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Florida schools roundup: Enrollment growth slows, ESSA plan and more

Enrollment slowdown: State analysts project that Florida’s K-12 public school enrollment will grow by less than 17,000 students in the 2019-2020 school year, to about 2.86 million. That’s just an 0.6 percent increase over the forecast 2.84 million students expected when schools start in August. Analysts think the state’s various scholarship programs are in part responsible for the slowing growth. A new program, the Hope Scholarship for bullied students to transfer or get a state scholarship to attend private schools, begins this year and is expected to send 6,400 students to private schools by 2019-2020. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the scholarship. News Service of Florida.

Federal funding risk: Florida risks losing $1.1 billion in federal education aid if its impasse with the U.S. Department of Education over compliance with the Every Student Succeeds Act is not resolved soon. Florida is the only state without an approved plan. The state is resisting giving state assessments tests in languages other than English for those who are just learning the language, and also in breaking down results by more student subgroups in order to target specific schools for assistance. Education Week.

Counseling firm investigation: A mental health counseling firm working in several Florida school districts is being investigated for possible Medicaid fraud by the state attorney general’s office. Motivational Coaches of America (MCUSA) offers free counseling to at-risk students. But an investigation by the Palm Beach Post showed the company focused largely on so-called “sponsored” children, or those with insurance or on Medicaid. The company has received more than $400,000 from Medicaid in the past two years, and has gotten unwanted public attention recently when counselors quit because they hadn’t been paid. Miami New Times. WJXT. MCUSA withdraws an offer to counsel students for free in Manatee County, just a day before the school board was going to consider the proposal. No explanation was given for the company’s decision. Bradenton Herald.

Programs spared: Duval County school officials have decided not to cut back on art, music and physical education classes to help reduce a projected $62 million deficit. District officials had proposed to furlough some teachers of those subjects to save $2 million. But new Superintendent Diana Greene says the district now plans to slow down the payback of money borrowed from reserves. Florida Times-Union.

School budgets: The Manatee County School Board approves an $820 million budget, which is lower than last year’s because fewer students are enrolled. The budget forecasts $37 million from higher property taxes approved by voters, and includes a reserve fund above the state-required 3 percent. The board also approved changes in the school dress code that prohibit students from wearing clothing that exposes underwear or body parts in an “indecent or vulgar manner” that would “disrupt” the learning environment. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Marion County School Superintendent Heidi Maier is proposing a budget of $537.7 million, or $3 million more than last year’s. The new money is generated by a property tax increase. Ocala Star-Banner. Volusia County School Board members tentatively approve an $876 million budget that includes a property tax hike and borrowing from reserves to cover a projected $2.49 million deficit. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Teachers needed: The Hillsborough County School District is struggling to fill 476 teacher openings, including 201 in the 50 lowest-performing schools. Tricia McManus, the assistant superintendent who oversees those schools in the Achievement initiative, says the district is doing everything it can to fill the vacancies. Schools open Aug. 10. Tampa Bay Times.

School repair projects: Rapidly rising construction costs are jeopardizing the Broward County School District’s plans to renovate schools. The district has $58 million in reserves to cover school renovation projects, but a single project — renovating Northeast High School in Oakland Park — is now forecast to cost at least $23 million more than expected, and other projects are also running over budget. “We have a huge problem,” says school board member Laurie Rich Levinson. “We need a clear picture of how we’re going to get this done because we don’t have the money.” Sun-Sentinel. Dozens of Palm Beach County schools are being renovated and receiving security improvements through the sales tax referendum passed in 2016. Palm Beach Post.

