Florida schools roundup: Free tuition proposal, improving finances and more

Free tuition proposal: A proposal is filed with the Florida Constitution Revision Commission to provide free higher education tuition and fees to family members of first responders, law-enforcement officers and active-duty military members who are killed on the job. The proposal was filed by commission member Emery Gainey, and is supported by Gov. Rick Scott. The commission will decide what proposals to put on the November 2018 ballot, and voters would have to pass the proposals with a 60 percent majority. News Service of Florida.

Finances improving: Finances have improved in Florida’s 67 school districts for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2016, according to a report from the Florida auditor general. Jefferson County was the only district with a financial condition ratio under 3 percent, which helps determine if districts have the state-required 3 percent in reserves, and that district has been turned over to a charter school company. The audit shows that 42 districts have some deficiencies, compared to 54 a year ago. Gradebook.

Displaced students: Central Florida leaders appeal directly to Gov. Rick Scott for financial help to help them absorb the influx of evacuees from Puerto Rico and other areas devastated by hurricanes this summer. An estimated 143,000 people have arrived in Florida from Puerto Rico alone, and 6,300 are children who are enrolling in state schools, mostly in central Florida. Osceola Superintendent Debra Pace says the additional 1,300 students are “equal for us to two additional elementary schools added to the population.” Orlando SentinelFlorida Politics. Other areas around the state are seeing a similar influx, and are making plans to prepare for more. WUSF. Lakeland Ledger.

Personalized learning: The Lake County School District was one of four in the state and six in the nation to be chosen for a initiative promoting the personalized learning concept in schools. But disappointing results and a change in leadership prompted the district to back out of the program. Officials in the other districts, however, say they’re making substantial progress and will continue the experiment. redefinED.

Employees honored: Sandra Edwards, principal at Washington Elementary School in Riviera Beach, is named the Palm Beach County School District’s principal of the year. Washington Elementary was one of just 12 schools in Florida to improve by three letter grades last year – from an F to a B. Palm Beach Post. Six finalists are named for the Brevard County School District’s 2018 teacher of the year. They are: Amanda Howell of Oak Park Elementary, Brandon T. Jenkins of Heritage High, Kristina Latraverse of Columbia Elementary, Connie Royster McLellan of Manatee Elementary, Michael Sperr of Kennedy Middle and Amy Teed of Jackson Middle. The winner will be announced Jan. 24. Florida Today. Actor John Travolta helps honor Marion County school employees who worked at shelters, drove buses and performed other duties during Hurricane Irma. Ocala Star-Banner.

Student discipline: Minority students, and especially black ones, are disciplined at a much higher rate than whites in each of central Florida’s nine school districts. Three of the districts – Orange, Seminole and Volusia – have adopted the restorative process for discipline. In it, misbehaving students are given the option of going through a mediation process in which they can take responsibility for their actions in a group session with their peers, and apologize. In Orange County, suspensions are down 58 percent from last year. WFTV.

School cleared: Pasco County’s Trinity Oaks Elementary School is cleared by the Florida Department of Education of any problems with the administration of the 4th grade state math tests. Questions about the test results prompted a review that determined the results were “statistically improbable.” While the state accepts the school’s response that there were no problems with the test process, the state has asked district administrators to “monitor future assessments at Trinity Oaks Elementary School to ensure test security policies and procedures are followed.” Gradebook.

Spending new tax money: The Manatee County School Board will consider amending the ballot language on the added 1-mill property tax for schools to provide some description on how the district would use the $33 million a year that tax would generate. The amended language would say the tax would “increase student achievement through more instructional time, after-school tutoring, to recruit and retain teachers and staff with competitive salaries, expand Career and Technical Education and STEM programs and to support charter schools.” Superintendent Diana Greene is suggesting the money be used to boost teacher salaries by an average of $5,842 a year, teacher aides by $2,400, give bus drivers and other employees an 8 percent raise, and increase the length of the school day by 30 minutes. Bradenton Herald.

Pushing education: The Florida Higher Education Coordinating Council is teaming up with K-12 educators and business leaders in an educational attainment movement to increase the number of Floridians who continue their education after high school. The goal of “Rise to 55” is to have 55 percent of Floridians go on with their education by 2025. Right now it’s at 47 percent. Panama City News Herald.

Personnel moves: A new board of trustees is named at the Canterbury School of Florida in St. Petersburg. Most of the previous board resigned about a month ago in a dispute over the retention of the director of the private school. Gradebook.

Principals reflect: Principals at four of the five public Lee County high schools reflect on their accomplishments, challenges and trends in education. Fort Myers News-Press.

Student arrested: A 14-year-old Hillsborough County student is arrested for bringing a gun to Webb Middle School. It was unloaded, but police also found two bullets in the 7th-grader’s backpack. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA.

Runaway suspended: A 5-year-old boy who ran away from Moton Elementary School in Brooksville and was found on a busy road a half-mile from the school is suspended for three days. The boy’s uncle says the family is shocked that the boy could get away from the school, and that he was suspended. “If it happened at anyone’s house, that parent would be charged with child neglect. If it happened at a daycare, daycare workers would be arrested,” says Nick Schillinger. WPTV.

Opinions on schools: As they did almost 50 years when they went on strike, Florida’s teachers are finding support from students today in their fight for higher wages and better working conditions. Jody Noll, Tampa Bay Times. Hillsborough County teachers are fighting the good fight over a promised pay raise, but they simply can’t beat this reality: the school system is in a financial meltdown. John Romano, Tampa Bay Times. Florida’s charter schools were intended to help open the door to the American dream for children of all backgrounds. Unfortunately, we are seeing too many charters that do not serve a unique need in their communities, and we have serious concerns regarding the lack of accountability related to the charter school movement in Florida. Nicki Junkins, Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Student enrichment: The Clay County School District receives a $60,000 grant to expand the school garden at the R.C. Bannerman Learning Center in Green Cove Springs. Florida Times-Union. A Florida State University research team receives an $8 million grant to study the best ways to help students with disabilities. Florida State University. Two students from Eastside High School in Gainesville, junior Shreya Pathak and senior Rena Cohen, are among 281 U.S. students chosen to perform with the National Association for Music Education’s All-National Ensemble Mixed Choir at Walt Disney World this month. Gainesville Sun.

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BY NextSteps staff