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Florida schools roundup: Framers may file brief, lawsuit threat, bond projects and more

Framers may weigh in: The so-called “framers” of the 1998 constitutional amendment that requires the state to provide high-quality public schools will be allowed to file a brief in a court challenge of a state education law, the Florida Supreme Court rules. The group Citizens for Strong Schools is suing the state, claiming it is not fulfilling its obligation to provide a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system” of public schools. Ten of the members of the 1998 Constitution Revision Commission had asked to be allowed to file a brief on their intent in the phrasing of the amendment, in support of the suit. The state objected, and will still be allowed to challenge the brief. News Service of Florida.

Union threatens lawsuit: The Florida Education Association says it will file suit today against the portion of H.B. 7055 that allows teachers unions to be decertified if they can’t maintain more than half the eligible membership. “This is about equity and fairness, and being targeted and singled out,” says FEA president Joanne McCall, who says the law applies only to teachers unions. Gradebook.

Broward bond projects: A watchdog group says it’s time for the Broward County School District to outline a plan for fixing decaying schools or admitting it can’t be done before the deadline it set. Florida TaxWatch, which was hired by the district to monitor the progress of the work scheduled under an $800 million bond referendum approved in 2014, found that only 10 percent of the identified projects have been completed and only 12 percent are under construction. “We are desperately behind and we need to know why,” says board member Heather Brinkworth. Sun-Sentinel. A timeline of the bond program. Sun-Sentinel.

Grand jury rips superintendent: An Okaloosa County grand jury finds no evidence for criminal charges against School Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson, but declares that “we continue to lack confidence in her abilities to serve as superintendent of Schools for Okaloosa County. As stated in our previous report, we are most concerned about her behavior, lack of leadership, and failure to fulfill her obligations as superintendent.” The report was filed June 13 and unsealed  Friday. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Summer programs.  Jacksonville Arts & Music School provides free five-week enrichment programs aimed at underprivieledged youth. Florida Times-Union.

School grades: More on school grades from districts around the state. Lakeland Ledger. Highland News-Sun. Pensacola News Journal. Five takeaways about school grades. Orlando Sentinel. Mike Petrilli, the CEO of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, is a supporter of the school grades system, but suggests improvements. Gradebook.

Downturn in testing: Polk County Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd says the decision to have fewer 7th-graders take the end-of-course state civics test was a strategic one to give students more time to develop their reading skills. She, like officials in Duval and Manatee counties, rejects allegations that the district deliberately withheld struggling students from taking the test in order to improve school grades. “These allegations are absolutely unfounded, unwarranted, and unnecessarily damaging to the three school districts involved,” she says. Lakeland Ledger.

Tax revenue for charters: The Palm Beach County School District is negotiating with charter schools over money that would be generated if voters approve a property tax increase for schools. Charter schools say they are entitled to a share of the money, projected at $800 million over four years, and are threatening to sue if they don’t get it. The school board then delayed a vote on putting the measure on the November ballot until July 18. Sun-Sentinel.

Charters and security: Seven of 11 charter schools in Sarasota County are choosing to arm school employees to comply with the new state law, while the other four are contracting with law enforcement agencies for school resource officers. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

More oversight rejected: The Manatee County School Board rejects a request from the Citizens Financial Advisory Committee to give it more oversight of the district’s finances. The board could discuss the issue again July 24. The district promised to form a financial oversight committee if voters approved an increase in property taxes. “Limiting what we promised the voters so soon after we got the referendum money, it’s bad optics,” says board member John Colon. “It looks terrible.” Bradenton Herald.

Mental health services: The Citrus County School Board approves a plan to hire two school psychologists, four more school social workers and a student services specialist position with the $434,575 the school district will receive from the state. Citrus County Chronicle.

New laws: More than 100 new laws went into effect Sunday, including a new state scholarship for bullied students. Miami Herald.

District adds cold tubs: The Lee County School District will add cold tubs and special thermometers that measure heat stress for all 14 high schools this fall. The Florida High School Athletic Association recently recommended schools have the equipment, which can save athletes suffering from heat stroke, but did not require them. It’s been almost a year since Riverdale High School football player Zach Polsenberg died from heat stroke. Fort Myers News-Press.

Gates Foundation replies: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation disputes a RAND Corp. study that concluded the expenditure of $215 million to improve teacher effectiveness in order to get better student performance failed to achieve its goals. The Hillsborough County School District was one of three U.S. districts that participated in the experiment. “When we began this work in 2009, few people were talking about teacher evaluation,” says Gates Foundation spokesman Edward Wyatt. “Today, it has become a standard tool among districts and schools seeking to improve outcomes for students.” Daily Caller.

Teacher accused of bullying: A Miami-Dade County kindergarten teacher is accused of belittling a 5-year-old student, calling him a “loser” in front of other students and saying she felt sorry for the boy’s mother. The boy’s mother, Kandy Escotto, says her complaints were ignored by officials at Banyan Elementary School in Westchester, so she’s hired an attorney and is demanding the teacher, Rosalba G. Suarez, be removed. WPLG.

School bus monitor arrested: A Lake County school bus monitor is arrested and accused of 32 counts of child abuse against special-needs children. Deputies say James Charles Brunson, 26, twisted the heads, arms and legs of children 7 to 9 years old during bus rides to and from Sorrento Elementary School. Orlando Sentinel.

Opinions on schools: With a balanced budget and a healthy reserve, the Manatee County School District is making headway in rebuilding financial stability. While that’s still a work in progress, the future looks brighter today than in recent history. Bradenton Herald. How to fix what is ailing classrooms in Marion County is certainly Superintendent Heidi Maier’s No. 1 priority. It will require innovation, dedication and probably some changes in the way our schools do things. When only one-fourth of our schools received A’s or B’s, it should be wake-up call to the community that we have to do better — all of us. Ocala Star-Banner. Last year 140,000 Florida students were awarded some type of voucher. Those payments went to 1,733 private schools. Florida has the nation’s largest program — by far. If we connect all these education “dots,” a picture begins to appear. That’s what lawmakers are now calling “voucherization” of the public school system. It, essentially, hands every student in the state a voucher, transforming public education into a free-market system; but bankrolled by partisan politics. St. Augustine Record. The Palm Beach County should not rely on Sheriff’s deputies to patrol its public-school campuses. Palm Beach Post.

redefinED editor Travis Pillow contributed to this morning’s roundup.

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BY NextSteps staff