Florida schools roundup: Schools of hope, state budget, Title I and more

Education bills: House leaders are considering changing the so-called “schools of hope” legislation to allow school districts to compete with charter school companies for part of the $200 million fund created by the bill. Originally, the bill was conceived as a way to recruit highly regarded charter companies to open schools in areas with persistently low-performing traditional public schools. “What we’re arguing for is an equitable playing field, where we would have the ability to be able to compete for the dollars that are set aside,” said Broward School Superintendent Robert Runcie, who helped pitch the plan to legislators. Politico Florida. A Senate committee spent just nine minutes to describe, amend and approve its version of the “schools of hope” bill. “These issues have been discussed around here, and we’re just putting them in the conference posture,” says Senate Appropriations chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. Miami Herald. School officials expect the “education train” bill to continue to morph in the final days of the legislative session, which could mean further changes to the state’s standardized testing. St. Augustine Record.

Budget discussions: Negotiations continue between Senate and House leaders on an $83 billion budget, and details are slowly emerging. The proposed deal allots $200 million for the “schools of hope” proposal and $200 million to expand the Best and Brightest teacher bonuses program, but won’t allow increases in property tax revenue for schools. Per-student spending would be increased only slightly. But, says Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, “It would be a mistake to only count in the education budget what comes directly through the FEFP (Florida Education Finance Program, the formula that determine per-student spending). I think there are other educational opportunities that we’ll give to our constituents, and I think that improves the overall quality of our system.” Florida Politics. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. The budget agreement comes only after extensive one-on-one talks between Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes. Tampa Bay Times.

Title I concerns: School officials and educational consultants have concerns about the way the Florida House education bill would distribute federal Title I funds, which are intended to help low-income students. The House bill calls for Title I funds to be spread more evenly among schools, including charters. Cheryl Sattler, a Tallahassee consultant on federal education funding, says the bill would mean fewer dollars for children in low-income schools and fewer resources for preschools. “Low-achieving schools couldn’t expect help,” she says, “so they will stay low-performing.” Gradebook.

Financial literacy: The Senate passes a bill requiring Florida students to take a financial literacy course to graduate from high school. Senators name it the “Dorothy L. Hukill Financial Literacy Education Act” to honor the Republican senator from Port Orange, who has missed the session as she has undergoes cancer treatment. “This has been a bill that Sen. Hukill’s worked on since the day she came to the Florida Senate. I can’t even count the number of conversations that I have had with her about this bill since she’s been here with us,” said Sen. Jack Latvala. Florida Politics. WFTV. News Service of Florida.

Ready to go: While Duval County Superintendent Nikolai Vitti has yet to begin contract negotiations to become superintendent for the Detroit Public Schools Community District, he has indicated he is willing to begin his new job as early as mid-May. Florida Times-Union. Detroit Free Press.

Contract agreements: The Broward County School District and the teachers union reach an agreement that would give about 75 percent of teachers raises of 4 percent or more. The school board and the teachers union must approve the agreement. Sun-Sentinel. The Pasco County School District and its employees reach a contract agreement, ending an impasse that had dragged on since November. Teachers and other school employees will get a 3 percent raise, slightly less than the 3.35 percent they wanted and slightly more than the 2.65 percent the district had been offering. Gradebook.

Schools as safe zone: The Leon County School Board approves a statement assuring immigrant students that they are safe while they’re in school, whether their families are undocumented or not. “In the case of our immigrant students, our counselors are now prepared with information of where to get help, should students find themselves in a situation where their parents are gone when they come home from school,” says board member Rosanne Wood. Tallahassee Democrat.

School bus seat belts: U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, files a bill in Congress that would require all new school buses to have seat belts and provide grants to install seat belts in older buses. Florida Politics.

Math as a predictor: Preschool math performance is a better indicator of future academic success than reading or attention skills, according to a study from New America and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop. T.H.E. Journal.

School impact fee: An advisory committee recommends that the Pasco County Commission raise the school impact fee as soon as possible, then increase it again once the school board asks voters to approve a new sales tax referendum. The commission is expected to discuss the recommendation next week. Gradebook.

Magnets move: The Pasco County School District is considering applying for a $4.8 million grant to help bring magnet programs to two schools. Under the plan, the district would apply to Magnet Schools of America for money to convert Schrader and Centennial elementary schools into STEM magnets. Gradebook.

Criticism deemed okay: Jacksonville’s Office of General Counsel has told Duval County School Board members that they may criticize individual teachers. Chris Guerrieri, a teacher and blogger, has threatened to sue the board and member Scott Shine for harassment. Florida Times-Union.

Superintendent’s review: Polk County School Board members rate Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd as exceeding expectations in all areas. Her overall rating was 3.49 on a 1-to-4 scale. It was Byrd’s first formal evaluation since taking the job in April 2016. Lakeland Ledger.

Personnel changes: Tami VanOverbeke, a former elementary school principal in Minnesota, is hired as principal of Manatee Elementary School. Deb Houston, the former principal at Manatee Elementary, now becomes the assistant principal at Mills Elementary. Bradenton Herald.

School sends warning: P.K. Yonge principal Cathy Atria sends an email warning to parents about a Netflix show on suicide after a 16-year-old student killed himself.  Atria hasn’t seen the show 13 Reasons Why, but says some students may think the show “makes (suicide) look attractive.” Gainesville Sun.

Prom dress dispute: A Sandalwood High School student almost misses the prom because school officials told her at the door that the front of her dress – which touched her knees – was too short. WJAX.

Teacher put on leave: A science teacher at Horizon Academy at Marion Oaks is placed on unpaid leave for allegedly calling Future Farmers of America students “murderers” for raising livestock to be sold for slaughter at the Southeastern Youth Fair. Thomas Roger Allison Jr., 53, denied the allegations. Ocala Star Banner.

Mom charged for urging a fight: A Fort Pierce parent is arrested after encouraging her daughter to fight another student at Dan McCarty Middle School in Fort Pierce. Rhonesia White, 28, is charged with disturbing the peace and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. She told police her daughter was being bullied at school and school officials weren’t helping her. TCPalm.

Opinions on schools: Making headway against our educational challenges requires the best efforts of both schools and our society as a whole. Failing to address poverty fails our children and our public schools. Dr. Joseph Webster, Tallahassee Democrat. Here’s what education in Florida is coming to: fewer teachers, larger classes, and shrinking budgets while charter schools, which often have direct ties to the lawmakers setting the rules, get the benefit. Joe Henderson, SaintPetersBlog. A lot of time and attention in schools is focused on the well-known “Three Rs”:  reading, writing and arithmetic. A fourth important “R” that we often forget or take for granted: Recess. Kathleen Tully, Sunshine State News. Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart calls me “one of the highest impact teachers in the state.” But I don’t qualify for the teachers bonus from the state because I didn’t score high enough on an SAT exam almost 25 years ago. Ramon Veunes, Sun-Sentinel.

Student enrichment: Author James Patterson, who lives in Palm Beach, is donating 26,000 of his books to Palm Beach County schools. Sun-Sentinel. Artwork by Manatee County students lines the walls at ArtCenter Manatee in the annual K-12 exhibition. Bradenton Herald. Students at Golden Gate Elementary write notes to their classmate, 7-year-old Bryan Guiffaro-Padilla, attach them to a Bear in a Chair, and they are delivered to his hospital bed. Bryan is battling leukemia. Naples Daily News. Teams from Lincoln Middle School and Buchholz High School are competing this week at the National Science Bowl in Washington, D.C. Gainesville Sun.

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BY NextSteps staff