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Florida schools roundup: Scholarships oversight, court challenge and more

Scholarship oversight: The Florida House Education Committee is proposing new rules governing private schools that accept state scholarships. The legislation, still in draft form, would require state visits to all private schools before they can participate in one of the state’s three K-12 scholarship programs, compel schools to provide a list of teachers and their credentials to parents, make it more difficult for the schools to falsify fire and health inspection reports, and increase financial oversight. But private schools could continue to to hire teachers without college degrees. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit and Gardiner scholarship programs. Orlando SentinelredefinED.

Argument against law: The school districts challenging six provisions in the new state education law argue in a motion for dismissal that even if some of the provisions are judged to be constitutional, they’re part of the larger package that unlawfully undermines the authority of local school boards. The districts cite several cases that they say affirms districts’ authority over Florida’s public schools, and forbids the Legislature from creating “parallel,” publicly funded alternatives. redefinED.

Proposed amendments: The Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) meets today to consider amendment proposals, including several that could affect the state’s school choice movement. Among them: one that would extend relaxed regulations now enjoyed by charter schools to traditional public schools that receive state grades of B or above for three straight years; getting rid of the state’s restriction on public funding of religious activity; eliminating limits on the Legislature’s authority to create educational programs; and allowing the Legislature to create non-district charter school authorizers. redefinED. By allowing members to engage in secret talks, the CRC risks the invalidation of all its work, according to a dozen open government advocacy groups. Those kinds of private policy discussions are “just part of the process,” says CRC member Erika Donalds. Politico Florida.

Class size violations: The Florida Department of Education says fewer schools are in violation of the state’s 2002 class-size amendment as more districts are using schoolwide averages instead of classroom counts to comply. The amendment caps enrollment at 18 students in grades K-3, 22 in grades 4-8, and 25 students in grades 9-12. Legislators began allowing choice schools to use schoolwide averages in 2013, and most districts now consider most or all their schools choice because they accept students from outside their defined attendance zones. Gradebook.

Guns and church schools: Two bills that would allow people to carry guns to churches that also house schools have been shot down by the Legislature already this session. But state Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, isn’t giving up, and has filed yet another bill that would allow concealed carry permit holders to take guns into a religious institution. “These communities of faith need to be able to protect themselves and the safety of their congregation,” Baxley says. WFSU.

Contract agreement: The Brevard County School District and its teachers union come to an agreement on pay raises, potentially ending a months-long stalemate. Teachers rated “highly effective” will receive an $875 raise and “effective” ones will get $600. All teachers also will receive $200 bonuses. The agreement will cost the district about $5.4 million. Teachers still have to ratify the agreement, and the school board has to approve it. Florida Today.

Sales tax hikes: The Manatee County teachers union and the school district reach an agreement that would give teachers 51 percent of the $33 million a year raised if voters approve a property tax hike for schools on March 20. The district wants the money to lengthen the school day by 30 minutes and boost pay by an average of $5,700 for each teacher. Teacher aides and assistants would get an average of $2,400 extra. The money won’t be rolled into base salaries, because the referendum will have to be approved every four years by voters. Bradenton Herald. The Marion County School Board tentatively agrees to place a renewal of the 1-mill tax referendum on the August primary ballot. Ocala Star-Banner.

High school for fashion: A New York designer is moving his headquarters to Miami and proposing to build a high school next door for fashion students. Naeem Khan, who had provided clothing for, among others, Beyoncé, Michelle Obama and Kate Middleton, says the goal of the school is to train designers and re-energize the Miami-Dade fashion industry. It would be an extension of the Design and Architecture Senior High, and have room for about 100 students. Miami Herald.

School may stay open: Four of the five Marion County School Board members say they want to hire a private company to operate the struggling Evergreen Elementary School, rather than closing it as Superintendent Heidi Maier has recommended. The board could also choose the third option offered by the stte, to turn Evergreen over to the ncharter school company, when it votes on the issue next Tuesday. Ocala Star-Banner.

Educators honored: Seven teachers are awarded Governor’s Shine Awards for their contributions to education. They are: Marissa Ballard, Jackson County; Gregory Barron, Bay; Lana Harrison, Gulf; Lauren Marlow, Alachua; Theresa Ryan, Citrus; April Wallace, Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind; and Lisa Ullman, Florida Virtual School. Orlando Political Observer.

Superintendents speak: Hillsborough County School Superintendent Jeff Eakins talks about the Florida Board of Education’s order to remove principals and some teachers from four struggling schools, and the timing of the district’s next steps. Gradebook. Brevard County Superintendent Desmond Blackburn discusses raises for teachers, a software settlement and more. Florida Today.

Graduation times: Some east Pasco County parents are asking the school district to change graduation times for either Pasco or Zephyrhills high schools so they can get to both. Pasco’s is set for 7:30 p.m. May 24, and Zephyrhills’ is at 8 p.m. the same day, but 40 minutes away. Some families have graduating seniors at both schools. Gradebook.

Traffic concerns: Parents in the Golden Gates Estates neighborhood are lobbying the Collier County Sheriff’s Office for more traffic enforcement along Oil Well Road, which students use to get to three schools. Parents want the county to also consider speed bumps, concrete barriers and an extension of the existing school zones. WBBH.

Choice programs: Almost 450 applications have already been filed for Pasco County’s new magnet technical high school that opens in August. School officials are hoping to get 600 students. The window to apply to the new Wendell Krinn Technical High School is open through early February. Tampa Bay Times. The Duval County School District has a School Choice Expo on Saturday. About 15,000 students and their parents are expected to attend. Florida Times-Union.

School board elections: Scott Jones, a store manager for Publix, is running for the District 3 seat on the Polk County School Board that is currently held by Hazel Sellers. Sellers says she is not running for re-election. Other candidates for the seat are Kala Ivy Tedder, a senior at George Jenkins High School, and Sarah Fortney, a science teacher at Stambaugh Middle. Lakeland Ledger.

School crash motive: The mother of Wesley Prophet Sauveur, the 17-year-old killed when he drove his car into a wall at the Evangelical Christian School in Fort Myers, says she believes he killed himself because he was the subject of a child pornography investigation. Fort Myers News-Press.

Vandalism suspects: Port Orange police identify three middle-school students, ages 12, 13 and 14, as suspects in the vandalism at Horizon Elementary School. They face felony charges of burglary and vandalism. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Opinions on schools: There are a few good proposals being considered today by the Constitution Revision Commission, and a lot of bad ones. Among the unwise ones: repealing a ban on public funds to religious institutions, allowing the state to make “other provisions” for education than the uniform system of public education presently required, and letting the state establish charter schools without consulting local school boards, which now have authority over them. Sun-Sentinel. Hillsborough County school officials can’t dodge the responsibility for having bad substitute teachers. Joe Henderson, Tampa Bay Times. Two Lee County school teachers should have lost their jobs after taking money from an Estero High School booster club. Unfortunately, the school district is allowing them to continue to teach until the end of the school year. It’s a bad precedent, sending a message that it’s okay to take what isn’t yours as long as you give it back. Tom Hayden, Fort Myers News-Press.

Student enrichment: The nonprofit group Play It Forward donates $25,000 to buy musical instruments for Polk County students who can’t afford them. Lakeland Ledger. Three Gulf Breeze High School students are raising money to buy laptops for 46 Take Stock in Children scholars to take to college. Gulf Breeze News.

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BY NextSteps staff