April 07, 2015

Students advocate for charter schools

CharterschoolsIf the Florida Capitol seems busier than usual today, there's a reason: About 300 charter school students are making the rounds.

Eighteen groups of students have meetings with lawmakers Tuesday.

Their goal: to build support for charter schools. 

"We're here because we love our charter schools and we're trying to get some changes," said Hampton Toole, 15, a sophomore at North Bay Haven Charter Academy in Panama City.

Specifically, charter school advocates are hoping lawmakers will designate a steady stream of revenue for construction and maintenance. The House included a funding mechanism in its charter school bill (HB 7037), but the Senate has yet to take up the issue. 

Hampton said students are also encouraging lawmakers to scale back standardized testing.

They had a successful meeting with Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach.

"He told us that believes in the vision of charter schools, and that he's advocating for some of the changes that are important to us," Hampton said.

April 06, 2015

WaPo: Black enrollment drops at UF, FSU after Jeb Bush affirmative-action order

From the Washington Post:

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — As he courts Republicans across the country, Jeb Bush boasts that an executive order he signed that ended race-based college admissions in Florida upheld conservative principles while helping minorities.

“We ended up having a system where there were more African American and Hispanic kids attending our university system than prior to the system that was discriminatory,” the former governor and likely presidential contender said recently at a conference of conservative activists.

But at Florida’s two premier universities, black enrollment is shrinking. At the University of Florida in Gainesville and at Florida State University in Tallahassee, administrators say they worry that the trend risks diminishing their standing as world-class universities and hurts the college experience.

The black share of the UF freshman class, for instance, plunged to 6 percent in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available. That is down from 9 percent in 2011.

More here.

PolitiFact Florida: Have schoolchildren died in fires?

via @AmySherman1

State Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, a sponsor of a bill to allow K-12 employees to carry concealed firearms, said the measure makes a lot of sense considering school shootings of recent years. Here's what he said during a Florida House judiciary committee hearing April 2:

"Right now our schools are required to do two or three fire drills a year. You know how many children in the history of the United States have died in a fire? Zero. You know how many have died because of a school shooting? Quite a few, but the state doesn't require them to do any type of training."

Actually, Steube is wrong that no children have died in fires in the United States; some have. He said he meant to add the important qualifier "in Florida." Read our full report.

April 02, 2015

Senators pass testing bill -- and tell us how they really feel about the system

The Florida Senate passed a proposal to scale back testing in public schools Thursday, but not before some of its most powerful members blasted the education accountability system created by former Gov. Jeb Bush.

"There's too much damn testing going on in this state," said Senate Budget Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon.

Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, described the system as both a "monster" and a "train wreck."

Other lawmakers defended the system and, in subtle ways, Bush himself.

Sen. Kelli Stargel, the Lakeland Republican who chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee, agreed that testing had "gotten out of control," but stressed the importance of having some assessments.

"It's said you can't manage what you don't measure," Stargel said, repeating a Jeb Bush talking point. "You have to measure. You have to know."

Senate Rules Chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, urged his colleges not to forget the success Florida had already attained.

"Success is never final," he said, sounding a lot like Bush.

Even the bill's sponsor, Sen. John Legg, in a moment of impassioned debate, said students "deserve the right to rise," which happens to be the name of Bush's new PAC.

The bill, which aims to eliminate some testing requirements, underwent serious changes Thursday. 

Among the provisions added in the Senate: language suspending school grades until the new Florida Standards Assessments are deemed valid. 

Lee suggested an amendment to prevent students who take Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams from having to take similar state assessments. But he withdrew the suggestion after learning it would cause the bill to stall in the House, he said.

Lee had some words for Bush's Foundation for Florida's Future, which he said opposed the amendment: "I'm over you."

"The reason you've lost my confidence is because I've got emails from you last night that said that you're so married to this system that you don't have a shred of common sense left," he said.

The overall bill passed out of the Senate by 32-4 vote.

The dissenters -- Sens. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami; Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth; Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Miami; and Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando -- said the bill didn't go far enough to ease the burden on schoolchildren.

After the vote, the Foundation for Florida's Future released a statement praising Florida's past success and the bill's passage.

"This bill makes good adjustments while keeping Florida on its student-centered path," Executive Director Patricia Levesque said. "We’re pleased the Senate has prioritized our state’s children in the process of achieving fewer, better tests."

Charter school bill in advances in Senate with some changes

Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, wasn't able to stop the Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee from moving forward with a proposed Institute for Charter School Innovation.

He couldn't convince them to create an Institute for Public School Innovation, either.

But he was able to remove a provision from the Senate's charter school bill (SB 1552) that would have allowed certain out-of-state operators to be deemed high-performing charter school systems -- and pay smaller administrative fees to their schools districts.

"It seems irresponsible to give out-of-state charter school provides a free pass based on their track records in other states," he said.

His amendment passed 4-2, with the support of Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg and Senate Rules Committee Chairman David Simmons.

Legg, who helped draft the language about high-performing charter school systems, said the designation was meant to be a "reward for existing charter schools."

"It was not designed to entice charter to come to the state," he said.

The broader bill moved out of the committee by a 5-2 vote.

