January 28, 2015

Rick Scott hears superintendents' testing concerns

Gov. Rick Scott did more than just unveil his budget recommendations on Wednesday.

He met with nine superintendents and Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.

The meeting gave the superintendents a chance to express their concerns about the state's new tests.

The issues aren't new: The superintendents want to see a temporary freeze on school grades, elimination of end-of-course exams for each subject and grade, and a change in how the state ties teacher evaluations to test scores. Superintendents also expressed ongoing concerns about having the technology and training for computer-based testing.

Pinellas County schools Superintendent Mike Grego, who attended the meeting, said the group is concerned that a rushed implementation of the new tests could cause the state's accountability system to "implode."

Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat and CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, said he plans to draft a bill that would address some of the superintendents' concerns.

Montford expects the Senate to work "feverishly" to address the issues.

"If we're going to make any changes, they have to happen quickly," he said.

Montford said he believes the superintendents' concerns could get more traction than in previous years because parents and community members also have raised concerns as the state moves away from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests.

Also in attendance Wednesday, according to the governor's office: Escambia Superintendent Malcolm Thomas, outgoing Hillsborough Superintendent MaryEllen Elia, Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, Nassau Superintendent John Ruis, Pasco Superintendent Kurt Browning, St. Johns Superintendent Joe Joyner, Santa Rosa Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick and Orange Superintendent Barbara Jenkins.

-- Cara Fitzpatrick and Kathleen McGrory

January 23, 2015

Olenick to join state Board of Education

Michael-OlenickGov. Rick Scott has appointed Michael Olenick to the state Board of Education.

Olenick, 62, is a former general counsel for the state Department of Education. He currently chairs the Florida Virtual School Board of Trustees.

"I know Michael shares our goal of making sure all of our students succeed in the classroom, and I am pleased to appoint him to the State Board of Education today," Scott said in a statement.

Olenick is vice president of corporate affairs and chief compliance officer of The Morganti Group, an international construction company. A graduate of Nova Southeastern School of Law, he previously served as assistant state attorney for Broward and St. Lucie counties, as well as Martin County attorney.

He will replace Ada Armas, a Miami-Dade physician who resigned from the education board to spend more time with her family. 

His term ends December 31, 2016.

The appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Scott plan doesn't address disparities in Bright Futures scholarship program

ScottGov. Rick Scott on Thursday proposed spending $23.5 million to expand Bright Futures scholarships, but did not address recent criticism of the program — namely, that new eligibility standards put in place to control costs have kept thousands of low-income and minority students from receiving the awards.

Scott’s plan would direct new money to help students with Bright Futures scholarships pay for summer courses.

"By expanding Bright Futures scholarships to include summer courses, we are offering more flexibility for students to achieve their goals," said Scott, who held a press conference at the University of North Florida to announce his plans.

Board of Governors Chairman Morteza Hosseini said the proposal would help students finish their degrees faster, "reducing their debt and quickening their entry into the state workforce."

But Rep. José Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami, called it "odd."

"I haven't heard any constituents complaining about not having access to summer school," Rodríguez said. "What I have been hearing is that students at Florida International University, Florida Atlantic University who would have been eligible for Bright Futures scholarships [under the old standards] are no longer eligible."

Read more here.

January 21, 2015

Florida House panel approves guns on college campuses

The Florida House is moving quickly on a proposal to allow guns on college campuses.

The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee approved the measure (HB 4005) in a party-line vote Tuesday, making it the first bill to advance in the Florida House this year.

Still, it faces a significant hurdle in the Senate. Former Republican Sen. John Thrasher, who left the upper chamber in November to become the president of Florida State University, adamantly opposes the idea.

Thrasher's hesitancy "carries a lot of weight with a lot of senators," Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Don Gaetz said Wednesday.

Read more here


Scott reveals more details of proposed education budget

Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday released new details on his proposed education budget.

Among his latest recommendations:

  • $1 million for paid summer residencies for teachers in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math)
  • $5 million to encourage $10,000 STEM degrees at state colleges
  • $30 million for workforce training programs in STEM-related fields

"We want Florida to be the global leader for jobs, and we must have a skilled workforce to reach that goal," Scott said. "By investing in science, technology, engineering and math education, we are ensuring our students are prepared for the jobs of the 21st century."

Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg, R-Trinity, said he was encouraged to see the governor's focus on education.

"It is a positive direction, as long as it is linked to measurable goals," he said.

But Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, said Scott was missing the larger picture. "If we are going to be smart about it, we have to spend time picking apart the current budget and putting the money in the proper places," he said.

Scott has already unveiled a plan to increase K-12 spending to $19.75 billion.

He wants to spend $7,176 per student -- the highest amount ever, not accounting for inflation.

January 19, 2015

Hosting Miss Universe resulted in higher costs than expected for Florida International University


Florida International University will take center stage next Sunday when the school hosts the Miss Universe pageant, an event beamed to a worldwide television audience.

School administrators are banking on the exposure to raise the profile of Miami’s sometimes-overlooked state university. But FIU records and emails show the chance to bathe in the glow of billionaire Donald Trump’s Jan. 25 gala has come with some unexpected costs:

▪ FIU, which announced the deal before signing a formal contract, will shell out an estimated $544,073 to host the pageant — a price tag inflated by about $400,000 in arena roof work to accommodate cameras and lights.

▪ Some students and faculty, it turns out, don’t like the image sent by the pageant, leaving FIU leaders to contend with both rising costs and internal dissent. One frustrated professor wrote to the university president, warning about the dangers of “female objectification.”

▪ And one proposal could dump fuel on that fire. To offset the unexpected expense of hosting 88 international beauty queens, athletics administrators quietly proposed dipping into funds intended for another group of women — FIU’s female student athletes.

