Florida schools roundup: Bright Futures, education trial, charter schools and more

florida-roundup-logoBright Futures: Incoming Senate President Joe Negron, R-Palm Coast, says he intends to bolster the Bright Futures program to cover full tuition and fees. When the program started in 1996 it covered full tuition for 179,000 students. By 2015, it covered about half the tuition for 100,170 students. GateHouse Florida.

Education on trial: Closing arguments are made in the civil trial accusing Florida of not fulfilling its constitutional mandate to provide a quality education for all public school students. Attorneys for Citizens for Strong Schools argue that the state’s racial achievement gap, emphasis on testing and lack of adequate funding keep it from fulfilling a 1998 constitutional amendment. Attorneys for the Department of Education and the Legislature say the state is a national leader in education and still improving. Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds III is expected to rule within the next several weeks. Orlando Sentinel. Miami HeraldAssociated Press. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida.

Charter schools: A state auditor general report shows that the Broward County School District failed to make closing checklists of items such as books, computers and furniture for 5 of 22 charter schools that shut down from 2012-2015. And for 11 of 17 schools with checklists, items on the checklist either weren’t returned or weren’t documented. Sun-Sentinel. The Bay Haven Charter Academy Board of Directors approves spending up to $300,000 toward a new North Bay Haven Elementary School in Panama City. Panama City News Herald.

School board group: A relatively new school board association is receiving $200,000 in state money to help set up training for members. The Florida Coalition of School Board Members, which champions conservative values, was founded in 2015 as an alternative to the 80-year-old Florida School Boards Association. The FSBA has opposed the Legislature’s support for voucher-like programs. Miami Herald.

Pre-K ratings: For a second straight year, no grades will be issued for the 6,200 preschools in Florida’s voluntary prekindergarten program. Failures in the ratings process the past two years have prompted the state to skip the ratings for the next two years while officials try to find a better way to rate the schools. Palm Beach Post.

Grading by standards: Pasco County is joining the move to explore a switch from the A-F grades system to one based on whether students meet  state standards. Under that system, students are judged more on their academic abilities and less about meeting expectations like turning in homework on time. Standards-based grading “brings honesty to the grading,” says University of Kentucky education professor Thomas Guskey, who has developed models for schools around the country. “You need to be able to distinguish between the highly responsible low achiever and the irresponsible high achiever.” Tampa Bay Times.

Books make comeback: Just a year after Duval County elementary schools went to online materials for math and reading, school officials are bringing back books. Parents had complained about the switch to online, saying holding books better engage children and the black and white worksheets and printouts need to be in color. Duval will budget $2.5 million for books for the 2016-2017 school year. Florida Times-Union.

Recess moms: Three women leading the charge for 20 minutes of recess a day in Miami-Dade elementary schools met through the PTA at Key Biscayne K-8. They’ve already collected more than 7,000 petitions in an online drive. Miami Herald.

Immigrant stories: Five children of Hillsborough County immigrants track their path to educational success to the Redlands Christian Migrant Association, which operates two charter schools in Wimauma. RCMA caters to rural families who often travel for work and speak little English at home, and prepares their children to participate fully in the U.S. economy. All five plan to graduate from Lennard High School with two years of college credit. Tampa Bay Times.

School construction: Broward County school officials are considering hiring a contractor and using a method criticized for wasting millions of dollars by a grand jury in 2011. The method is known as a “construction manager at risk.” The district would hire a construction manager who hires all the contractors and provides a “guaranteed maximum price” for a project, instead of the district seeking the lowest bids for a project. Sun-Sentinel.

Pledge of Allegiance: While Florida allows students to not participate in the Pledge of Allegiance, it still requires a note from students’ parents. And it requires students to stand. In Pasco County, students are free to do what they want. But no one can remember the last time a student didn’t stand for the Pledge. Tampa Tribune.

Reading challenge: The city of Lake Worth is challenging parents to read 1,000 books to their newborns, infants and toddlers before kindergarten. Palm Beach Post.

Innovative classrooms: Twelve Manatee County middle school classrooms are being renovated as part of the Innovative Spaces grant. The new classrooms are defined by the teachers and funded by a state grant, and could include a different desk structure, updated technology and special props. Bradenton Herald.

Racy book reading: Ann Scott, wife of the governor, apologizes for reading two fifth-grade classes a book that includes cursing and references to prostitution, porn movies and drug addicts. While a censored version of Patrick D Smith’s historical novel, A Land Remembered, is available to fifth-graders at Bailey Elementary in Hillsborough County, Scott read from the uncensored version. Miami New Times. Gradebook.

Condom distribution: Only about 200 parents of more than 7,000 Alachua County School District students object to the district making condoms available on request through public high school clinics. Gainesville Sun.

