April 09, 2016

Florida's conservative school board members got a boost from a like-minded Legislature


Through both policy and taxpayer funding during the 2016 session, the Republican-led Legislature subtly gave a leg up to politically conservative school board members in Florida who want greater influence on statewide education policy.

The Legislature’s actions show how partisan politics continue to influence education in the Sunshine State, but party ideology is not supposed to infiltrate local school boards.

The Constitution requires school boards to be nonpartisan, so critics are especially concerned by Republican leaders’ eagerness to intervene — and to diminish the influence of those with viewpoints contrary to their own.

This session, Republican lawmakers first sought to retaliate — through a proposed law — against the Florida School Boards Association because it previously challenged a Legislature-approved, voucher-like program in court.

Republicans backed off that in the face of criticism in the final days of session, but they still passed — as part of the massive “school choice” bill — a provision that will let the 356 individual school board members in the state direct their dues to a new advocacy organization that seeks to rival the FSBA.

While offering more freedom and flexibility to school board members, the measure could potentially de-fund the well-established FSBA in favor of boosting revenue for the 15-month-old Florida Coalition of School Board Members, which champions conservative values in line with legislative leaders’ priorities

April 08, 2016

More recess time for school kids the mission for Miami-Dade moms

via @cveiga

Their professional backgrounds are in communications and lobbying, international development and the law. The word they use to describe themselves is “determined.” And their goal is to make recess in school nothing short of a daily, guaranteed right for kids.

Meet Kate Asturias, Louisa Conway, Debora Hertfelder and Victoria Kenny: a group of super-charged moms who promise to let nothing and no one stand in their way.

Not the leaders of the Miami-Dade school district, who stress they already have a recess policy. Not lawmakers who killed a bill to mandate recess last session. Not teachers and principals who say there isn’t enough time or space.

“We can do this, and we’re going to do this,” Asturias said.

The moms are demanding 20 minutes a day of supervised play – preferably outdoors and definitely unstructured by adults. They’re also asking for recess to be built into the school schedule just like music and math.

They carry the support of almost 7,000 people who have signed an online petition the women launched about a month ago.

“It’s something everybody agrees on. Let’s just do it,” Asturias said.

More here.

Trial challenging Florida's education framework wraps up in Tallahassee



A four-week trial challenging Florida’s public entire education system and its hallmark components — such as standardized testing, school grades and “school choice” options, like charter schools — concluded Friday.

Numerous witnesses, including state Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, testified in Leon County Circuit Court during the trial, which began in mid-March. Judge George Reynolds III isn’t expected to rule in the case for several weeks, as attorneys for both the state and Citizens for Strong Schools have until April 25 to file final written arguments in the case.

Citizens for Strong Schools filed the lawsuit in 2009. The group wants Reynolds to declare that the Florida Department of Education — and by extension, the Florida Legislature — has failed to fulfill its constitutionally mandated “paramount duty” to provide a “high quality” education for all public school students, particularly low-income and minority students.

“This is not an insignificant matter,” the plaintiffs’ attorney Jodi Siegel said during Friday’s closing arguments.

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April 05, 2016

Pending governor's approval, Florida high school athletics poised to change


The landscape of Florida high school athletics is poised to change starting next school year, but just how drastically remains to be seen.

The “school choice” legislation that lawmakers passed last month — and that awaits Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s signature — includes provisions long sought by the Republican-led Legislature to ensure that student-athletes have more freedom to play sports when switching schools.

Thanks to compromise during the legislative session, somewhat diminished are the fears from coaches and athletic directors, who worried the policy changes could unleash a torrent of transfers and create a system of free agency for high school athletes.

Lawmakers and some athletics officials agree the proposed law includes better safeguards to deter that from happening, although uncertainty still lingers over how the legislation will be implemented.

“We worked hard on this, as far as going back and forth on negotiations. At the end of the day, it was really about getting a fair outcome,” said Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah.

More here.

April 04, 2016

Joe Negron shifts Florida Senate's focus to higher education with listening tour

via @JeffSolochek and the Gradebook:

Incoming Florida Senate president Joe Negron has made clear his intention to focus his chamber, which has spent many years working on K-12 education issues, on colleges and universities.

He reiterated his point Monday with the announcement of his planned State University System listening tour.

Negron sent a memo to all senators inviting them to participate in the weeklong endeavor, which will take him to the main campuses of all the state's universities. He wrote:

"As Florida continues to recover from the recent recession, the Senate has supported the establishment and continued increase of performance funding to reward universities that link affordable, rigorous education programs with private sector employment. We also established stringent criteria for preeminent universities whose research expenditures and academic standards, particularly for graduate study, have earned well-respected national rankings. We set aside significant funding for emerging preeminent universities to support Florida institutions that are working to achieve preeminent status. Our state has also awarded more than 700 Benacquisto Scholarships to National Merit Scholars who have chosen to study in Florida.

"These recent budget and policy enhancements certainly reflect the Senate's strong commitment to ensuring Florida's State University System has the resources to graduate students who are equipped to compete and lead in a global economy. However, if Florida is going to be home to several national elite destination universities, we still have much work to do."

Committee work can take the process only so far, Negron suggested. So he wants to get out in the field and hear from students, faculty and staff.

