. News Service of Florida.

Graduation rate: The graduation rate in the Franklin County School District jumped from 49 percent in 2015 to 72.6 percent last year. The state average is 80.7 percent. Apalachicola Times.

Courtesy busing: Parents in the FishHawk Ranch area of Hillsborough County say the end of the school district’s courtesy busing for students who live within 2 miles of their schools will endanger the students and cause traffic problems. Tampa Bay Times.

Open board seats: Two seats on the seven-member Florida Board of Education remain unfilled just two weeks before its next meeting. John Padget served two full terms and can’t be reappointed, and Michael Olenick resigned after two years. Tampa Bay Times.

Notable deaths: James Pelham, a longtime history teacher and track coach at Quincy Shanks High School, died Sunday at the age of 74. Pelham’s track teams won four state championships, and he was inducted into the Coaches Hall of Fame in 1991. Tallahassee Democrat.

Employees arrested: Two employees of the Gadsden County School District are arrested after a fight in the stands at a high school basketball game. Montoyia Tillman, 39, and Patricia Beamon, 51, are charged with disorderly conduct. Beamon’s son Padryck, 19, was also arrested. Tillman is an inventory specialist and Patricia Beamon is an administrative assistant. WCTV. Northwest Florida Daily News. A teacher’s assistant in Clay County is arrested New Year’s Day after deputies were called to a party at her house and found teenagers drinking. Camillia Marie Barney, a 38-year-old Argyle Elementary School teacher’s assistant, has been reassigned pending the results of the investigation. Florida Times-Union.

Ex-teacher’s aide fined: A former Escambia County School District teacher’s aide is fined $700 after she was found guilty of battery on a 4-year-old developmentally delayed student. The charge against Brenda Morris, 68, was originally child abuse, but the jury convicted on the lesser charge. Pensacola News Journal.

Vandals hit school: Vandals cause about $40,000 in damage at Riley Elementary School in Tallahassee. Tallahassee Democrat.

School bus accidents: An Alachua County school bus driver is cited after hitting a car that was stopped to make a turn. Donovan L. White, 28, was cited for careless driving. No one was injured. Gainesville Sun. A Hillsborough County school bus collides with a minivan. No one is hurt, and troopers are investigating. Tampa Bay Times.

Opinions on schools: Moving further in the direction of a world-class school system while tightening belts creates many challenges for the year ahead for Florida legislators and Collier County officials. Naples Daily News.

Student enrichment: Adam Phillips Maxwell, a senior at P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, wins the 2017 Edna M. Hart Keeper of the Dream Scholarship Award given to an outstanding Alachua County high school senior. Gainesville Sun.

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BY NextSteps staff