School security: A retired Secret Service agent, Steve Wexler, is hired by the Broward County School District to determine if actions taken by administrators and staff contributed to the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14. Sun-Sentinel. Paul Grohowski is sworn in as police chief of the Sarasota County School District’s police department. Grohowski was director of public safety and chief of police at Allan Hancock Joint Community College’s Police Department in Santa Maria, Calif., and also worked 13 years for the Port St. Lucie Police Department. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School leadership: Florida TaxWatch is lobbying legislators and school leaders to listen to principals of low-income schools who have demonstrated success with student performance, and find ways to replicate their success. “We have to find a way to benefit from the reasons why these people are so successful over time,” says TaxWatch CEO Dominic Calabro. “What are they doing that is really making that kind of difference?” Gradebook.

Medical pot dispensaries: Jacksonville City Council members reassure the Duval County School Board that, while medical marijuana dispensaries must be treated like pharmacies and can open in most commercial areas, the city still controls the criteria for waivers that are needed to locate within 500 feet of schools. Council member Lori Boyer says that gives the city the ability to prioritize protections for schools and their students. Florida Times-Union.

Alternative school closing: A Sarasota alternative school for students recommended for expulsion is closing because funding for it is being cut. The Triad Alternative Program was the product of a partnership between the school district and the YMCA, but the district offered the agency up to $300,000 less this year to run it. “While the Sarasota County District Schools and the YMCA continue to believe in the mission of Triad, we cannot continue without proper funding and our schools are closing effective immediately,” says Bonnie Gauspohl, the YMCA’s senior vice president of human resources and risk management. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Alachua a research site: Eight elementary schools in Alachua County will be part of a four-year, $3.29 million study by Virginia Commonwealth University researchers to test a program aimed at addressing children’s problem behaviors in the classroom. The program, called BEST in CLASS-Elementary, works with up to three students with behavior issues in a class, and trains teachers on different ways to respond to those behaviors. Virginia Commonwealth University.

Turning around a school: After receiving three consecutive D grades from the state, Sheehy Elementary School in Tampa, is under the control of an external operator, Phalen Leadership Academies of Indiana. New principal Delia Gadson-Yarbrough is working with the company to boost performance and hire new teachers. Gradebook.

School grades: The Washington County School District earned a B grade from the state for the second year in a row, and shows improvement in nearly every category. Chipley Bugle.

Talking education: Legislators, teachers and school leaders discuss public and charter schools, education reforms, teacher salaries, safety and security, arming school personnel and Amendment 8 during a televised forum on the state of education in Florida. Spectrum News 13.

School board elections: A candidate for the District 5 seat on the Collier County School Board was fired from the school district in 2012 for “performance deficiencies,” according to district documents. Mary Ellen Cash had been a teacher, guidance counselor and migrant outreach program developer before her dismissal. Record show Cash was fired for taking unapproved time off, disobeying her boss, using inappropriate language toward students and failure to complete assignments on time. Naples Daily News. The 10 candidates for seats on the Polk County School Board talk about raises for teachers and other school workers, and ways to find the money for them. Lakeland Ledger.

School calendars: Florida school districts are posting their calendars for the 2018-2019 school year. Florida Department of EducationHillsborough. Pinellas. Pasco. Hernando

Opinions on schools: Amendment 8 does not even mention charter schools. Backers want the appeal of term limits and the feel-good idea of civics education to hide the chief purpose of the proposed constitutional amendment. The courts should see through this ploy and strike it from the ballot. Sun-Sentinel. Thanks to emerging new technologies and policies, public education may finally be ready to implement customized instruction in ways that weren’t possible in earlier eras. Doug Tuthill, redefinED (Note: Tuthill is president of Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog.). The Education Foundation of Sarasota County helps students learn the skills needed for life readiness. Suzanne Burke, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. In a time of great controversy and pessimism in our country, Orange County 5th-grader Natalie Nugent is a breath of fresh air, and I believe she illustrates all that is good in children who want to be volunteer leaders with a focus on safety. Margie Sloane, Orlando Sentinel. It shouldn’t take the Florida Department of Education two months to issue temporary teaching certification in physics for a new bachelor’s degree graduate in that subject. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

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BY NextSteps staff