Florida schools roundup: Education bill, autonomy for schools and more

Education bill: The Florida House Education Committee passes H.B. 733, the nearly all-inclusive education bill that would cut standardized testing and make significant changes to the state’s K-12 education system. The bill does not include mandatory recess time for elementary students, which is in the Senate’s proposal. Miami Herald. Sunshine State News. Florida Politics. Included in a 76-page amendment to the bill are several provisions to help charter and virtual schools. redefinED. The feud between House and Senate leaders over the state budget continues, though several still think they can reach an agreement before the session is scheduled to end May 5. News Service of Florida. Sunshine State News.

Autonomy for schools: A bill passed by the House would broaden autonomy for principals from a pilot program in seven districts to the highest-performing 20 percent of all public schools. Under the pilot program, principals at low-performing schools have greater control over hiring and would be freed from some state regulations. redefinED.

Teacher contracts: Two special state magistrates have issued different interpretations to districts about whether they can negotiate contract renewal guarantees for teachers who are rated highly effective or effective. In both cases, the districts told the teachers unions a 2011 law did not allow guaranteed teacher contracts. Unions in St. Johns and Pasco counties wouldn’t agree to a contract without that guarantee. In St. Johns, a magistrate agreed with the teachers union. In Pasco, a magistrate sided with the district. Gradebook.

High school rankings: Pine View School in Osprey is rated the top high school in the state in the latest U.S. News & World Report’s rankings. Design and Architecture Senior High in Miami is second, International Studies Charter High School in Miami third, International Studies Preparatory Academy in Coral Gables fourth, and Westshore Junior/Senior High School in Melbourne fifth. U.S. News & World Report. Miami HeraldNaples Daily News. South Florida Business Journal.

Visual arts rankings: U.S. students do poorly on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test on visual arts. Students have made no gains since the test was first given in 2008, according to National Center for Education Statistics acting commissioner Peggy Carr. Associated Press.

Educators honored: The Florida Department of Education names three finalists for principal and assistant principal of the year. The principal finalists are: Earl Johnson, Matanzas High, Flagler County; Kevin Hendrick, Northeast High, Pinellas County; and Rachel Shelley, Booker High, Sarasota County. The assistant principal finalists are: Jacqueline Smith, Hollywood Hills High, Broward County; Marlene Staughan, Mount Dora High, Lake County; and Kelly Stedman, James Stephens International Academy, Lee County. Department of Education. Jaime Winfree of Lake Wales High School is named Polk County’s charter school teacher of the year. Lakeland Ledger.

District’s borrowing plan: Volusia County school officials are considering whether to borrow $135 million or more so they can get started on some long-delayed construction projects. The money would be repaid from a half-cent sales tax. Officials believe the tax will generate about $40 million a year. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Principal leaves school: The principal at a St. Petersburg elementary school who told teachers considering classroom assignments for next year that “white students should be in the same class” has has left the school and asked for a transfer. Christine Hoffman, principal at Campbell Park Elementary, has been assigned to district headquarters while district officials review her conduct. Gradebook.

Personnel changes: Three Pasco County elementary schools get new principals. Gradebook.

Charter system control: The Cape Coral City Council discusses a possible takeover of the Cape Coral Charter School System at a contentious meeting. Fort Myers News-Press.

Mainstreaming concerns: Parents of Manatee County students with disabilities say they are worried about the school district’s decision to shift more students with disabilities into mainstream classes. Bradenton Herald.

Prom dress statement: A Pahokee High School student’s Black Lives Matter-themed prom dress creates a social media buzz. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post.

Suspension proposed: Sarasota County School District Superintendent Todd Bowden proposes a three-day suspension for director of school transportation Ellery Girard after a bus driver is arrested and charged with battery on a minor in February. Bowden said Girard allowed the driver to resume his route before an investigation into the incident was completed. The driver, Leonard Villari, was arrested last week. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Ex-administrator faulted: An investigation concludes that the former administrator at the Academy of Environmental Sciences, Sandy Balfour, inappropriately grabbed a student by the shoulder last year. Balfour, who was removed after the incident and placed in a classroom at another school, has been reprimanded. Citrus County Chronicle.

Notable deaths: Longtime Lake County teacher and football coach Bill Peck Sr. has died at the age of 89. Daily Commercial.

Student killed: Grief counselors are available to help Timber Creek High School students cope with the death of a popular student. Alec Gomez, 15, was killed by a hit-and-run motorcyclist in Orange County over the weekend. The driver has been arrested and charged with leaving the scene of a fatal crash. Orlando Sentinel.

