October 12, 2017

House Republicans unveil concept for helping bullied, abused students with ‘Hope’ vouchers

Corcoran and ed chairmen 101117

@ByKristenMClark

Children in Florida’s K-12 public schools who have been victimized by bullying, assault or other violent trauma will have a new option to change schools — including an incentive to leave the public school system for a private alternative — under an initiative announced Wednesday by House Republicans.

House leaders won’t have specific legislation available for at least another month for the school choice program they’re proposing as a “Hope Scholarship,” but their announcement sets the stage for a top priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran in the 2018 session.

Many of the details are still being ironed out — including how much tax money would be diverted to fund the program, which Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, says he envisions “would be funded very similarly to the [Florida] Tax Credit Scholarship.”

The tax credit scholarship is a controversial, voucher-like program that traditional public school advocates argue takes taxpayer money away from public education.

Businesses get a tax break in exchange for funding scholarships that help 100,000 poor — and often minority — children afford a private school education. The money is funneled directly through designated “scholarship organizations,” so it never passes through the state’s hands as “taxpayer” money.

Citing data from the Florida Department of Education, House Republicans said more than 47,000 incidents of violence were reported in the 2015-16 school year involving children in the K-12 public school system — acts that included hazing, fighting, threats and bullying.

“We know from all of the studies that, if you’re fearful of stepping on to a school campus, if you’re worried for your own safety — you will not learn,” Corcoran said, when he announced the proposal during a press conference Wednesday at the Capitol flanked by six of his top lieutenants in charge of education policy and funding.

Full story here.

Photo credit: House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, announced on Oct. 11 a new “Hope Scholarship” proposal to help public schoolchildren who are victims of bullying, assault or other trauma to attend a different school of their choice. Joining Corcoran were his top lieutenants on education policy and spending, from left: Republican Reps. Jake Raburn of Lithia, Manny Diaz Jr. of Hialeah, Chris Latvala of Clearwater, Michael Bileca of Miami, Jennifer Sullivan of Mount Dora and Byron Donalds of Naples. [Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times]

October 06, 2017

FLDOE's policy on funding public schools that take in Puerto Ricans raises questions

Diaz Manny

@ByKristenMClark

Families from Puerto Rico who were displaced by Hurricane Maria won’t have to worry about having transcripts or immunization records if they enroll their children in Florida’s public schools this month, state education officials announced Friday.

But for county school districts taking in the new arrivals, there is no guarantee the state will provide financial help to cover the cost of educating all those additional students.

The Florida Department of Education announced Friday morning public schools would get supplemental funding this fall only if they take in a minimum number of displaced Puerto Rican children — enough to increase district enrollment by at least 5 percent or a single school’s enrollment by at least 25 percent.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools — the state’s largest school district, with about 353,000 students enrolled last spring — would have to take in nearly 17,700 students from Puerto Rico in order to trigger the extra funding under the district-wide calculation. Broward County Schools, the second largest district in Florida with 269,800 students last school year, would need to add about 13,500 students across its district.

The state Department of Education did not immediately answer questions from the Herald/Times about how it arrived at that formula and why funding wouldn’t be assured to cover all the new students.

Some state lawmakers have questions, too — and concerns.

Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., the House Pre-K-12 education budget chairman, told the Herald/Times early Friday afternoon he’d spoken with DOE officials throughout the day to try to get answers and “to make the case that we’re going to have individual schools that are going to get clobbered by this.”

Full story here.

Photo credit: Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. [AP]

October 05, 2017

Florida Virtual School ready to serve 20,000 kids from Puerto Rico

102PRico02 NEW PPortal@ByKristenMClark

Florida Virtual School — the state’s official provider of online-only learning — plans to accept 20,000 students from Puerto Rico who have been displaced by Hurricane Maria.

The resource is available to those students regardless of whether they’re still in Puerto Rico or have since relocated to Florida, Gov. Rick Scott said in an announcement Thursday.

“Families in Puerto Rico have experienced extreme devastation of their homes and communities due to Hurricane Maria. As they work to rebuild their lives, these families should not have to worry about their children falling behind in school,” Scott said, touting that Florida’s public schools “offer a world-class education.”

Details here.

October 02, 2017

Lawsuit filed in dispute over HB 7069, escalating political war

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@ByKristenMClark

The legal war has officially begun over a highly controversial, charter school-friendly education law Republican state lawmakers pushed through last spring.

