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Florida schools roundup: Bright Futures, capital funding, testing and more

Bright Futures: The proposed expansion of Bright Futures scholarships is moving in two directions within the Florida Senate. Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, wants to expand the scholarships for high-achieving students to cover full tuition and fees, and to allow them to use the money for summer classes. S.B. 2, which incorporates those proposals and more, was passed Wednesday by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education. Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Scott’s proposal would allow all students with Bright Futures scholarships to use the money for summer classes. It’s been endorsed by former Senate president Tom Lee, R-Brandon. News Service of FloridaPolitico Florida. Florida Politics.

Capital funding: Public school superintendents and charter schools leaders share ideas with legislators on how to improve the way the state hands out capital funding. Both say more money is needed for infrastructure and repairs. Superintendents also are asking for more flexibility on how they use the available money, while charter leaders are lobbying for a more equitable and consistent share from the state. Politico Florida. redefinED.

Testing participation: The definition of testing participation could play a role in an appeal court’s decision on a lawsuit challenging the state’s retention policy for third-graders. The law on what constitutes student participation is not clearly spelled out, and those suing the state say that ambiguity is leading districts to formulate their own rules, resulting in unequal treatment of students across districts. Gradebook.

Testing questions: Members of the Florida House committee on school policy question whether the downside of frequent, standardized testing and giving schools grades outweigh the benefits of the testing. State Department of Education officials say stability in the testing and assessing school grades are crucial to accountability. “We can’t assess ourselves into greatness,” State Education Commissioner Pam Stewart has said. “But we also won’t be great if we don’t know how our students are performing.” Sun-Sentinel.

Avossa raise: During a retreat, six of seven Palm Beach County School Board members endorse a $9,750 annual raise for Superintendent Robert Avossa. A formal proposal and a five-year contract will be presented to the board Feb. 22. Avossa now makes $325,000 a year, which is the fourth-most of any superintendent in a large U.S. school district. Palm Beach Post.

Employee honored: Melissa Rose Garcia, 33, a counselor at Seminole Ridge High School in Loxahatchee, is named Florida’s counselor of the year. Palm Beach Post.

Teacher shortage: Broward County school officials say they expect to have 1,500 teaching vacancies to fill for next school year. And problem could get worse in the future, as one study notes that there have been a 35 percent decrease in the number of students in teacher preparation programs between 2009 and 2014. WTVJ.

Teacher transfers: The Pasco County School District will allow mid-year transfers for teachers, under an agreement between the district and the teachers union. Superintendent Kurt Browning had proposed banning those transfers to avoid disruption, but the teachers objected, saying Browning couldn’t unilaterally change rules in the contract. Gradebook.

Absenteeism rate: The chronically absentee rate for Hernando County students is down, but is still significantly higher than the state average. More than 13 percent of district students missed 21 or more days of school in 2014-2015, down from 15.4 percent in 2011-2012. The state average is 9.7 percent. School officials credit new policies that offer incentives, track absences and if necessary, meet with parents. Tampa Bay Times.

Career academies: West Port and Lake Weir high schools will open career academies in August, the first of several that will open in Marion County over the next few years as part of the school district’s overhaul of vocational education. Both will focus on logistics, which can prepare students for work in the county’s transportation distribution industry. Ocala Star Banner.

Charter school opening: The Rowlett Middle Academy, a charter school that’s opening in the fall in the old Orange-Ridge Bullock Elementary Schoo, will have uniforms, free busing and an 8:45 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. schedule. Bradenton Herald.

‘Success’ class: Flagler Palm Coast High School officials say a new class for freshman, a “success” course, is reducing failures and conflicts. The class covers conduct, conflict resolution, academics, technology, social media, wellness and study skills. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Administrator fired: Sandy Balfour has been fired as the administrator for the Academy of Environmental Science by the charter school’s board of directors. Balfour had been reprimanded and temporarily reassigned while the school investigated charges that Balfour publicly belittled students. Balfour remains a Citrus County School District employee. Meanwhile, a longtime sub at the school and a Balfour supporter is issued a trespass warning to stay away from the school.  Citrus County Chronicle.

Personnel changes: Leah Lauderdale, the senior director of public relations and strategic partnerships for the Polk County School District, is retiring June 1 after 15 years with the district. Lakeland Ledger.

School damaged: The Lawtey Elementary School cafeteria roof was blown off during a storm Tuesday night, closing the school Wednesday. It’s expected to reopen today. Gainesville Sun.

Guilty plea in fraud: An ex-aide to former U.S. Rep. Corinne Brown pleads guilty to a federal fraud conspiracy charge. Officials say Ronnie Simmons and Brown directed donations to One Door for Education, a scholarship fund Brown supported. The fund collected $800,000 in donations but spent only $1,200 on scholarships. Brown, who was a 12-term member of the U.S. House from the Jacksonville area, is set to go on trial in April. Florida Times-Union.

Preschool owner accused: A preschool owner in Sunrise is accused of stealing $63,000 from the Florida tax credit scholarship program. Police say Andrea Velandia, director of World of Learning Academy, collected payments for 10 students who had left the school. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax scholarship program. Sun-Sentinel.

Students arrested: A 16-year-old Washington High School student who took a gun from a suicidal friend at school is arrested when he brought the gun back to the school a few days later to return it to the friend. Pensacola News Journal. An 18-year-old Wildwood Middle High School student is arrested and accused of threatening to shoot up the school. Daily Commercial.

Opinions on schools: New Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has a steep learning curve when it comes to public education. Public school systems, doing the heavy lifting across the country, need to remind her of that every single day. Miami Herald.

Student enrichment: Riley Browning wins the Madison County spelling bee. Florida Times-Union. The Florida Theatrical Association is sponsoring a scholarship for central and south Florida students named after Charlie Cinnamon, a longtime press agent who died in November. Miami Herald. More than 30 Hillsborough County teachers and administrators are training for the Gasparilla 5K to bring attention to a district goal: a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020. Tampa Bay Times. At the Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce’s Focus on Education Breakfast, students from Winter Haven praise the opportunities they received in the Polk County School District. Lakeland Ledger. Flagler County students help stage a Child Fair to let parents know what kind of community services are available to them. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The Choctawhatchee High School cheerleading squad wins a state championship and will now compete in the Universal Cheerleading Association National Competition in Orlando. Northwest Florida Daily News.

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BY NextSteps staff