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Florida schools roundup: Remaking public education, bills on testing and more

Legislative preview: Gov. Ron DeSantis, his fellow Republicans in the Senate and House and the new, more conservative Florida Supreme Court seem poised to overhaul public education by expanding school choice, changing the way schools are funded, adding a new scholarship program and more, beginning Tuesday when the 60-day legislative session begins. Some see it as a continuation of the transformation former Gov. Jeb Bush started 20 years ago, while critics call it a dismantling of the state’s public school system. Tampa Bay Times. The Senate will take up the proposed educational landmark bill, S.B. 7070, on Wednesday. Politico Florida. Other education items on the Legislature’s agenda are the expansion of school choice, arming teachers, accountability for charter and private schools and security in schools. Associated Press. News Service of FloridaSun Sentinel. GateHouseredefinED. WFSU. Tallahassee Democrat.

Testing in other languages: Bills are filed in the Senate and House that would allow Florida students still learning English to take state assessment tests in their native languages. Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami, and Rep. Cindy Polo, also a Democrat from Miami, introduced companion bills SB 1590 and HB 1213. “I think it’s ridiculous that a place like Florida, where we have so many students in this circumstance (learning English), they’re not allowed to take their tests at least in Spanish or Creole, in their native language,” says Taddeo. Florida has resisted offering tests in languages other than English, ignoring federal guidelines urging states to “make every effort” to do so. Gradebook.

Teacher certification tests: The omnibus education bill the Senate will consider Wednesday also includes changes in the teacher certification process in Florida. The number of teachers passing the state’s certification exam have been declining as the test standards have been raised. The bill would give aspiring teachers three years to pass the general knowledge part of the exam, offer help to teachers who are struggling to pass, cut the fee to retake the exams, and offer aspiring teachers alternative ways to cerification. WFTS.

Tax proceeds and charters: Florida House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami, says the Miami-Dade County School District should share its revenues from a voter-approved tax increase with teachers at charter schools. Oliva says the district engaged in “deception” by creating “an illusion … that the additional taxes would be used to benefit all schools.” The district pitched the tax as a way to boost teacher salaries and add security in schools. School officials say they will share some of the $232 million a year the tax is generating over the next four years with charters for school security, but not to raise their teachers’ pay. WLRN.

Security in schools: Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels is asking the county commission to convince the school district to reconsider its decision to create its own police department. Superintendent Addison Davis, who said the decision was driven by costs,  says he would welcome a new proposal from the sheriff on the overall cost per school resource officer. WOKV.

Teacher counseled over book: A 1st-grade teacher in Seminole County should have gotten district officials’ permission before reading a book about two male bunnies that fall in love, according to a report issued by the district last week. Tyler Bond read the book, Last week Tonight with John Oliver Presents a Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, to his 1st-graders at Pine Crest Elementary School in Sanford in January. Bond apologized, and was counseled by the district. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG.

Public spending, private schools: Florida spends the most of any state on programs that use public money to send students to private schools, according to a recent report. The state spent almost $1 billion on educational savings accounts, vouchers and tax credit programs in 2016, or 3.69 percent on all program and public K-12 expenditures. Arizona was second at 2.83 percent, followed by Wisconsin at 2.66 percent. Washington Post.

Teaching assistants: There are no statewide job qualifications for teaching assistants and paraprofessionals, and Florida districts vary wildly in what they expect when it hires people for those jobs. Some require an associate’s degree and a passing grade on a paraprofessional test. Others merely require a GED with no other training. WTSP.

Special education review: The Polk County School Board will consider a proposal to spend $225,000 to review the district’s special education program and see if all the students in it are receiving the services they need. District officials have talked with the District Managing Group of Boston about conducting the review. Lakeland Ledger.

Contract agreement: Two unions representing Franklin County school employees have reached a contract agreement with the school district. Teachers evaluated as effective would get a raise of about $850, while highly effective teachers are in line to get about $1,100 more. Non-instructional employees are scheduled for 2.1 percent raises. Both unions and the school board have to approve the deal. Apalachicola Times.

Jackson appeals to top court: Suspended Okaloosa County school superintendent Mary Beth Jackson is appealing her expulsion by Gov. DeSantis to the Florida Supreme Court. “The text of the Florida Constitution and the longstanding precedents of this court indisputably hold that Gov. DeSantis is without authority to suspend Superintendent Jackson for actions preceding her current term of office,” wrote one of her lawyers. Two grand juries concluded that Jackson was derelict in her duties during a district child abuse scandal, and on Friday DeSantis released the report that he used in making his decision. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics.

Teacher/blogger’s anonymity: A Facebook poster known as Matthew Tanner has become one of the most influential teachers in Palm Beach County. His posts have led to the school district rewriting its rules for evaluating teachers, and have raised other important questions. And yet no one knows who he is. Matthew Tanner is a pseudonym, and he will only say he’s a teacher with more than 10 years of experience. “I would prefer to remain as anonymous as possible,” he said in a message to a newspaper. “It is not about me. It is about the data and getting the information out to as many people as possible.” Palm Beach Post.

Private school moving: The Barnabas Christian Academy in Port St. Lucie is moving to a temporary location after being evicted for failure to pay its rent. The school, which has been under state investigation for its finances and operations, packed up Friday and said it is moving to Stuart. WPTV. TCPalm.

