August 15, 2017

State: Each school district must review teachers' eligibility for 'Best & Brightest' bonuses

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@ByKristenMClark

The Florida Department of Education says it will be up to each of the state's 67 county school districts to determine which of their local teachers is eligible for the state "Best and Brightest" bonus program that lawmakers revamped as part of a massive education law that took effect this summer.

Hershel Lyons, Florida's chancellor of public schools, issued guidance to school district superintendents through a two-page memo last week that details how the revised and expanded program should be implemented. It's the latest in a trickle of memos from the DOE that explain how school districts should make sure they comply with the plethora of new education policy in House Bill 7069.

In addition to the original "Best and Brightest" bonus that was first enacted two years ago and is based on teachers' own SAT/ACT scores, HB 7069 calls for top teachers to also get extra money each year for simply being evaluated as "effective" or "highly effective."

All "highly effective" teachers will now get $1,200 bonuses, while "effective" teachers can get "up to $800," under the new law.

RELATED: "Lots of questions but few answers on how to make state’s new education policy work"

"Highly effective" teachers can also still receive bonuses of $6,000 if they can show they scored in the 80th percentile or above when they took the SAT or ACT -- either in high school or more recently, if they choose to retake the exam. (A change to the program that reduces that threshold to the 77th percentile and makes it easier for teachers to qualify using other exams and criteria does not take effect until the 2020-2021 school year.)

"Each scholarship has its own eligibility requirements that districts must review and administer locally," Lyons wrote to the districts on Aug. 11.

Teachers seeking the $6,000 have until Nov. 1 to submit their SAT/ACT score report to their local school district, Lyons wrote. Then by Dec. 1, each district must tell the DOE how many classroom teachers they have eligible for the "Best and Brightest" awards.

Lyons said the DOE will disburse the award dollars to districts by Feb. 1, so that eligible teachers can receive their bonuses on April 1, 2018.

The expanded "Best and Brightest" program also includes new bonuses for top principals, but guidance on how that will be implemented isn't available yet. "Information regarding the Best and Brightest Principal Scholarship Program will be sent in the near future," Lyons wrote.

Neither Lyons' memo nor other guidance to date from the DOE has addressed a concern raised by Miami-Dade schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho relating to how teachers' evaluations should be calculated under the new law -- an issue that, Carvalho said, could effect whether teachers know if they are eligible for the bonuses.

Another part of HB 7069 eliminated a state mandate requiring teachers to be evaluated based on a state-approved formula known as the "value-added model," or VAM, but state law still requires teachers' evaluations to factor in student performance. “So if not VAM, then what?” Carvalho asked last month, noting teachers' final evaluations could be delayed in the interim.

House Republicans -- who have fought for the bonus program since lawmakers first enacted it through the 2015-16 state budget -- say "Best and Brightest" is a way to reward good teachers, but the program has been heavily criticized by teachers' unions and other groups.

Critics argue a one-time bonus -- even annually -- isn't as good as an actual and permanent bump in salary, which they say would benefit teachers more. They've also complained about tying the bonus to teachers' SAT/ACT results, saying a teacher's performance on a single exam isn't an indicator of one's ability to be an effective teacher.

Photo credit: Miami Herald file photo

July 25, 2017

Miami-Dade schools will weigh joining HB 7069 lawsuit during Wednesday workshop

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@ByKristenMClark

Miami-Dade Public Schools could decide as soon as Wednesday whether to join Broward County and other school districts in challenging the constitutionality of a sweeping K-12 education reform law that took effect this month.

Miami-Dade School Board members are holding a workshop to discuss their legal options when it comes to House Bill 7069 — but it’s evident by legal counsel they’ve already received which avenue they’re most likely to pursue: Suing the state.

Tapping the help of three outside legal firms, the district has already spent about $9,900 to research the constitutionality of HB 7069, a district spokeswoman said Monday. According to documents requested by the Herald/Times, some of that legal advice came even before the final version of the legislation was introduced and passed in the final days of session in early May.

With five memos in all, each raises questions about the law’s constitutionality and presents arguments the district could use in court. Chief among them are various ways, the attorneys argue, that the law grants new powers to privately managed charter schools and bypasses the authority of locally elected school boards to oversee public schools within their districts.