Football star charged: Boca Raton High principal Susie King is forbidding Shelley Singletary from spring practice with the school’s football team after he was arrested and accused of a robbery. A judge put Singletary on house arrest with an ankle bracelet, and the highly regarded junior running back was planning to participate in practice until the principal decided he couldn’t be involved in any team functions until the criminal case is resolved. Palm Beach Post.

Student arrested: A 14-year-old student at Somerset College Preparatory Academy is arrested after allegedly compiling a list of 18 students and school employees he planned to shoot. Palm Beach Post.

Opinions on schools: The Legislature would be smarter to invest $200 million in lifting families out of poverty and adding resources to their public schools than in the House speaker’s schools of false hope proposal. Tampa Bay Times. Legislators are on the verge of taking action on a problem that has been festering for years: a glut of standardized testing in public schools. Sun-Sentinel. Florida’s public schools have made enormous educational gains since the adoption of school-choice and scholarship programs for poor and disabled students and other reforms. Absent research to the contrary — or perhaps an axe to grind — existing work suggests that the school-choice programs are an important part of those gains. Marcus Winters, National Review. Florida’s public schools are the foundation of its economic future, and the state funding formula supporting them is deeply flawed. Panama City News Herald. Superintendent Nikolai Vitti is leaving the Duval County Public School system in much better shape than he found it. Florida Times-Union.

Student enrichment: Twenty-five Manatee County migrant workers who are also graduating high school seniors are honored. Bradenton Herald. More than $7,000 has been donated to pay down the debt Palm Beach County students owe for school lunches. But about $23,000 is still owed by more than 9,000 students. Palm Beach Post. The Ponte Vedra-based Healing Every Autistic Life Foundation has raised about $2 million for grants to help autistic students in northeast Florida schools. Florida Times-Union. Creative writing students at the i3 Academy in Palm Coast compile children’s stories, memoirs for senior citizens and promotional trailers for a local author’s book. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

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BY NextSteps staff


Cheryl Sattler

Don’t miss this sleeper issue: HB7071 would devastate the federal Title I program in Florida.

Just prior to passage of House Bill 7101 April 19, Rep. Bob Cortez (R-Altamonte Springs) added language changing the way that districts would have to distribute funds under a Federal poverty program intended to help level the playing field for the very poorest children who attend high-poverty schools. Why? Charter schools think they’re not getting enough of these federal funds. They went so far as to publish an incredibly misleading report, Funding Disparities for Low-Income Title I Charter Students in Eight Florida School Districts, which ignores Federal law on how funds are to be handed out. By following Federal law that directs these funds to the very poorest schools, charter advocates say, Florida’s districts are doing the wrong thing.

What’s the Federal Law? The Elementary and Secondary Education Act provides funds to every Florida school district. The intent of the law is to try to make up for the disadvantages that schools with lots of children from poor households face. These are children with few books in their homes, little access to the many experiences that make up a middle-class child’s life including museums, trips, tutoring, and enrichment programs. Research has found that students at these schools start Kindergarten knowing 30 million fewer words than similar middle-class children.

What Would Happen if this Language is Passed? This new language would make two huge changes: (1) high-poverty schools would have to share their money with lower-poverty schools. Each dollar would have to stretch further, hurting the very children that are supposed to be helped. (2) Districts would have to stop using Title I funds for programs like prekindergarten, reading coaches, social workers, and support for low-achieving schools. Parents could no longer count on full-day prekindergarten. Low-achieving schools couldn’t expect help – so they will stay low-performing.

Who Would Benefit? Charter schools would get more money. That’s the bottom line with this language. It benefits charter schools and it hurts everyone else. If charter schools can take away funds from other schools, then they think the students will follow. That isn’t choice, it’s coercion. If one grocery store no longer carries bread or milk, you will be forced to shop elsewhere. It isn’t hard to trace this language directly to the people who will benefit most, including corrupt former politician Ralph Arza, who lobbies for Charter Schools USA; and Fernando Zulueta, the CEO of Academica Corp., Florida’s largest and richest for-profit charter school management company, and one of the largest in the country.

What’s the Current Status? The Senate Appropriations committee passed two similar bills, SB792 and SB1552. The Title I language is only in the House version. This language must be rejected by the Senate, and rejected in conference. Don’t let Florida’s legislators take money away from the poorest children. Call your Senator and Representatives and tell them to keep their hands off poor kids’ money.

Cheryl Sattler

correction: HB7071 and SB796. Fingers faster than brain.

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