September 23, 2016

Florida Board of Education wants end to Best & Brightest teacher bonuses

via @JeffSolochek

The Florida Board of Education on Friday backed a budget plan that would eliminate funding for the state's controversial two-year-old Best and Brightest bonus, which rewards teachers based on their job evaluations and their SAT or ACT scores.

The board's legislative budget proposal would take the bulk of the $49 million expenditure and place it into "teacher recruitment and retention." The recommended $43 million fund would provide bonuses for "new teachers who show great potential for and veteran teachers who have demonstrated the highest student academic growth among their peers."

It would use Florida's top teacher preparation programs and also aim to address shortages in STEM fields, as well as supporting "top teacher candidates and public schools with the highest needs."

Board members asked commissioner Pam Stewart for more details on the use of the money, which represented the largest single change in its proposed budget. She said she was still collecting input from teachers and other stakeholders before writing a specific plan, and asked to discuss it more in depth in October.

The board, which approved the LBR 6-1 with Michael Olenick opposed, expressed satisfaction with the concept.

"I'd like to hear the details. I think it's in the right bucket, though," board member Gary Chartrand said.

Vice chairman John Padgetwho called for an end to the Best and Brightest in August, said he was "totally pleased" with the staff's direction.

"I'm happy to hear it," he said. "I've heard some ideas, and I like many of them."

Teachers continue to apply for the bonuses, which averaged about $8,500 in their first year, with a Nov. 1 deadline. The state has made clear that district decisions on the awards are final.

September 22, 2016

More mental health, campus security funding again a priority for Florida universities

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@ByKristenMClark

After the Florida Legislature failed to act on similar budget requests for this year, state university officials are once again asking for money to increase staffing levels and beef up resources for campus police forces and student counseling centers at Florida’s 12 public universities.

The public university system’s Board of Governors wants lawmakers to designate an extra $28.5 million for those efforts, $8 million more than the unfulfilled request they’d made for the current 2016-17 budget year.

But rather than asking for all the money at once, as they did for this year, officials plan to ask the Legislature to spread the dollars over two years — giving the universities time to hire more qualified police officers and counselors.

While meeting in Sarasota this week, the Board of Governors emphasized that additional dollars for mental health services and campus security is among their foremost priorities for the 2017-18 budget, which lawmakers will craft next spring.

Data show Florida’s university police forces and campus counseling centers are understaffed, officials have been saying for more than a year now.

More here.

Image credit: The Florida Channel

August 19, 2016

Florida's botched 2015 statewide assessment costs testing company $4.8M

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@ByKristenMClark

After almost 18 months, the Florida Department of Education says it has finally resolved its settlement with the company that botched the roll-out of Florida's new statewide standardized test in 2015.

In a statement this afternoon, the department said its withholding payments and/or getting reimbursements from American Institutes for Research worth a total of $4.8 million.

AIR was responsible for overseeing the first Florida Standards Assessments, a new statewide standardized test that debuted in spring 2015. The test administration was plagued by technical glitches and other problems that prevented some students from logging in to the exam or repeatedly interrupted their progress during it.

The state DOE at the time said the problems were caused by, first, a computer update AIR ran on the eve of rolling out the new tests, and then by a cyber attack.

"We vowed to hold AIR accountable, and most importantly, to ensure students have a positive testing experience going forward," Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said in a statement Friday.

State officials said that the Florida DOE "withheld payment to AIR for the 2015 administration until the company delivered a successful test administration in 2016." There were no major issues with the tests this spring.

"We are very pleased with this year’s test administration, and Florida’s students, parents and educators can have confidence in the statewide assessment system," Stewart said.

As part of the settlement over the 2015 debacle, the state DOE said it "will withhold permanently 100 percent of the amount allocated to the 2014-2015 Help Desk and 30 percent of the cost for 2014-2015 computer-based test delivery."

Additionally, AIR will reimburse the state for the full amount of a third-party review of the FSA that the 2015 Legislature ordered to assess the accuracy of the exam results. The contract for the study was worth almost $600,000.

The review's findings sparked debate, because it found the test results, as a collective, could still be used to issue school grades and evaluate teachers -- while at the same time, it advised that individual test scores might be "suspect" and shouldn't be used to determine whether students should be held back a grade or denied a high school diploma.

May 18, 2016

Florida lawmaker wants AG opinion on feds’ transgender bathroom rules; Pam Bondi declines

Adkins_2015@ByKristenMClark

An outgoing conservative lawmaker in Florida who is running for Nassau County schools superintendent wants state Attorney General Pam Bondi to issue an official opinion on what she believes to be the "constitutional encroach" of the Obama administration's new guidance to public schools over transgender students' bathroom access.

State Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, called the president's new policy a "clear violation" of states' rights under the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

"It is clear that the Obama administration is once again circumventing the Congress and even its own federal rule-making process to impose new federal rules and laws on Florida’s public schools," Adkins said in a statement this morning.

MORE: Read Rep. Adkins' letter to Bondi

But Bondi’s office isn’t wading into the issue. Deputy Attorney General Kent J. Perez wrote in a response to Adkins on Wednesday afternoon: “We do not issue legal opinions on federal law.”

On Friday, the U.S. departments of Education and Justice sent letters of guidance to all public schools nationwide informing them that they must treat students in ways that match their gender identities -- or risk losing federal money under Title IX, which prohibits discrimination in educational programs based on sex.

Republican leaders in Florida have been reluctant to comment so far on the new guidelines. But Adkins, the outgoing chairwoman of the House K-12 Education Subcommittee, wants a swifter response: For the state to challenge the Obama administration's directive.

Read the full story here.