Parents get alert: A software glitch that delayed notification of students’ acceptance into Alachua County school magnet programs is cleared up. Those who were accepted have received notice, and those who were not will get e-mails from the school district this week. Gainesville Sun.

Knockoff school gear? A Seattle-based retailer is selling counterfeit merchandise that uses Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s “colors, mascot, mascot imagery, and exact match name,” according to a lawsuit filed by Keiser University of Fort Lauderdale against Prep Sportswear. Keiser says the company is also selling knockoffs of its merchandise, and alleges Prep Sportswear’s actions are costing the schools money. Sun Sentinel.

School expansion: The Student Leadership Academy, a 6th- through 8th-grade charter school in Venice, is asking the Sarasota County School Board to allow it to add a 9th grade. “We are really doing this for kids who just aren’t socially, emotionally or physically ready for a larger high school setting,” says Jonathan Cooley, the school’s principal. “We want to give those kids a setting for a nice, small learning environment.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Charter school: A charter school company in Duval County says it will move ahead with plans for a third location despite district Superintendent Diana Greene’s recommendation that the school’s application be denied. Seaside Charter School, proposed for the north side of the county, would not be diverse, Greene argues. The school board is expected to vote on the application Tuesday. WJXT.

New school program: A new learning program that places a greater value on technology is being adopted next year at Palm View Elementary School in Manatee County as it transforms into a K-8 school. The program, called Woz Pathways, was created by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. Bradenton Herald.

Spelling bee winner: Emma Bogue, of South Sumter Middle School, wins the Sumter County spelling bee. She and runnerup Maiel Madarang, of the Villages Charter School, move on to the regional competition in Orlando. Daily Commercial.

Personnel moves: Hurricane Michael and the subsequent closing of several schools has pushed several principals into new roles for the Bay County School District. Panama City News Herald. Four veteran principals are being assigned to new schools in Manatee County. Bradenton Herald.

Principal on leave: A Hillsborough County principal takes a leave of absence while the school district investigates “concerns that have been brought forward.” District officials won’t say what those concerns are about first-year Spoto High School principal Glennis Perez. Gradebook.

Teachers arrested: A Collier County elementary school teacher is arrested and accused of molesting at least three of his students. Deputies say the alleged victims told them Hector Castro Manley, 30, touched them inappropriately in class at Parkside Elementary School in East Naples. WBBH. Naples Daily News. A substitute teacher in Osceola County is arrested and accused of molesting at least two students at Boggy Creek Elementary School in Kissimmee. Deputies say Fnu Syedyaseen-Asher, 19, told them he “make a mistake” and thought the two girls, ages 7 and 8, were “beautiful and attractive.” WKMG. Associated Press. An Escambia County elementary school teacher is arrested and charged with possession of narcotics and other drug-related charges. Susan Maines, 51, teaches at Jim Allen Elementary School in Pensacola. Pensacola News Journal. WEAR.

Guns on campus: The arrest last week of a Highland Middle School student for allegedly having a gun on campus is the fourth such arrest in Duval County schools in the past four months. Florida Times-Union. A 12-year-old St. Lucie County student is arrested and accused of bringing a gun to the Oak Hammock K-8 school. TCPalm.

Opinions on schools: The Legislature must continue the gains Florida has made in education by increasing state investment in K-12 education with a balanced approach that maximizes parental choice and empowers families, while at the same time supporting teachers, reducing burdensome regulations and elevating the traditional neighborhood public schools that have been the backbone of our education system for generations. And it must honor the memory of the 17 Floridians lost in Parkland through a continued focus on safety and security in our schools. Senate President Bill Galvano, Tampa Bay Times. Education is one of the four top issues facing the Legislature this year. TCPalm. Florida’s legislators should invest in public schools instead of diverting divert tax dollars to private schools. Betty Castor, Tampa Bay Times. Florida’s constitution demands high-quality public schools in every community, and that should be lawmakers’ priority. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Book banning is distasteful and un-American, plain and simple. The process to challenge books in schools is in place to address this particular protest. Let it play out, but those making decisions about these books need to remember they are on a slippery slope. Ocala Star-Banner. Just weeks after imploring the community to pay higher taxes for school repairs, the Hillsborough County School Board pulled the plug on televising public comments at board meetings. This was a tone-deaf decision, and the board should reverse this embarrassing mistake. Tampa Bay Times. Students should not be promoted or retained due to the results of standardized testing. Christina Miller, Gainesville Sun. The “Matthew Effect” basically states that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. But it’s not just a biblical principle. It has a lot to do with how our kids learn, especially their reading comprehension, vocabulary and other English language arts. Lane Wright, Sunshine State News. The Senate education bill takes a microstep toward reforming the teacher certification process, but at least it’s forward movement. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: Mathew Maggio, a junior at South Sumter High School, is named the Sunshine State Scholar for the Sumter County School District. Each state district selects its top 11th-grade STEM student to be honored. Daily Commercial. A sewing and quilt shop in Palm Coast, Cut Up and Sew, donates 20 sewing machines to students in the sewing club at Belle Terre Elementary School in Flagler County. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

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BY NextSteps staff