Florida schools roundup: Pre-K report, resegregation, private schools and more

Pre-K access, funding: Florida ranks second in the nation in providing access to pre-kindergarten programs, but just 40th in per-student funding, according to a report from the National Institute for Early Education Research. Florida enrolled about 76 percent of all eligible 4-year-olds, trailing only the District of Columbia, but its per-student funding amount of $2,353 is less than half the national average. Florida also meets just three of the 10 quality measures, the report concludes. Gradebook.

School resegregation: A study by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA contends that the proliferation of school choice programs is contributing to the resegregation of public schools in Florida and the rest of the South. The report says 34.6 percent of Florida’s black students and 32.1 percent of Hispanic students attended schools with 90 percent or more minorities in 2014, when the overall student population was 22.3 percent black and 30.9 percent Hispanic. Florida has one of the highest charter school expansion rates, according to the report. Gradebook.

Private school changes: Historically, private schools were often places where white students went to get away from public schools. Increasingly, that is changing, with many private schools now filled with low-income or disabled students who use scholarships from the state to attend. “The historically unfavored are now being favored, are now being accepted,” says Vernard Grant, director of the ACE Student Success Center with the Association of Christian Schools International. redefinED.

Education bill feedback: A slight majority of Floridians is now urging Gov. Rick Scott to sign the education bill. A week ago, about 75 percent of those who had contacted the governor wanted him to veto H.B. 7069. The change of sentiment is widely thought to be attributed to organized campaigns by school choice advocates. Miami Herald.

Special students’ rights: U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says states can decide whether students give up their rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act when they accept public money from a state voucher program to attend private schools. DeVos was answering a question in a U.S. House Appropriations subcommittee hearing about the due process rights of special education students who use vouchers. Florida has two such programs for students with disabilities: the McKay Scholarship program and the Gardiner scholarships. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, help administer the Gardiner program. Politico Florida. Education Week.

Online learning: Gadsden County is one of the many U.S. communities that are increasingly relying on online credit recovery programs to boost high school graduation rates, even though the effectiveness of such programs is unknown. An isolated study in Atlanta shows the programs boosted graduation rates, but few of the students were proficient in the subjects they took online. Slate.

Teachers dismissed: The charter school company taking over control of the Jefferson County School District has fired half the district’s teachers and support workers. In April, the school board signed a five-year deal with Somerset Academy Inc. to operate the two schools in the district. Tallahassee Democrat.

Charter law challenged: The Palm Beach County School Board is asking the Florida Supreme Court to decide whether the Florida Department of Education can approve a charter school application that the local school board had rejected. The school board says the law allowing the department that authority is unconstitutional. The law was upheld in January by the Fourth District Court of Appeal. News Service of Florida.

Charter school closes: The Leon County School Board votes to terminate its contract with the Imagine School at Evening Rose charter school in Tallahassee. The district cited financial issues, low enrollment and poor academic performance in ending the two-year contract. Tallahassee Democrat.

Cancer cluster discussion: Members of the Manatee County School Board and the county commission meet today to discuss claims that water wells at the old Bayshore High School building caused clusters of cancers among students and staff. More than 450 people who attended the school have reported health problems to an alumnus who has been investigating the school’s effects on health since her sister died in 1999. The school was torn down in 1998. Bradenton Herald.

School start times: Okaloosa County School Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson recommends that the school board not change school start times. She said she found no evidence that different times would translate into academic success. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Teachers honored: Six teachers at south Florida Jewish schools are honored with Eleanor Meyerhoff Katz Teacher Initiative Awards. Sun Sentinel.

Dispute over fees: The Marion County School District’s decision to begin charging a rental fee for the Kingdom of the Sun Concert Band to use the Marion Technical Institute’s auditorium will be reviewed after two school board members intervene. The band has been using the auditorium for most of its 25 years, and its leaders say paying the fee could put it out of business. The district says it charges other nonprofit groups for using district facilities. Ocala Star Banner.

Principal training: Clay County School Superintendent Addison Davis proposes spending $60,000 to train principals at the Lastinger Center for Learning at the University of Florida. The district also plans to change a policy to allow teachers with satisfactory evaluations who were not reappointed to their schools to apply for other jobs in the district. Previously, those teachers had to wait a year. Clay Today.

Notable deaths: Paul Hoover, a longtime Wakulla High School track and cross-country coach and a retired major with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, was killed by a hit-and-run driver while he was running across a road in Leon County. He was 66. Tallahassee Democrat.

Gut feeling’s effect: A mother’s gut feeling about a Palm Beach County teacher eventually led her to contact police – a move that ended with the teacher facing child porn charges, fleeing from police and killing himself. Palm Beach Post.

Employees arrested: A Pinellas County middle school teacher is arrested and accused of molesting three students. Joseph Zavalnak, 41, is a science teacher at Meadowlawn Middle School. District officials say his contract will not be renewed. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. A Hernando County in-school suspension monitor is arrested and charged with several counts of sexual battery on a minor student. Marcus Gerard Wells, 34, who had worked at Fox Chapel Middle School in Spring Hill, has been fired. WTSP. Tampa Bay Times.

Teacher suspended: Donna Lavery, an agriculture teacher at Horizon Academy at Marion Oaks, is suspended for 10 days without pay for giving students the questions and answers to an exam at the end of the 2015-2016 school year. Lakeland Ledger.

Texting and driving: A student video showing a Sarasota County school bus driver texting while driving prompts the district to counsel the driver. School officials say driver Peter Bussiere was looking up a route to avoid traffic. Drivers may do that, but when they do they’re supposed to pull over and stop. WWSB.

School janitors protest: Miami-Dade County school janitors say budget cuts are leading to overwork, and they urge the school board to hire more workers and evaluate how they are assigned. Miami Herald.

Opinions on schools: In the face of never-ending, mostly unfunded, mandates from Tallahassee, the fact of the matter is our public schools in Florida are already doing much more with much less than they deserve. State Rep. Janet Cruz, Tampa Bay Times. Mandatory recess becomes the newest academic-boosting initiative in Marion County schools. Like music and art, it is not on any standardized test, but we know it helps students perform better academically. Ocala Star Banner. House leaders used special needs children as a human shield to protect the House’s radical agenda with HB 7069. John Romano, Tampa Bay Times. Almost all of the really bad stories about the Hernando County School District during the tenure of Superintendent Lori Romano have come from trying to suppress news that wasn’t really all that bad. Dan DeWitt, Tampa Bay Times.

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BY NextSteps staff