Palm Beach County School Board members filed a lawsuit this week challenging the constitutionality of one part of House Bill 7069. Another, potentially more far-reaching lawsuit with the backing of at least 14 other school districts — including Miami-Dade and Broward counties — is still expected in the weeks ahead.

Meanwhile, charter school advocates are rallying their forces, too — vowing to fight in defense of HB 7069 in the courtroom and also on the political battlefield.

Among the weapons they’re preparing: A coordinated public relations campaign highlighting school districts’ spending, and fielding — and funding — challengers to school board members statewide who face re-election in 2018 and who have been critical of HB 7069.

“We’re developing a plan and we’re going to be very aggressive,” said Ralph Arza, a former Miami-Dade Republican lawmaker who is now the government affairs director for the Florida Charter School Alliance.

More here.

Photo credit: Miami Herald file photo.

September 18, 2017

Lawmakers have favored relaxing school building codes. Will Irma change that trend?

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by @WLRN's @jessicabakeman

As Hurricane Irma bore down on South Florida, Kevin Youngman and his family sought shelter at Falcon Cove Middle School in Weston. There, he found himself in enemy territory.

“I think it’s weird for us because we all went to the rival middle school, Tequesta Trace,” said Youngman, 25, as he relaxed on an air mattress in the school gym.

“We’re kind of backstabbing our roots a little bit,” he joked, as he and his mother laughed. “But I guess Tequesta is backstabbing us, because they didn’t open up a shelter there — so I guess it’s their fault, not ours.”

Youngman was right about his alma mater: Tequesta Trace didn’t open as one of Broward County’s 21 shelters during Hurricane  Irma. That’s because the school wasn’t built to withstand the most dangerous storms. Alternatively, Falcon Cove is what emergency officials call an “Enhanced Hurricane Protection Area,” one of the state’s most fortified shelters.

Most public schools are constructed specifically for the purpose they served during Irma: to house people during emergencies. But that could change over time, as the Republican-led state Legislature has begun relaxing the more stringent building codes that apply to public schools. At the same time, lawmakers have promoted the growth of privately run charter schools, which aren’t required to comply with the same high construction standards.

Local leaders worry: If more schools are built without hurricane protections, there could be fewer places for people like Youngman and his family to go during storms.

More here.

WLRN is a news partner of the Miami Herald.

Photo credit: People from different part of the city gets ready to spend the night at the South Miami Senior High School shelter as South Florida prepares for the coming hurricane Irma in South Florida on September 08, 2017. Pedro Portal / Miami Herald

Bonuses based on teacher test scores violate civil rights, lawsuit alleges

Dept of Education

A state program that awards bonuses to top-rated teachers based on their own SAT and ACT scores from high school violates federal and state civil rights laws against employment discrimination, argues a potential class-action lawsuit filed this week by Florida’s largest teachers union and seven classroom teachers from South Florida.

The Best and Brightest program — first enacted in 2015 and now in its third year — continues to be envisioned by Florida House Republicans as an innovative means to recruit and retain the best teachers in the state’s public schools.

But it’s been a subject of ongoing controversy because the program relies on teachers’ own test scores — sometimes decades old and unavailable — which has no proven correlation to teacher effectiveness.

The Florida Education Association is now asking a federal judge to step in and declare the program illegal and discriminatory against teachers who are older and who are non-white.

The FEA first made the accusation two years ago through a complaint to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — an avenue the union said Friday it had to exhaust before it was recently given federal authorization to file a lawsuit.

“The SAT/ACT score requirement has an illegal disparate impact on teachers based on their age and on teachers based on their black and Hispanic race,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys, John Davis and Kent Spriggs, argued in the 58-page lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee. “The SAT/ACT score requirement is not required by business necessity and is not related to job performance.”

Full story here.

Photo credit: Florida Department of Education [Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times]

September 15, 2017

No decision yet on which traditional public schools will get 'Schools of Hope' aid

Johnson and stewart

@ByKristenMClark

Some of Florida’s lowest-performing traditional public schools will have to wait a bit longer to find out if they’ll be among the 25 schools that will get financial help through a new state program called “Schools of Hope.”

The State Board of Education was supposed to meet in Tallahassee on Wednesday to select the recipients out of the 57 eligible schools that applied.

But, like so much else in Florida this week, Hurricane Irma derailed those plans.

The board met instead by conference call on Wednesday, and it left a decision on the “Hope” schools for another day.

More here.

