April 08, 2016

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.

Continue reading "Trial challenging Florida's education framework wraps up in Tallahassee" »

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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March 18, 2016

What all was in the Florida Legislature's final "school choice" bill?



In one of their final votes of the 2016 session, Florida lawmakers passed sweeping "school choice" legislation with numerous changes to the state's education policies, affecting schools from pre-K through college and university.

The final, approved version of HB 7029 -- released Thursday, reflecting changes lawmakers made prior to the final vote late last week -- came in at 160 pages. 

We read through it to break down exactly what is in this proposed law, which is still pending Republican Gov. Rick Scott's approval.

There are literally dozens of new policies that would be enacted, so if you want to know every little detail, we suggest reading it for yourself, but here are the major highlights:

Continue reading "What all was in the Florida Legislature's final "school choice" bill?" »

Next Florida House speaker seeks ideas to improve Best and Brightest teacher bonuses


Via @JeffSolochek and The Gradebook:

Incoming Florida House speaker Richard Corcoran has made no secret of his desire to grow the state's Best and Brightest teacher bonus program, which he helped shepherd into the state budget for a second straight year.

Corcoran says getting education "right" for Florida's children is the key to improving their futures, and putting the best teachers in their classrooms is critical to that end.

As part of his effort, Corcoran has sent (through his Florida Roundtable political action committee) a survey to the 5,200 inaugural recipients of the bonus, asking them their thoughts about the program. The document asks seven questions, five of which include choices and two that are open-ended. Among them:

- Do you believe that past test scores, such as the SAT or ACT, are an accurate indicator of the ability of teachers to verbalize lesson plans in a way that gets great results for their students? (Yes / No / Unsure)

- Do you think Florida should pay good teachers more money than mediocre teachers or just pay everyone the same based on seniority? (Pay good teachers more / Pay everyone the same based on seniority)

- If you could change one thing about the Best & Brightest Scholarship program, it would be: (Space to answer)

"I'm reaching out to the people who are affected and asking what they think would work best," Corcoran told the Gradebook.

He said he thought a mailer would be the least intrusive way to start this conversation. People can throw it out if they wish, respond anonymously by tearing off any identifying information and mailing it back, or sending back answers with contact details for added conversation.

"A lot of them will own it, even put their cell phone number and say 'call me,'" Corcoran said. "Hopefully that will happen."

The Florida Education Association has attempted to kill the Best and Brightest program, going so far as to file a federal discrimination complaint against the program. Its leaders have said lawmakers should talk to teachers when trying to craft viable incentives for recruiting and retaining top educators.

They have rejected the conceptual basis of Best and Brightest, that a college entry exam offers any indication of a person's future success in teaching. Corcoran vigorously disagrees with the union, on this and several other issues, and said he wants to talk to the teachers directly as he moves the policy forward.