In addition to creating the charter school institute, SB 1552 allows parents to send their children to any school in the state that has space. Parents would have to pay for transportation.

"This is definitely a parent-driven bill," said Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland.

The two Democrats on the panel voted against the proposal. Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, said senators should consider trying to fund the transportation so families would have more options regardless of their income level.

Do school uniforms improve safety? PolitiFact Florida checks the research

More Florida school districts may soon have millions of reasons to start requiring students to wear uniforms, thanks to a bill that just passed the House.

Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, sponsored a bill that would give districts $10 per child to adopt standard attire policies in kindergarten through eighth grade. The state would set aside $10 million in all from the general revenue fund. Similar provisions have been amended to a school bill in the Senate, although without the cash incentive.

Adkins said that school uniforms help create a positive learning environment, because it removes distractions. She cited testimony from officials from five Florida school districts that raved about their uniform policies.

"They were all saying the same thing, and that is when they implemented a school uniform policy in their schools, the climate, the culture at their schools improved,"Adkins said. "It's an issue of school safety, helps with school truancy."

The House passed the bill 102-8 on March 27, but we were curious whether requiring students to dress the same really did improve school safety and truancy records. Turns out the research is anything but uniform. See what Joshua Gillin of PolitiFact Florida found.

Senate moves to temporarily suspend school grades

The Florida Senate took a critical step Wednesday toward temporarily suspending school grades in response to the outcry statewide among parents, teachers and superintendents who want a smoother transition as the state shifts to new standards and tests.

The Senate added a provision to its sweeping testing bill (SB 616) that would require an independent review of the new Florida Standards Assessments. The proposal says the results of this year’s tests cannot be used for school grades or teacher evaluations until the review is complete.

"We will rely upon this year’s assessments if and only if they have been deemed valid and reliable," former Senate President Don Gaetz said.

That wasn't the only change the Senate made to the testing bill. Senators also added a provision allowing school districts to start classes as early as Aug. 10.

More here.

March 31, 2015

South Florida students celebrate STEM day at the Florida Capitol

Students from five South Florida high schools dazzled lawmakers with their robotics skills Tuesday.

It was part of a celebration of STEM education. (That's science, technology, engineering and math, if you've been living under a rock.)

Joining the students: Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart and Department of Economic Opportunity Director Jesse Panuccio.

"Florida is laser-focused on being a global leader for jobs and a critical component of that must be the development of a talented workforce," Lopez-Cantera said. "We are proud of the work our students are doing to learn about what it takes to compete in today's global economy."

The students came from TERRA Environmental Research Institute in Miami-Dade, Western High School in Davie, NOVA High School in Davie, West Broward High School in Pembroke Pines, and North Broward Preparatory School in Coconut Creek. They belong to teams participating in the FIRST Robotics national competition.

Patrick Hermes, who directs the Northwest Florida Regional Tournament for FIRST, said the teens were gaining skills that would help them in the workforce.

"Today they are competing in robotics competitions," he said. "But tomorrow they will be using this technology for the greater good, helping to improve healthcare, transportation, and even our nation's space program."

Tuesday's celebration was sponsored by Florida FIRST Robotics and the Motorola Solutions Foundation, which has invested nearly $2 million in STEM-related education in Florida since 2007.

School guns bill suffers setback in Florida Senate

A contentious proposal that would let designated teachers bring their guns to school suffered a serious setback Tuesday when a Senate panel declined to vote on it.

Because the Senate Education Committee won't meet again, the bill (SB 180) won't have another opportunity for a committee hearing. It could still be incorporated into another proposal, but Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg said he would raise strong objections.

"It would be a large lift knowing that the Education Committee [deferred] it," the Trinity Republican said.

Legg said he has "significant concerns" with the bill, which would allow school employees with law enforcement or military experience to carry concealed weapons on school property.

"Deputizing private citizens to protect a school is not an avenue I want to go down," he said.

Both the Senate and House are considering a separate proposal that would allow permitted individuals to carry concealed weapons on college campuses (SB 176/ HB 4005).

The so-called campus carry bill has found support in both chambers. Legg says he supports the proposal because it is about "individual protection."

But college presidents and police chiefs say the campus carry bill is just as dangerous as its K-12 counterpart. And on Tuesday, the non-profit Everytown for Gun Safety and the Florida Chapter of Moms Demand Action released a poll showing 61 percent of Floridians oppose allowing concealed weapons on college campuses.

"We already know campus police, college presidents, faculty, and students stand against this legislation," said Chryl Anderson, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action. "This is more evidence that the legislators who support these dangerous bills are out of touch with what Floridians really want."

March 27, 2015

Florida House approves construction money for charter schools

Without a word of debate Friday, the Florida House approved a controversial proposal that could require school districts to share tens of millions of dollars in construction funds with rival charter schools.

The bill was one of four high-profile education proposals that won the support of the Republican-dominated House. The others would:

* Ease the penalties for schools that fail to comply with the Constitutionally-mandated limits on class size;

* Create a pilot program to give principals more control over hiring and budget decisions; and

* Encourage school districts to adopt mandatory school uniform policies for children in grades K-8 by offering incentive money.

All of the Democrats in attendance voted against the charter school bill (HB 7037). But none debated the measure on the floor.

More here.