The tour, scheduled for the week of April 18, will include discussions about programs, goals and student experiences. Its stops are:

University of West Florida (Pensacola)
9:00-10:30am CDT

Florida State University (Tallahassee)
3:00-4:30pm EDT

Florida A&M University (Tallahassee)
5:00-6:30pm EDT

University of North Florida (Jacksonville)

University of Florida (Gainesville)

University of Central Florida (Orlando)

Florida Polytechnic University (Lakeland)

University of South Florida (Tampa)

New College of Florida (Sarasota)

Florida Gulf Coast University (Ft. Myers)

Florida International University (Miami)

Florida Atlantic University (Boca Raton)

April 01, 2016

FL Legislature eliminates the Dade Medical College loophole


Dade Medical College was once so powerful that it could get a law changed — and it did.

Three years ago, Florida lawmakers created a loophole that allowed the politically connected for-profit college to offer unaccredited degrees in the field of physical therapy assistant. The degrees were a bad deal for students, and physical therapy practitioners were horrified.

Nowadays, Dade Medical is out of business, and the Legislature apparently has some concerns about for-profit college abuses. So lawmakers this session reversed course.

And the Dade Medical loophole is no more.

In recent weeks, lawmakers quietly reinstated the tougher accreditation standards that used to exist — tacking the provision onto a wide-ranging Department of Health bill during the final weeks of the legislative session. The measure passed both the House and Senate easily, and is now awaiting Gov. Rick Scott’s signature.

Read more here


March 30, 2016

Florida appeals court to hear arguments in Tax Credit Scholarship suit

From the News Service of Florida:

A state appeals court will hear arguments May 10 in a lawsuit led by the Florida Education Association challenging the state's Tax Credit Scholarship Program.

The 1st District Court of Appeal last week set the hearing date after Leon County Circuit Judge George Reynolds tossed out the lawsuit in May 2015 because he ruled the plaintiffs did not have legal "standing."

The voucher-like Tax Credit Scholarship program provides tax credits to companies that donate money to non-profit entities that help pay for low-income children to attend private schools.

In a brief filed in August with the appeals court, the plaintiffs argued they have standing to challenge the constitutionality of the program.

"Appellants (the plaintiffs) pled specific injuries resulting from the scholarship program, asserting that the diversion of tax revenues to send students to private schools in Florida intentionally and necessarily results in significant reduced funding to Florida's public schools to the detriment of the students, teachers, and others associated with the schools represented in this lawsuit,'' the brief said.

But attorneys for the state, in a December brief, disputed that the plaintiffs have standing.

"(The) trial court correctly ruled appellants have not identified any special injury stemming from the scholarship program," the state brief said. "Appellants' theory of harm hinges on the conclusory allegations that they 'have been and will continue to be injured by the scholarship program's diversion of resources from the public schools.' But these allegations, and the theories of harm underlying them, are necessarily speculative and wholly insufficient to confer standing."

Richard Corcoran says bill benefiting wife's charter school is part of broader reform

From @JeffSolochek at the Tampa Bay Times:

SHADY HILLS — Classical Preparatory School, a charter school founded by the wife of incoming Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, has its sights set on expansion.

Opened in 2014, its waiting list is twice the size of its 406-student enrollment. And its contract lets it grow to nearly 1,000 students through 12th grade.

To explore its options, lawyers for the kindergarten through ninth-grade school last week asked to meet with Pasco County development planners about a possible 37,000-square-foot addition. The request came two weeks after lawmakers approved a bill that would make it easier for Classical Prep to access state funding for construction projects.

The perception, noted by some in Tallahassee, was of a powerful lawmaker benefiting from legislation he helped advance. But Corcoran said Tuesday that the two actions were not related, and he bristled at suggestions otherwise. The language allowing charters access to state money after two, rather than three, years of operation had a much bigger target, he explained.

More here.

March 29, 2016

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart has finished cancer treatment



Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says she has completed chemotherapy treatment in her fight against breast cancer.

Stewart announced her diagnosis in December and has since spoken very little about it publicly.

But the topic came up during the Board of Education's brief conference call this morning, when Chairwoman Marva Johnson congratulated Stewart for "ringing the bell" -- a tradition that signals the end of a cancer patient's chemo treatment.

Stewart said she rang the bell so hard it broke.

Stewart has been the state's education commissioner since 2013, the fifth person to hold the position under Republican Gov. Rick Scott. She's a former state chancellor of K-12 schools and a former teacher and administrator in in St. Johns and Marion counties.

Photo credit: Pam Stewart in 2013. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

March 25, 2016

Competency-based education pilot program, other education measures signed into law


A handful of education policies were among the nearly six dozen bills Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed into law today -- including one that will test competency-based education in four Florida counties and another desired by the Miami-Dade school district to ensure tax revenue gets to public schools faster.

HB 1365 sets up a five-year pilot program in certain Florida counties with the goal of letting students advance through school if they can prove they've mastered what they should be learning.

Now that it's law, it can start next school year in Pinellas, Palm Beach, Lake and Seminole counties, as well as at the P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School in Gainesville.

Scott also signed HB 499, which reforms statewide the process for resolving property tax disputes heard by county Value Adjustment Boards.

The measure was a priority for Miami Dade Public Schools, which has, for years, complained that lengthy delays in tax collection have short-changed public schools by millions of dollars in funding. The new law is intended to give any and all local government entities faster access to their tax revenue by placing limits on the appeals process.

Here's a list of the education-related bills Scott signed today:

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