A Nov. 4 memo breaking down pageant costs notes that a women’s softball and golf locker room building would be “likely scrapped” because of Miss Universe — a potentially touchy move FIU initially blacked out in a series of public records requests from the Miami Herald over the past two months. Less than a year ago, then-softball coach Jake Schumann had touted the planned facility as “a jewel in recruiting to allure top talent to South Florida.”

More here.

January 15, 2015

Scott to recommend $100 million for charter-school construction

Gov. Rick Scott wants to give charter schools $100 million for construction and maintenance.

He will make the announcement Thursday while visiting Sports Leadership and Management Academy charter school in Miami. The school is run by the for-profit management company Academica, and counts the rapper Pitbull among its founders.

The current state budget includes $75 million for charter-school construction.

Charter schools receive public funding, but are run by private governing boards.

Earlier in the week, Scott said he would like to see lawmakers increase the statewide K-12 education budget from $18.9 billion to $19.75 billion. His recommendation includes $7,716 per student, a record high not accounting for inflation.

He is expected to release the rest of his budget proposal later this month.

January 14, 2015

With Carlos Curbelo in Congress, Rick Scott gets to pick his Miami-Dade school board replacement


Miami Republican Carlos Curbelo was sworn into Congress last week -- which means Florida Gov. Rick Scott now has to choose someone to finish Curbelo's term on the Miami-Dade County school board.

There is no shortage of interest. Nine people so far have said they would like to be appointed, Scott's office said Wednesday in response to an inquiry from the Miami Herald.

One name in particular has resonated in local Republican circles: Lubby Navarro, who works in the school district's office of intergovernmental affairs.

Navarro's name has been whispered as a Curbelo replacement since he was elected Nov. 4. When asked about the possibility on Nov. 5, she was vague about her intentions. By Nov. 12 she had sent the governor a cover letter and résumé.

In addition to her existing ties to the school district, Navarro is a former state Capitol and County Hall aide, an elected Redland zoning council member and a longtime volunteer for the Miami-Dade Republican Party. Though school board seats are nonpartisan, Scott has usually filled seats with fellow members of the GOP.

The heir-apparent treatment of Navarro behind closed doors has bothered some Republicans, who privately gripe that they feel other qualified candidates may not get a fair shot as a result.

Rounding out the list of applicants are:

  • Carolina Blanco, a teacher and elected West Kendall zoning councilwoman (and the daughter of former GOP congressional candidate Lorenzo Palomares-Starbuck);
  • Renier Diaz de la Portilla, an attorney and former school board member for a different district who most recently lost a judicial race last year (and whose brother is Republican state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla);
  • Daniel Diaz Leyva, an attorney who lost a state House race last year;
  • Duysevi Miyar, a teacher who lost a school board race last year to Chairwoman Perla Tabares Hantman;
  • Eugenio Perez, a teacher who lost a 2012 House race to Rep. Michael Bileca;
  • Libby Perez, a small-business owner who lost a 2012 House race to Rep. Jeanette Nuñez and a 2010 school board race to Curbelo;
  • Anay Abraham de Naranjo, an educational consultant, and
  • Ira Jay Paul, a retired teacher who applied for a school board vacancy in 2001.

--with Marc Caputo

Will class size be back on the table in 2015?

State lawmakers have made Florida's testing troubles an early priority.

But some members of the Board of Education have at least one other legislative goal for 2015. 

During a meeting Wednesday in Sebring, state Board of Education member Rebecca Fishman Lipsey said she hopes lawmakers will revisit the issue of class size.

School systems across Florida have long had trouble meeting the limits on class size mandated by a 2002 Constitutional amendment. 

They face penalties for each classroom that is not in compliance. 

Meeting those caps can be tricky. My personal favorite anecdote involves Jack Gordon Elementary in Miami-Dade County. The school had the maximum number of students in each of its fourth-grade classes -- until triplets showed up. Suddenly, three classrooms were overcrowded.

Fishman Lipsey said the lack of flexibility was hurting some schools.

"Potentially, there is a way to restructure that amendment that leads to the outcomes that we seek," she said.

State Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand echoed the sentiment.

"It's a bad law," Chartrand said. "The intentions are right, but the end results... Your electives get filled up with more kids than they should."

Chartrand wants schools to be able to submit their average class size instead of the figures for each individual classroom. (Charter schools already have that flexibility because they receive fewer capital dollars than traditional public schools.)

Voters had the option to approve that change in 2010, but a proposed Constitutional amendment failed to get the necessary 60 percent approval.

Chartrand said it would be easier to ask the legislature.

"It would be helpful if we could do it at the legislative level instead of putting it on the ballot, because that's a major campaign and that's a difficult thing to do," he said.

Senators have more questions for Education Commissioner Stewart

State senators had a laundry list of questions for Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart last week.

They aren't done yet.

On Tuesday, Sens. Don Gaetz, Bill Montford and John Legg sent Stewart six pages of follow-up questions.  

"We appreciate your willingness to discuss these issues fully and candidly and to engage senators on a very specific level," the Senate leaders wrote. "While our questions may be probing and detailed, our committees' inquiries are inspired by an abiding commitment to accountability and a concern that thoughtful, effective, timely and valid implementation is the best way to ensure that Florida districts, schools, students, and educators are motivated and measured by the highest standards of performance."

Among their questions: How much total time will students spend during the 2014-15 school year on state-required assessments? How much total funding will be expended (state and local dollars) on state-required assessments?

They also asked Stewart to what extent she believes "that each school district is ready, with appropriate technology already in place, to successfully administer all statewide, standardized and state-required assessments this spring."

The lawmakers want a reply by Feb. 6.

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