Full details here.

July 24, 2017

Lacking key DOE guidance, Florida schools try to adopt statewide reforms in HB 7069

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@ByKristenMClark

Every year, new state laws hit the books that have to be implemented once they take effect. But House Bill 7069 isn’t your average new law.

The sweeping, 274-page, $419 million measure that reforms Florida’s public K-12 schools spans dozens of changes in statute — some of which are complex and take effect at different times over the course of the next few years.

So, what goes into implementing something like that?

The Florida Department of Education doesn’t want to answer questions about it and hasn’t offered much detail publicly three weeks after HB 7069 became law on July 1.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Miami Herald file

July 21, 2017

Gov. Scott vetoed a higher ed bill. Now he wants universities to spend their money wisely.

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@ByKristenMClark

When Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a major higher education reform bill last month, it didn’t strip away millions of dollars for Florida’s public universities that was already approved separately in the state budget but linked to that proposed policy.

Because the policy didn’t become law, the universities aren’t as limited now in how they can spend the money.

Scott sent letters to each of the 12 public universities this week urging them to use the dollars — more than $120 million among the individual institutions — to “focus on graduation rates” and encourage post-graduation career opportunities.

Full details here.

Photo credit: Matias Ocner / Miami Herald

July 20, 2017

FLDOE releases guidance on 'Schools of Hope,' new school improvement rules

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@ByKristenMClark

Nine low-performing traditional public schools in Miami-Dade and Broward counties can apply for extra funding this school year under the controversial new “Schools of Hope” program that lawmakers narrowly approved this spring.

The Florida Department of Education released a preliminary list of eligible schools in guidance sent to the state’s 67 school districts this week, advising superintendents of how they must address their failing schools under the terms of House Bill 7069, which took effect July 1.

One option available to 93 newly failing schools statewide — which serve about 64,500 students — is to vie for “Schools of Hope” dollars: up to $2,000 per student that could be spent on wraparound services, such as after-school programs and community partnerships.

The schools will have less than a month to make their pitch and only 25 of the 93 schools will get the extra money in 2017-18, due to a cap Republican legislators put in the new law.

Full story here.

July 18, 2017

Appeals court considers lawsuit over Florida's public education system

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@ByKristenMClark

The Florida Constitution requires the state to provide “a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools” — but is that general standard something that can be measured?

That’s what an appeals court in Tallahassee will decide in the latest round of a long-standing battle over whether the Legislature, state Board of Education and the Florida Department of Education are fulfilling their constitutional obligations for 2.8 million children in the state’s public schools.

After a five-week trial last year, a Leon County Circuit Court judge tossed out the lawsuit that was filed in 2009. While the plaintiffs — led by two advocacy organizations, Citizens for Strong Schools and Fund Education Now — argued the state was failing to meet its constitutional duty, Judge George S. Reynolds III found they hadn’t met the burden to prove that was the case.

Now the First District Court of Appeal will decide whether Reynolds erred in that ruling. Central to that decision is whether the constitutional standard — adopted by voters in the late 1990s — is one that can be definitively measured.

Focused on that theme, the three-judge appeals panel peppered attorneys for the state and for the plaintiffs with questions during an hourlong hearing Tuesday.

Read more here.

July 07, 2017

Florida House responds to Broward Schools' threat of lawsuit with promotional video

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@ByKristenMClark

Two days after the Broward County School Board decided to sue over newly enacted and controversial statewide education reforms, Florida House Republicans countered by debuting a promotional video that touts their hotly debated “Schools of Hope” plan.

The “Hope” program — a top session priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes — is one of several provisions within House Bill 7069 that attorneys for the Broward school district plan to argue is unconstitutional.

Corcoran on Wednesday said the Broward School Board’s vote earlier that day to file a lawsuit was “clueless” and “arguably heartless,” in part, because “Schools of Hope” aims to break the cycle of traditional public schools that earn failing grades year after year.

RELATED: “Broward Schools to sue over controversial new schools law”

The House’s new video advertising “Schools of Hope” is the most recent product of an aggressive digital marketing strategy implemented under Corcoran, who took over as speaker in November.

