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Florida schools roundup: Graduation rate up, student enrollment down and more

Schools’ graduation rate up: Florida’s high school graduation rate hit a record high last spring at 86.1 percent, according to figures released Wednesday by the state Department of Education. That’s 3.8 percentage points higher than the 2017 rate. Also impressive is the improvement made by minority students. Black students graduated at a rate of 81 percent, up from 64.7 percent in 2014, and the rate was 85.1 percent for Hispanic students, up from 75 percent four years ago. “Today’s announcement is particularly important because it not only shows across-the-board progress, it highlights success in closing the achievement gap and leveling the playing field for all students,” said outgoing Education Commissioner Pam Stewart. Florida Department of Education. Miami HeraldOrlando Sentinel. Orlando Sentinel. Gainesville Sun. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Enrollment down: Florida has 17,000 fewer K-12 school students this year than projected, according to a report from the Legislature’s Office of Demographic and Economic Research. The state budget had funding for 2.848 million K-12 students. The revised forecast is 2.831 million, 7,955 more than last year but 17,142 fewer than expected in the 67 school districts. “Most of the revision is due to less than expected net in-migration to the public school system, combined with fewer than expected hurricane-affected students remaining in 2018-19 from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands,” according to the report. News Service of Florida.

Scholarship enrollment down: For the first time in 14 years, the number of students receiving state tax credit scholarships has declined. In the 2017-2018 school year, 108,098 received scholarships, but that dropped to 98,065 by September. Officials at Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog and helps administer the scholarships, cited a slowdown in corporate contributions and a 4 percent increase in the amounts given to students. “We’re working hard to raise more scholarship funds, but we’re bumping up against a ceiling,” says Doug Tuthill, president of Step Up For Students. “It’s devastating to see how many qualified students are being turned away.” The wait list stands at 14,474. redefinED.

Education funding: Members of Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis’ education transition committee say spending 80 percent of all education funding in the classroom, as DeSantis vowed to do in his campaign, isn’t going to be easy. The first step, they agree, is to define what classroom spending includes. Andy Tuck, the vice chair of the state Board of Education, says he welcomes DeSantis’ proposal but “that being said … it’s going to be a pretty tough goal to meet.” The committee also discussed ways to improve teacher pay, which could help mitigate teacher shortages. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Politics.

School security: Momentum is growing to arm teachers and other employees in Florida schools, as recommended by Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the chairman of the state commission investigating the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre of 17 people Feb. 14. Richard Corcoran, the newly appointed education commissioner, agrees, and anti-gun groups expect the Legislature to consider the proposal next spring. Capitol News Service. In interviews released this week, Cape Coral police officers describe what they saw when they entered Stoneman Douglas shortly after the shootings while Broward deputies were taking cover. Miami Herald. Sun Sentinel. The Brevard County School Board approves the purchase of a panic button app for phones that’s already being used in a dozen Florida districts and in more than 30 states. Florida Today. Security demands prompted by school shootings has turned the school security business into a $3 billion a year industry, a jump of 36 percent in the past five years. CBS Evening News.

Bill for Parkland victims: A bill is filed in the Legislature that would set aside $110 million to settle lawsuits filed by survivors and families of the 17 people killed in the Stoneman Douglas shootings. State Rep. Kristin Jacobs, D-Coconut Creek, filed the bill, H.B. 123, which would establish a trust fund that expires in 2023. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics.

Suit filed for FLVS records: The Orlando Sentinel files suit to get access to complaints made against former Florida Virtual School attorney Frank Kruppenbacher. Employees say Kruppenbacher used FLVS workers for personal projects, hired his daughter’s boyfriend to investigate a former executive and made “boorish” remarks to female workers. The Sentinel says FLVS is illegally withholding public records. Earlier this week, FLVS asked a judge to review documents that were requested earlier by the Sentinel and decide what information should be released. Orlando Sentinel.

