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Florida schools roundup: Trump and choice, testing, vouchers and more

Trump and choice: President Donald Trump called education “the civil rights issue of our time” during his speech to Congress Tuesday. He urged legislators to “pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth, including millions of African-American and Latino children. These families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious, or home school that is right for them.” Education Week. Los Angeles Times. Florida’s Denisha Merriweather is cited during Trump’s speech as someone whose life was turned around because of school choice. redefinED. The 74. President Trump will visit Saint Andrew Catholic School in Orlando Friday, where he is expected to talk about school choice. Saint Andrew has 295 students who use the tax credit scholarship. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the scholarship. Orlando Sentinel.

Testing debate: Standardized testing will again be a focus of the legislative session that begins Tuesday. Critics want to cut back on the exams, or give students the option of taking different tests. Others think the testing system in place is necessary and needs to be preserved in some form. News Service of Florida.

Voucher study: A new study finds little evidence that school voucher programs significantly improve student achievement or school district performance. The study, written by Martin Carnoy, a Stanford University professor and research associate at the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute, included evaluations of Florida programs. He wrote that the lack of evidence “suggests that an ideological preference for education markets over equity and public accountability is what is driving the push to expand voucher programs.” Washington Post.

Teachers honored: Evangeline Aguirre, who teaches in the English for Speakers of Other Languages program at Palm Beach Central High in Wellington, is named the Palm Beach County School District’s teacher of the year. Palm Beach PostSun-Sentinel. Maria Torres-Crosby, a sixth-grade English teacher at Memorial Middle School. is named the Hillsborough County School District’s teacher of the year. Tampa Bay Times.

FSA computer problems: Florida Standards Assessments testing in Hernando County schools has been delayed by network problems. The district has had no Internet service since Friday. The tests, which are administered on computers through the Internet, were supposed to begin Monday. Tampa Bay Times.

Teacher shortage: The national teacher shortage is hitting hard in Duval County, where 29 of 198 schools are labeled “high priority” by the Florida Department of Education because they need teachers or have a high percentage of uncertified teachers. WTLV.

A teacher’s job: Palm Beach County School Superintendent Robert Avossa has backed off a decision to fire Boca Raton High School teacher Samantha Major for her handling of a student’s claim of rape. Major will transfer to a different school and receive only a written reprimand. Avossa had been under increasing pressure to find an alternative to firing Major, who had been mentoring the mentally troubled student. Palm Beach Post.

Open enrollment: Ten Seminole County schools are tentatively identified as schools that will accept transfers under the state’s new open enrollment law. The list will be finalized April 5. Orlando Sentinel.

Alternative school: The Orange County School Board approves the renewal of a contract for the charter alternative school Sunshine High School. The board members say the school offers some students a last chance to graduate. Last week, a report by ProPublica singled out Sunshine High as a dumping ground for struggling, problem students who might otherwise drag down a school’s graduation rate, test scores and grade. Orlando Sentinel.

Schools merging: The Hillsborough County School District will merge Van Buren Middle School and Cahoon Elementary School as part of the cost-cutting the district has begun to improve its financial picture. Tampa Bay Times.

School impact fees: The Manatee County School Board decides to ask for an additional study before increasing school impact fees. The board voted in December to double the current impact fees, but decided to study the issue further because of several changes in the district between then and now. Bradenton Herald.

Technical high school: The Pinellas County School Board approves $10.5 million to transform Career Academies of Seminole into the county’s first technical high school. It opens for the 2018-2019 school year, and is expected to eventually hold 600 or 700 students. Gradebook.

Special education: More special needs students will be directed into general education class, the Manatee School Board has decided. The board also will take a closer look at the therapy services offered to those students. The district has struggled to graduate special needs students. Bradenton Herald.

Charter turning private: The Pathways Academy Charter School in Lauderdale Lakes, which has been accused of forgery, inflated enrollment and frivolous spending, will become a private school. Sun-Sentinel.

New school named: The Orange County School chooses the name OCPS Academic Center for Excellence for a new pre-K through 8th grade school opening this fall in the Parramore neighborhood. The preschool will be free, and hotelier Harris Rosen also is offering college scholarships to nrighborhood children. The school will have a health clinic and a Boys & Girls Club. The board also chose names for three other schools opening in the fall. Orlando Sentinel.

School rezonings: Some Polk County school officials worry that the plan to turn struggling Lake Alfred-Addair Middle into a magnet school, and the rezoning that will accompany the move, will cause problems for another struggling school. Boone Middle School will receive a share of the Lake Alfred students. Both schools are operating under state-required turnaround plans. Lakeland Ledger. Pasco County school officials defend their decision to redraw school boundaries, and the process they used, before a state Division of Administrative Hearings judge. Parents asked the state for the hearing, alleging they have been harmed by the rezoning. The judge could rule within 30 days. Gradebook. The Bay County School Board holds a second hearing on a rezoning change that affects about 100 students at 13 schools. Panama City News Herald.

Single-member districts: The Manatee County School Board agrees to resume a debate over whether to ask voters to choose between the current at-large elections and single-member districts. Bradenton Herald.

Professional development: Pasco County school officials are considering more early-release or late-start days to the academic calendar to allow more time for professional development for teachers. If the district decides the idea is worth implementing, it would start in the 2018-2019 school year. Tampa Bay Times.

School funding: St. Johns County school officials adopt a wait-and-see approach to the money the district might get from the state. Beth Sweeny, coordinator for governmental relations, says the district should expect something similar to last year’s 1 percent increase. St. Augustine Record.

Transgender protest: About 30 people protest at Tuesday’s Volusia County School Board meeting, urging the board to extend further protections for transgender students. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Principal’s problem: Pinellas County school officials say Pasadena Fundamental Elementary School principal Daniel L. Brennan mishandled funds from the school’s Parent Teacher Association, then falsified documents to cover up the mismanagement. Brennan resigned Feb. 8. He is repaying the PTA $2,334. Tampa Bay Times.

Teacher returning: Joseph Nathaniel, a popular Sebastian High School teacher who nearly lost his job for breaking up a fight, is returning to the school in a newly created job as an in-school suspension teacher. TCPalm.

Teachers request hearings: Two Vero Beach High School teachers who are accused of cheating by helping their students with state certification exams are fighting their suspensions, and will get hearings before the Indian River County School Board next month. TCPalm.

Machete attack at school: An Ocoee High School student is injured when he is attacked by another student with a machete in a bathroom. The victim suffered a superficial cut, and the attacker is arrested. Orlando Sentinel.

Swastikas at schools: A 12-year-old Jewish student at Rock Lake Middle School in Seminole finds three swastikas scrawled on her school bus seat. Orlando Sentinel. Four students at SAIL High School in Tallahassee are suspended for making a human swastika in a field at the school. Tallahassee Democrat.

Opinions on schools: With schools that accept vouchers — or “scholarships” as Florida calls them —  the same accountability simply isn’t always there. It is one of the ugly realities about school “choice” — and a blatant hypocrisy among those who preach “accountability” … but mostly for the public schools they demonize. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. Without high-quality teachers in the classrooms, our children’s education will suffer, resulting in negative consequences for our state down the road. Dominic Calabro, Orlando Sentinel.

Student enrichment: Hernando High School is selling personalized bricks to raise money for a legacy wall honoring prominent graduates. Tampa Bay Times. Monte Durham, from the TLC TV show Say Yes to the Dress, advises about 200 Miami-Dade and Broward students on finding the perfect outfits for prom. The students were chosen for their grades and need, and got the outfit of their choice for free. Miami Herald.

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BY NextSteps staff