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Florida schools roundup: Legislative preview, possible sanctions and more

Legislative preview: Fighting over the state budget is expected to dominate the Legislature in this election year. The top education issues being considered are potential revisions in H.B. 7069, which boosts charter schools, expanding Bright Futures scholarships and a bill providing scholarships for bullied K-12 students. Other issues include a bill requiring completion of a financial literacy course to graduate, an effort to expand computer coding, the use of schools as emergency shelters and a bill that would allow some employees to carry guns into schools. Tampa Bay TimesTallahassee Democrat. Orlando Sentinel. News Service of Florida. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Associated Press. Palm Beach Post. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Schools face sanctions: Thirty-one Florida private schools face possible sanctions for failing to file financial reports as the state requires by the Sept. 15 deadline. The law requires any private school that receives $250,000 or more in Florida Tax Credit Scholarships for low-income students or Gardiner Scholarships for students with special needs to submit reports to the nonprofits that administer the scholarships. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer both scholarship programs. redefinED. A troubled Pine Hills private school will close if it can no longer receive money from the state’s scholarship programs, the school’s attorney tells the Department of Education. Agape Christian Academy filed false fire inspections, hired people with criminal records and failed to pay its employees, according to records, leading to a state ban on any state scholarship money going to the school. Education Commissioner Pam Stewart will make a decision on the school’s appeal of the ban. Orlando Sentinel.

Private school restrictions: A bill is filed that would prohibit individuals who have filed for bankruptcy within the past five years from operating private schools that accept students who receive state scholarship money. Filed by Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, the bill would apply to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, which serves more than 100,000 students. Orlando Sentinel.

School connections: A bill is proposed that would require the 300 lowest-performing Florida elementary schools to connect with preschool programs and create early childhood teams to help students transition from preschool to kindergarten. “These low-performing schools have resources attached now. Let’s use them to ensure we’re doing the best we can,” says State Rep. Lorrane Ausley, D-Tallahassee. Gradebook.

School choice: Florida is among the national leaders in its number of charter and magnet schools, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education. The state has 536 magnet schools, tops among the nation’s states, and 653 charter schools, second to Arizona. More than 27 percent of the state’s public schools are charters or magnets. redefinED.

Displaced students: Economists at the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research say the estimate of 300,000 Puerto Ricans coming to the state because of Hurricane Maria is likely inflated. They say the number is probably closer to 50,000, and base their estimate on school enrollment and requests for state aid. About 11,200 students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have enrolled in Florida schools. Orlando Sentinel. Almost 300 students from Puerto Rico have enrolled in Volusia and Flagler schools. While the districts are trying to make the students feel comfortable, there are ongoing challenges for the students, many of whom know little or no English. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Schools on ballot: The Marion County School Board will decide Jan. 23 whether to put the renewal of a 1-mill school tax referendum on the ballot in August so it won’t get overlooked on a November ballot expected to be filled with constitutional amendments. At the same time, the board may consider asking voters to end the election of superintendents in favor of the board appointing them. Ocala Star-Banner.

New school proposed: The Sarasota County School District is planning to build an elementary school near the Ashton Elementary School. Ashton is expected to be at capacity by 2021. School officials say they won’t start building the new school, which would cost about $30 million, for two years. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Dealing with growth: More than 207,000 students attend 188 K-12 schools in Orange County, and district officials expect growth to accelerate in the next two years. By 2020, they expect the total to be 25 percent higher than it was in 2000. Here’s how those officials are trying to accommodate the growth. West Orange Times. Renovation work begins next summer for Rickards High School and Fairview Middle School in Leon County as school officials consider rezoning to help balance school enrollment. WFSU.

Tops in STEM: Seminole County again ranks first in the state in preparing its high school students for majoring in science, technology, engineering and math majors in college. Brevard again ranks second, according to the STEM Career Prep Index, which is figured by the rates at which high school students enroll in chemistry, physics, precalculus and calculus courses. Bridge to Tomorrow.

Old school, new life: Renovations at the Hopper Academy in Sanford, where black students learned the basics for 50 years until the early 1960s, are nearly complete. The old school will become a community center after the $525,000 rehabilitation project. Orlando Sentinel.

Personnel moves: Tracy McLaughlin, principal at Ridgeview Elementary School in Clay County, is named principal of Discovery Oaks Elementary School, which opens next fall. Florida Times-Union.

Notable deaths: Pat Archibald, the founding coordinator of a popular arts magnet program at Perkins Elementary School in St. Petersburg, dies at the age of 78. Tampa Bay Times.

Teachers fired: Twenty-six Duval County teachers have been fired since the start of the school year. School officials say the firings are part of the district’s efforts to maintain standards in the classroom. The district hires about 1,200 teachers a year and employs about 8,400 teachers. Florida Times-Union. Two Polk County teachers face firing when the school board meets Jan. 23.  Robin Dunlap, a science teacher at the Haines City High School, has been arrested for having sexually explicit conversations with a 15-year-old Texas boy, and Katherine Barnhart, a 3rd-grade teacher at Purcell Elementary School, refused to submit to a drug test after she was injured on the job. Lakeland Ledger.

School fight clubs: Franklin County School officials say social media coordination of fights on campus is a growing trend. Sgt. Allen Ham, school resource officer, says the K-12 school has had several preplanned fights, which are videoed and uploaded to social media. “This is different, and we’re dealing with it every day,” says Ham. The school board approved the hiring of a second resource officer. Panama City News Herald.

Fire damages classroom: Fire damages a portable classroom building at Fleming Island Elementary School in Clay County. The cause of the fire is unknown. Florida Times-Union.

Female wrestlers: The number of female high school wrestlers in Florida jumped from 97 in 2010 to 358 last year, mirroring a national trend. In 2000, there were 2,474 female high school wrestlers in the United States, and by last year that number was up to 14,587, according to the National Federation For State High School Associations. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Opinions on schools: We should measure students’ academic skills, but also make sure that all students are leaving schools with a feeling of self-efficacy and a passion for learning. This means valuing aspects of student learning that are difficult to measure on a standardized test. Francisco Santelli, Gainesville Sun. While there will be plenty of distractions, the 2018 Florida Legislature has a pretty long list of issues that affect the people on its agenda, from education and the environment to hurricanes and health care. Ocala Star-Banner. The Legislature should repeal H.B. 7069 and start over by individually vetting the 50 or so different educational measures crammed into one overbroad bill in the 2017 session’s final hours. Naples Daily News. Legislators, who have demanded accountability from public schools, need to apply more scrutiny to scholarship schools in this year’s legislative session. Orlando Sentinel. When schools are locked down because of a security threat, law enforcement officers should notify all schools affected, including preschools. Karen Behrje, Sun-Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff