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Florida schools roundup: Testing, charters, student ID cards and more

Testing reform: Three legislators say they will file a bill today that would cut back on state-required assessment testing. The “Fewer, Better Tests” bill’s goals are to cut down on and improve state tests, move the exams to later in the school year, get the test results to teachers sooner, and provide better student score reports. Filing the bill are Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami; Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah; and Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor. Sunshine State NewsGradebook. The Manatee County School Board tables a discussion on a proposal to limit district-required testing. Bradenton Herald.

Charter school takeovers: Members of the House education committee who are discussing district methods of turning around underperforming schools say districts should consider allowing charter school companies to take over operations at those schools. This week, the Florida Board of Education will consider a plan to make the Jefferson County School District a charter district. Politico Florida.

Student ID cards: The Duval County School District will issue new student IDs that are linked to data such as grades, academic progress, attendance and discipline. Students would have to swipe the cards when they get on and off school buses and when they go to classes. The setup cost is $1.1 million, with a $123,500 annual fee. Florida Times-Union.

School recess: The 2016 bill that would have required daily recess at all Florida elementary schools also would have prohibited teachers from withholding recess for misbehaving students. This year that provision has been stripped out of the recess bills, at the insistence of two powerful legislators who say they don’t want to take away teachers’ flexibility. Miami Herald.

Open enrollment: Florida parents are finding that school districts are creating hurdles that blunt the promise of the state’s new open enrollment law. Some think districts are taking advantage of the discretion they were given in the law to set the rules on transfers. And some are finding rezoning for overcrowding is also cutting into their ability to choose a school.

Scholarships boost: A bill is filed that would triple the amount of money for the state’s Gardiner Scholarships for students with special needs. Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, wants to boost the money for the program to $200 million, and also expand the list of conditions that allow students to qualify for the scholarships. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the program. redefinED.

Single-member districts: The Manatee County School rejects a plan to hold a referendum on electing school board members by districts. All five members of the board are now elected countywide. Bradenton Herald.

Dissent discouraged: A 15-year-old freshman at Lake Worth High School signed up to speak at a Palm Beach County School Board meeting about problems at his school. Then he was called into the office, where two regional administrators tried to convince him why he should not speak at the meeting. That’s standard administration procedure, according to others who have been similarly discouraged. Administrators say they’re simply trying to understand the issues and how to resolve them, not to pressure students not to speak. Palm Beach Post.

Plan for coaching help: A Hillsborough County School District committee has come up with a plan to classify district schools so additional resources can be placed where they are most needed. The new formula will use data on behavior, attendance, test scores and test score improvements, how often students move from school to school and teacher traits to divide the district’s 200-plus schools into four tiers. The data will create a school score that will determine schools’ eligibility for additional teachers and specialists. Gradebook.

School renamed: The Orange County School Board votes 7-1 to change the name of Robert E. Lee Middle School to College Park Middle School. The school got its name as a protest to the 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled that separate schools for blacks and whites was unconstitutional. Orlando Sentinel.

Teachers honored: Seven Collier County teachers are honored with Golden Apple awards. They are: Joanne Campanile and Janell Matos, Poinciana Elementary; Anne Fredette, Lorenzo Walker Technical College; Ashley Heirls, Highlands Elementary; Maria LaRocco, Sabal Elementary; Amanda McCoy, Manatee Middle; and Stacy Smith, Palmetto Ridge High. Naples Daily News.

Growth of schools: The Brevard County School Board approves a five-year growth plan that includes construction of two elementary schools in Viera and West Melbourne, a 12-classroom addition at Cocoa High, reopening the shuttered South Lake Elementary as a choice schools for the 2018-2019 school year, leasing property to the Space Coast State Fair, and buying 92 portable classrooms. Florida Today.

Investigation ended: The Florida Department of Education Office of Inspector General concludes an investigation into alleged student mislabeling in the Clay County School District, saying no further action is required. The decision affirmed the findings of an investigation that was ordered by the district after allegations that officials were deliberately mislabeling students to show better test and graduation results. Florida Times-Union.

District audit: Auditors identify a potential problem in the tracking of internal funds of the Polk County School District. The district has struggled with software that tracks money from such things as fundraisers, school pictures, yearbooks, book fairs and other events. Lakeland Ledger.

Homeless students: A pilot program would help find housing for the 875 homeless students attending Santa Rosa County schools. The program, Housing Homeless Youth Pilot Program, will provide up to $1.5 million over the next three to five years for the schools and partner agencies to put students and their families into stable homes. Pensacola News Journal.

Superintendent extensions: The Cape Coral Charter School Governing Board approves a two-year extension to Superintendent Nelson Stephenson. Stephenson has had recent run-ins with Cape Coral Mayor Marni Sawicki over the way the charter organization handles firings. Fort Myers News-Press. The Polk County School Board is discussing a two- or three-year extension for Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd. Her 15-month contract ends in June. Lakeland Ledger.

Early learning program: Two University of Chicago researchers visit Pensacola to start installation of a pilot project that will help parents with the education of their children during the first three years of life. Pensacola News Journal.

Teacher bonuses: About 200 Treasure Coast teachers are among the 7,200 in the state who qualify for the state’s teacher bonuses program. Each will receive about $6,800 under the Best & Brightest scholarship plan. TCPalm.

Impact fees denied: The Citrus County Commission denies the school district’s request to use impact fees to build an emergency evacuation exit at the Roger Weaver Educational Complex in Lecanto. Commissioners said the district can use the impact fee to hire a transportation planner to design a better entrance and exit to the five-school complex. Citrus County Chronicle.

Cleaning company raise: The Volusia County School Board approves a raise of $217,923 for the company that cleans the schools and handles groundskeeping. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Notable deaths: Alan Bloom, a popular English, vocabulary and semantics teacher at Coral Park Senior High School from 1963 to 1994, has died at the age of 74. Miami Herald.

Employees disciplined: Two Manatee County School District employees are disciplined for giving hackers W-2 information on 7,700 district employees. One of the employees was transferred and will no longer have access to sensitive information, and the other received a reprimand. Bradenton Herald.

Second lawsuit over teacher: A second student who claims former Polk teacher Jason Argo touched her inappropriately files suit against the district for hiring and retaining Argo despite previous allegations. Lakeland Ledger.

Students arrested: Four students are arrested after a gun is found in a car at the Norland Senior High School parking lot in Miami Gardens. They’ll be charged with possession of a firearm by a minor and possession of a firearm on school property. CBS4Miami Herald. A 12-year-old Putnam County student is arrested and accused of writing a threatening message on a wall at C.H. Price Middle School in Interlachen. WJAX.

Employee arrested: A technology employee for the Clay County School District is arrested and accused of stealing $13,000 worth of computers donated to the district. Ken Camanga, 47, is charged with grand theft. WJAX.

Opinions on schools: The American people aren’t disgusted with schools because of the “need for reform.” People are angry because of Jeb Bush’s bottom-line “reform” — the overload of high-stakes testing. Jac Wilder VerSteeg, Sun-Sentinel. How do school districts accommodate continual increases in English language learning students without seeing a drop in test scores, and without exceeding the fiscal resources taxpayers are willing (and able) to provide? Gil Smart, TCPalm. I love my teaching job. But there is room for improvement on pay and the requirements to enter the profession. Phillip Ellis, Bridge to Tomorrow.

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BY NextSteps staff