Published 10:49 a.m.; Updated 4:30 p.m.

May 16, 2016

Rep. Wilson to chair hearing on helping young people of color

@jamesmartinrose

Rep. Frederica Wilson on Tuesday will bring together lawmakers and youth experts from Florida and beyond for a congressional forum on expanding opportunities for black and Latino young people.

Michael Smith, special assistant to President Barack Obama and head of the White House My Brother's Keeper program, will moderate the forum. Wilson will be joined by Arnaldo Gonzalez, Miami-Dade Schools chief of growth and development, and education leaders from North Carolina, Virginia and other states.

Also speaking will be Albert Dotson Jr., a board member of 100 Black Men of America who helps run the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.

"As the founder of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project, an in-school dropout prevention and mentoring program, I have experienced firsthand the powerful influence that a caring adult can have on a young person's life," Wilson, a third-term Democrat from Miami Gardens, said.

In February, Wilson helped launch the Congressional My Brother's Keeper Caucus. It now has 18 members, among them Rep. Alcee Hastings of Miramar; South Carolina's Jim Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat; and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey.

When he started the My Brother's Keeper mentoring program in 2014, Obama drew criticism from some advocacy groups for excluding young women and girls. Wilson's hearing Tuesday will focus on expanding opportunities for male and female people of color.

 

 

 

 

May 11, 2016

Attorneys debate whether groups can sue over school voucher program

@ByKristenMClark

A three-judge panel of the First District Court of Appeal on Tuesday grilled attorneys for the state and for Florida’s largest teachers union, as the union argued why it should have its day in court to challenge a voucher-like education program the Legislature approved 15 years ago.

There was no immediate ruling from the judges following the 50-minute hearing.

The judges are considering two primary questions at this stage in the lawsuit: whether the union and its allies have standing to sue the state over the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program and whether the union is articulating a specific harm the program does to public schools.

May 09, 2016

Appeals court to consider teachers' lawsuit over tax-credit scholarships

@ByKristenMClark

A panel of appeals court judges will hear oral arguments on Tuesday in the next phase of a high-profile and controversial lawsuit challenging a voucher-like scholarship program that helps poor children attend private school in Florida.

But the merits of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program won’t be argued just yet.

First to be resolved is whether the state’s largest teachers union and other plaintiffs even have the right to make their case that it’s unconstitutional.

The Florida Education Association and its allies want the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee to overturn a Leon County judge’s ruling from almost a year ago that tossed the lawsuit. Circuit Judge George Reynolds III ruled that the plaintiffs didn’t have legal standing to bring the case.

The FEA appealed last summer because it wants its day in court — despite mounting public pressure from scholarship supporters who want the union to “drop the suit.”

Read more here.

May 03, 2016

'A fire burning' to keep expanding school choice in Florida, Hialeah lawmaker says

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@ByKristenMClark

The Legislature's approval of a massive education bill and other innovative policies this spring has reinvigorated the "school choice" movement in Florida, a key Miami-Dade lawmaker said Tuesday.

In the past few years, "there was a complacency," state Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, said. "What I heard from my colleagues was, 'so much has been done, we have to see what works.' I’m saying, 'we don't have time for that.' 

"I was pleasantly surprised this session," he added. "The stars aligned and we were able to push some things through... a lot of revolutionary things."

And Floridians can expect that wave of policies to continue in upcoming legislative sessions, said Diaz -- who's in line to be the next chairman of either the House Education Committee or the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee under incoming speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes.

"It's clearly awoken," Diaz said of the push for school choice. "There is a political will you see in the incoming leadership; there is a fire burning. We’re headed in that direction and they’ll be a charge led from the top."

Diaz's remarks came during a luncheon in downtown Miami on Tuesday about the benefits of school choice in Florida. The discussion was sponsored by the James Madison Institute -- a Tallahassee-based free market think tank, which supports school choice policies.

More here.

Photo credit: Republican State Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., center, speaks during a panel discussion about educational choice, sponsored by the James Madison Institute, on Tuesday at the the InterContinental Miami Hotel. (Sabrina Paz Riesgo / Influence Communications)

April 29, 2016

U.S. Education Secretary John King, Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam to speak at FAMU graduation

@ByKristenMClark

U.S. Secretary of Education John King and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam will deliver the commencement addresses at Florida A&M University on Saturday.

King will speak at the 9 a.m. ceremony, while Putnam is scheduled to speak at the 2 p.m. ceremony. More than 1,200 students are graduating from FAMU this spring.

The ceremonies will be held at the Al Lawson Jr. Multi-Purpose Center on FAMU's campus in Tallahassee and be broadcast live online.

King was appointed by President Barack Obama last year to be the nation's top education official.

Putnam, a Republican and former U.S. congressman, was first elected in 2010 as state agriculture commissioner. He is widely believed to be planning a run for governor in 2018.

Marco Rubio to speak at Hialeah business charter school's inaugural commencement

@ByKristenMClark

Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is scheduled to give the commencement address next month at the inaugural graduation ceremony for a Hialeah charter school run by the Latin Builders Association.

The Latin Builders Association Construction and Business Management Academy Charter High School -- also known as LBA Academy -- touts itself as the first business charter high school in the U.S.

Rubio is a former director of the LBA. He previously praised the school during a national summit two years ago as an example of the opportunities charter schools and other "school choice" programs can provide. The school, which opened in 2012, educates its students in the construction trades and teaches them how to become future business leaders.

The former GOP presidential candidate will deliver his remarks at 9:30 a.m. May 23 at the academy's graduation ceremony, to be held on FIU's Modesto Maidique Campus in Miami.

Other elected officials and Miami-Dade County Public School officials also are expected in attendance.