The video’s message — and an accompanying tweet from Corcoran promoting it — are consistent with how Republican lawmakers have argued in defense of HB 7069: By casting critics as people opposed to helping tens of thousands of children in perpetually failing schools who might not have other public education options to turn to.

“As they prepare to sue ... we help prepare kids to soar,” Corcoran wrote Friday on Twitter, appearing to reference the Broward County School Board.

Watch the video and read our full story here.

Image credit: "Florida House of Representatives" YouTube page

Lawsuit alleges Florida's colleges, universities owed $1B from state

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via @harrisalexc

In the 1970s, Florida joined a wave of states that encouraged private philanthropy to public universities by matching donations. Following the housing market crash and economic downturn, the Legislature put the matching rules on hold “temporarily” in 2011.

Temporarily has turned into six years. Now, a state lawsuit has been filed against lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott to pay out the money — all $1 billion of it. That’s $600 million in backlogged matches and the rest in estimated potential donations if the automatic match is reinstated.

Grace Mead, a Miami attorney who filed the class-action lawsuit under the name of two recent University of Florida graduates, argues that the Legislature’s continued hold on donations matches violates Florida’s constitution and harms students’ education. The two students named as lead plaintiffs are Alexis Geffin, a Wisconsin sports reporter, and her brother Ryan Geffin, an incoming medical student at Florida International University.

“We’re not seeking damages,” Mead said, “we’re seeking allocation of funds.”

 

Full story here.

July 06, 2017

Lawsuit against HB 7069 looms in Broward; Corcoran calls it 'clueless, arguably heartless'

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@ByKristenMClark

The bitter fight over new K-12 public school reforms that the Republican-led Legislature approved this spring entered a new stage on Wednesday when the Broward County School Board voted unanimously to challenge the law’s constitutionality in court.

Broward is the first school district to vote to sue over the passage of House Bill 7069, which became law Saturday above passionate objections from school administrators, teachers’ unions and parent groups statewide for its many provisions friendly to charter schools, in some cases, at the expense of traditional public schools.

“I’m in favor of taking aggressive action as soon as we possibly can,” Broward School Board member Rosalind Osgood said during a special board meeting convened solely to authorize Superintendent Robert Runcie to file the legal challenge and to spend up to $25,000 on initial legal fees.

MORE: “Here’s how the controversial new schools law will impact South Florida”

“We’re on life support now, and we have to literally fight for the life of public education in this state,” Osgood said. “If we don’t stand up now, if we miss this opportunity, we’ll never recover from it.”

It’s unclear how soon the lawsuit will be filed.

Broward County’s allegations of unconstitutionality primarily surround how HB 7069 gives charter schools a leg up over traditional public schools through less-restrictive regulations and extra taxpayer funding that make it easier for them to expand.

In a statement to the Herald/Times, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, blasted the Broward School Board for its decision, saying in part: "Not only is it clueless, it is also arguably heartless."

Full story here.

Photo credit: Miami Herald file

July 05, 2017

Talk of fixing HB 7069 ‘way too premature,’ Hialeah lawmaker says

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@ByKristenMClark

Although a major school reform bill was signed into law last month amid heavy criticism and calls that it be fixed immediately, an influential lawmaker from Miami-Dade County indicates that issue won’t be a priority on the Legislature’s agenda for 2018.

“It’s way too premature,” said Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., who helms the House’s pre-K-12 education budget committee. “Making adjustments going forward — we first have to see what happens instead of jumping the gun.”

HB 7069 took effect Saturday, prompting myriad changes in statewide education policy — many favorable to charter schools seeking less restrictions to their expansion in Florida.

Among the most controversial of those changes is a new “Schools of Hope” program to help the state’s worst-performing schools by, in part, providing incentives for new charter schools to directly compete with them.

It’s that part of the bill that some senators — led by Republican David Simmons of Altamonte Springs — have argued needs to be revised. They say, as written, the new law forces failing schools to either shut down after getting two “D” or “F” grades or hand themselves over to privately managed charters, with both options leaving the schools’ teachers out of work.

Diaz — who helped craft HB 7069 and shepherd it through the Legislature — contends such critics are misreading the new law and they need to be patient while the Florida Department of Education drafts rules this summer that better clarify how the “Schools of Hope” program will be implemented.

More here.

Photo credit: AP