November 22, 2016

Eduardo Padron gets high honor from Obama

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@jamesmartinrose

President Barack Obama on Tuesday awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padron and other luminaries from education, sports, entertainment, architecture and culture.

Obama hung the medals around each recipients neck in the ornate East Room of the White House with long gold-embroidered curtains, a giant chandelier and oil portraits of former first ladies.

Recounting Padron's childhood journey from Cuba, Obama said his career as an educator has helped countless young people follow in his footsteps of arriving an immigrant and realizing the American Dream.

"Eduardo made his choice to create more stories just like his," Obama said. "Dr. Padron has built a dream factory for one of nation's most diverse student bodies."

Among other recipients were singer Diana Ross, basketball legends Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, actors Robert Redford, Tom Hanks and Robert De Niro, and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

Jordan received the loudest applause, while Los Angeles Dodgers radio announcer Vin Scully got the most sustained ovation.

Joining Obama and the recipients for the ceremony were Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, United States Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice and other dignitaries.

Photo credit: Pedro Portal, El Nuevo Herald

 

 

October 31, 2016

After election, whither Academica's Tallahassee political power?

State-legislators

via @KyraGurney

One of Florida’s largest for-profit charter school management companies, Academica, has long enjoyed considerable influence in the state Legislature. Until last year, two Academica employees served as state lawmakers — and the brother-in-law of the company’s founder also held the education purse strings in the House.

The November election puts the company’s clout at risk and, at least potentially, could have broader implications for a booming charter school industry that has claimed a significant share of state taxpayer dollars.

Academica runs more than 100 schools in Florida and makes $158 million a year in total revenue from its South Florida schools alone, including $9 million annually in management fees, according to 2011 estimates.

It’s a big industry, one that critics say has profited from well-placed political supporters in Tallahassee. For Academica, the biggest loss is Rep. Erik Fresen, a Miami Republican who is outgoing chair of the House education budget subcommittee — term-limited after eight years. He is the brother-in-law of Academica founder and executive Fernando Zulueta, and has worked as a consultant for Civica, an architecture firm that specializes in building charter schools.

Two other Miami lawmakers with close ties to the company are also facing challengers who could have a shot.

More here.

October 29, 2016

Doral College, Flores accuse her challenger of 'untrue, malicious statements'

AP_flores

@ByKristenMClark

Miami Republican incumbent state Sen. Anitere Flores and her previous employer, Doral College, allege that Flores' opponent has made "untrue and malicious" statements that are "damaging" the college's reputation.

Doral College sent a letter to the Florida Democratic Party recently demanding that the party stop publishing and correct TV ads and direct-mail pieces that the college says contain "false" statements.

The state party is supporting Democrat and political newcomer Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, of Pinecrest, who's aiming to unseat Flores for Miami-Dade's District 39 Senate seat. The newly redrawn district is heavily Hispanic and leans Democratic.

Doral College in its letter -- which Flores' campaign provided to the Herald/Times -- accused the Democratic Party of repeating two falsehoods: "that Doral College is a for-profit college and the degrees obtained by its students are worthless."

"These claims are objectively false and warrant immediate correction," wrote Ryan Kairalla, the college's general counsel. Here's an example of a direct-mail piece containing the claims Flores and Doral College took issue with.

Kairalla is correct that the Democratic Party erred in referring to Doral College as a "for-profit" college. It is a not-for-profit institution -- although the company that it's associated with is for-profit -- but whether the college's degrees are "worthless" is a matter of continued dispute in the political battle between supporters of charter school programs and those who favor more traditional educational options.

Mucarsel-Powell said Flores' and Doral College's complaints were "yet another desperate attempt by Anitere Flores to distract from her shameful 12-year record in Tallahassee."

Continue reading "Doral College, Flores accuse her challenger of 'untrue, malicious statements'" »

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

Testing (1)

@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.