Graduation rate case: Manatee County School Board members say they hope the state’s allegations against interim superintendent Cynthia Saunders for inflating graduation rates are cleared up soon so they can proceed on a decision whether to promote her to the position fulltime. But lawyers and union officials say Department of Education investigations of these sorts of charges are likely to take months, if not years. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Charter schools: The Osceola County School Board votes to close a charter school in Kissimmee that trains students to become pilots. Superintendent Debra Pace accuses the Florida Aviation Academy of falsifying records, double-billing the state and belittling students. Officials for the school say they will appeal the decision. WFTV. Osceola News-Gazette. Classical Preparatory, a Pasco County charter school started in 2014 by new education commissioner Richard Corcoran’s wife, Ann, wins the school board’s approval to expand enrollment from 860 to 1,000, starting next fall. Gradebook.

Early education emphasis: Hillsborough County school officials outline their program to improve kindergarten readiness and students’ reading proficiency by the 3rd grade. They see early improvements as a key to hitting the district’s goal of a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020. Tampa Bay Times.

Old school, new use: Walton County school officials are considering a new role for Bay Elementary, the oldest school in the county, when Dune Lakes Elementary School opens next fall. Among the options: making Bay a magnet school or pre-K center, leasing it or selling it. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Big bill for church school: A Miami church has gotten a $7.1 million tax bill from the Miami-Dade property appraiser, who says the church’s for-profit school violates its religious exemption. First Presbyterian Church of Miami has operated the K-8 school since 2008. Miami Herald.

Housing at school: The Monroe County School Board is delaying a decision on how many housing units for school employees it will ask for on the grounds of the Sugarloaf School. Nearby residents say they’re worried about density if more than 20 units are built. But board members say they’ll wait to hear a developer’s assessment of how many are needed for the project to make financial sense before deciding. Key West Citizen.

Resource officer kills family: A Hillsborough County school resource officer kills his wife, daughter and granddaughter, confesses on a police radio and then kills himself. Terry Strawn, 58, the sheriff’s officer of the year in 2009, was hired as the resource officer at Valrico Elementary School last summer. During his confession, Strawn discussed financial and health problems. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP. WFLA.

Ex-teacher gets 3 years: A former Volusia County middle school teacher is sentenced to three years in prison for having sex with a 14-year-old student. Stephanie Peterson, 27, was a teacher at New Smyrna Beach Middle School. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

State disciplines teachers: A special education teacher in Santa Rosa County is suspended by the state for two years for failing “to maintain honesty in all professional dealings.” Elizabeth Jerrell, a teacher at Thomas Sims Middle School in Pace, took notes from Florida test materials in 2017, a violation of an agreement she had signed. Northwest Florida Daily News. An Okaloosa County teacher who was fired for sitting on an 18-year-old male student’s lap has her teaching certificate suspended for a year by the state. Amanda Varnum was a teacher at the Laurel Hill School. Northwest Florida Daily News. A special education teacher in St. Johns County is placed on probation for two years and fined $1,250 for slapping a 6-year-old student’s hand last year. Wanda English still teaches at Otis Mason Elementary School. St. Augustine Record.

Student suspect identified: The student who hit a Seminole Ridge High School administrator several times with his truck and then veered toward a police officer before driving away has been identified as a 17-year-old senior. He also had a pellet gun in the truck. The student has not been officially charged, and the investigation is continuing. Palm Beach Post.

Opinions on schools: The governor-appointed trustees of the Florida Virtual School appear to care more about appearances than they do about making sure the public’s money isn’t squandered. Orlando Sentinel. The Manatee County School Board made the right call in delaying a decision on making Cynthia Saunders the superintendent while she’s under state scrutiny for allegedly inflating graduation rates. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Citrus County School Board’s hiring of an internal police chief is a reflection of its shaky relationship with the sheriff’s office. Citrus County Chronicle. What these south Florida high school shooting survivors want you to know. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, Florida Phoenix. Changes in the process the Alachua County School District uses to choose students for magnet programs will hopefully be another way to ensure all students have access to these programs and an opportunity to use them as a springboard for success in their future careers. Gainesville Sun.

Student enrichment: For a second time, the St. Lucie County School District is named a silver-level Florida Healthy School District by the Florida Partnership for Healthy Schools, Florida Action for Healthy Kids, Florida Association of District School Superintendents and Florida Healthy Kids Corp. TCPalm.

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BY NextSteps staff