Contract talks: A special magistrate is expected to make a recommendation later this month on how to resolve the contract impasse between the St. Johns County School District and teachers union. They’re stalled over pay raises. St. Augustine Record.

Teacher ratings: The percentage of teachers rated highly effective in Lake County is falling, according to a new report from the Florida Department of Education. The county now ranks 57th of 67 Florida counties in the percentage of teachers judged to be highly effective. Daily Commercial.

Achieving together: Four business executives start the Achieve Escambia initiative to improve the county educationally and economically. The group has hired a consulting firm, StriveTogether, which has shown impressive results in a similar program in Cincinnati. Pensacola News Journal.

Notable deaths: F.J. Pollak, founder of the TracFone wireless communications company in Miami and a backer of the Cushman School, has died at age 53. He had pancreatic cancer. Miami Herald.

Public records settlement: The Manatee County School Board is expected to approve a $12,500 payment to settle a public records lawsuit. Sarasota Security Patrol head Chad Ritchie sued the district in 2014 over an outstanding public records request for board member Dave Miner’s work and personal emails. Miner was critical of hiring Ritchie’s company to provide security in Manatee County schools. Bradenton Herald.

School calendar: The Collier County School District releases a draft calendar for the 2017-2018 school year and is asking for feedback from the community. An Aug. 16 start date is proposed. Naples Daily News.

District sued: Parents of a girl who says she was sexually assaulted by two boys at a St. Petersburg middle school in 2012 have filed a lawsuit against the Pinellas County School District. The suit alleges the district was negligent in supervising the children, and also failed to properly train school employees to supervise them. Tampa Bay Times.

License revoked: A former Lake County teacher who was found guilty of a sex crime in Kentucky has lost his license to teach in Florida. Samuel Hann, 26, was a seventh-grade math teacher at Gray Middle School in Groveland but was fired after the 2013 allegations. Orlando Sentinel.

Student arrested: A 17-year-old Eustis High School student is arrested and accused of stabbing a fellow student Thursday during a study group in the school gymnasium. Daily Commercial.

Opinions on schools: Legislators talk about how parents should be in control of their children’s educations. Yet when it comes to standardized tests, parents get no choice at all. John Romano, Tampa Bay Times. An increase in the sales tax is the best way to deal with growth in the Lee County School District. Mary Fischer, Fort Myers News-Press. The proposed reorganization of the Hillsborough County School District won’t be easy, but it is necessary. Ernest Hooper, Tampa Bay Times. After crushing Evans High 15-0 in a softball game, Hagerty High players did something unusual: They approached Evans’ coach and said they wanted to help his team. David Whitley, Orlando Sentinel. Parents are suing the state over the quality of education their children are getting. Increasingly, it seems suing the state is the only way to get results. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. The consequences of having 1,000 children not ready for kindergarten each year in Escambia County are high crime, low wages, less talent for employers, lower home values and a flat population. Quint Studer, Pensacola News Journal. Parents and students who can’t make the minimal commitments outlined by Jesse Jackson’s PUSH-EXCEL program more than 40 years ago shouldn’t complain too much about the school system. Joe Brown, Tampa Tribune. Many of the most successful countries in the world in math and sciences have learned that for education to be successful teachers need to be at the center of learning and assessments. Thomas Kennedy, Citrus County Chronicle. The Manatee County School Board should cut the link connecting a sales tax hike and the collection of impact fees. Bradenton Herald. Lake Mary High School and Seminole County show what it takes to maintain a culture of excellence in math and science – leadership from teachers, guidance counselors and administrators and buy-in from parents. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: Jack R. Lamb Elementary School in Tampa is officially dedicated. It’s named after a longtime school board member, teacher and advocate for special needs students. Tampa Tribune. Hillsborough High School celebrates its 130th anniversary. Tampa Tribune. The Masonic High Twelve Lake Worth Club of Boca Raton completes the first year of the Government Bee, at which Palm Beach County students compete by answering questions about civics, Jeopardy-style. Sun-Sentinel. Seminole County’s teacher of the year, Chris Pombonyo, incorporates his entertainment skills to engage his first-graders. Orlando Sentinel. Eleven Wellington High School students will compete in two national debate competitions this summer. Palm Beach Post. Middle-school students at Jacksonville’s LaVilla School of the Arts write and perform their own opera, Jared, inspired by Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Florida Times-Union. Mount Dora High School students see the consequences of drinking and driving at a mock DUI crash at the school. Daily Commercial. Minneola Elementary Charter School students get the message early and often: It’s never too early to start thinking about college. Daily Commercial.

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BY NextSteps staff