Photo credit: Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, left, and State Board of Education Chairwoman Marva Johnson listen during a May 2017 meeting of the state board. [Florida Channel]

September 05, 2017

'Hope' dollars will be awarded soon to 25 failing schools. Here are some of their ideas.

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@ByKristenMClark @KyraGurney

How do you fix struggling schools? One idea: Pay teachers more.

Teacher bonuses are among several ideas the Miami-Dade and Broward school districts have proposed as they compete for additional funding through a controversial new state program designed to rehabilitate Florida’s lowest performing schools while potentially supplanting them with privately run charters.

Miami-Dade alone is asking the state for about $2.3 million for teacher bonuses through “Schools of Hope” to attract and keep the district’s best teachers at five schools eligible for the program.

If the schools are selected, teachers rated “highly effective” through a state-mandated teacher evaluation system could earn up to $11,500 in bonuses if they stay at or transfer into one of the eligible schools, have good attendance and help their students improve.

“The impact of a highly effective teacher is a key factor that contributes to school improvement,” district spokeswoman Daisy Gonzalez-Diego said in an email, explaining the strategy.

Broward is also asking for “Hope” money to pay for teacher recruitment and retention bonuses at three qualifying schools. Eligible teachers with perfect attendance could earn up to an extra $8,000 to $9,000, although it’s unclear how much funding Broward is asking for in total across the three schools.

The requested funds are part of $6.9 million in proposals in Miami-Dade and $3.4 million in Broward to turn around a total of eight struggling South Florida schools. The applications also ask for money to pay for a range of services for low-income students and their families, including after-school activities, tutoring and family counseling.

Across the state, 57 of 93 eligible newly failing traditional schools applied for a chance at receiving the maximum $2,000 per student through “Schools of Hope.” They each have roughly a 50-50 shot at getting the money. In enacting the new program through House Bill 7069 last spring, lawmakers capped the traditional school aid at only 25 schools at any given time.

As a result, the maximum amount of money that can be distributed this fall to the schools is $51.5 million, about 37 percent of the $140 million allocated for “Schools of Hope.” (At most around 26,000 students statewide could benefit from the funds, although tens of thousands more remain in failing schools.)

The leftover “Hope” funding will be used later to dole out financial incentives to charter school operators who can set up competing schools near the 93 failing ones. That part of the program hasn’t yet been implemented.

The 25 traditional public schools receiving aid will be chosen Sept. 13 by the state Board of Education, whose members will have virtually free rein to accept or deny the applications for any reason — although Republican lawmakers said that the intent of the law was to reward the most innovative ideas. 

Full story here.

Photo credit: Miami Herald file photo

August 31, 2017

University System chancellor gets contract extension

Chancellor_criserFrom the News Service of Florida:

The Florida Board of Governors on Thursday approved a one-year extension of the contract for Marshall Criser as chancellor of the state university system.

The extension, which takes effect Jan. 1, will pay Criser $370,000 in a base salary, along with a $55,000 housing and vehicle allowance and allow him to earn up to 10 percent of his base salary in an annual performance bonus.

Criser’s new contract represents a 7 percent increase in compensation, board officials said.

In voting to extend the contract, Alan Levine, a member of board, praised Criser’s professionalism. “He’s always accessible, always answers questions,” Levine said. “He goes the extra mile to make sure we have what we need before we make important decisions.”

Criser took office as chancellor in January 2014.

Still in Tallahassee, DeVos sought feedback from education, business leaders -- in private

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@ByKristenMClark

A day after visiting a private religious school and a public charter school in Tallahassee, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spent Wednesday speaking behind closed doors with various education stakeholders, business leaders and advocates in Florida’s capital city.

The events were not disclosed on DeVos’ public schedule, as her office deemed them “private” activities.

However, on Wednesday afternoon, the U.S. Department of Education released a “readout” promoting one of the gatherings after the fact — a “summit” at Bethel Family Life Center with “K-12 and HBCU [historically black college and university] leaders.”

Meanwhile, DeVos’ office also did not disclose — nor offer a readout of — a meeting reportedly held earlier Wednesday with about a dozen leaders of business, higher education and advocacy organizations at the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

The News Service of Florida reported that DeVos had a “warm reception” there and urged the leaders to “double down” on efforts to expand choices for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Full story here.

Photo credit: U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos participates in a lesson with fifth grade students at Holy Comforter Episcopal School in Tallahassee on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017, as they use an online-learning platform to take a quiz about idioms. DeVos spent two hours visiting classrooms at the private Christian school. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times