Florida schools roundup: Online education, PreK, charters and more

florida-roundup-logoMore on budget: An item in Gov. Rick Scott’s budget would eliminate restrictions on students’ eligibility for online classes. Right now, students in grades 2-5 cannot take virtual courses part-time, and students in middle and high schools can take select virtual courses only if they were in a public schools the year before. redefinED. Scott’s budget also includes $50 per student more for Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Program, boosting it to an average of $2,487. That’s still below the 2005 total of $2,500, and is far below the national average of $4,520. Orlando Sentinel.

Money for charters: Senate Education Appropriations chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, files a pair of bills that would create a consistent revenue stream to charter schools for construction and maintenance. S.B. 604 would allow districts to boost the property tax rate from a maximum of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value to $1.70. And S.B. 376 would funnel some of that money to qualifying charter schools. Gradebook.

Trafficking education: A bill is filed in the Legislature that would include instruction on the dangers of human trafficking in Florida schools’ health education curriculum. Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, says he got the idea for the bill, S.B. 286, from a high school student. WFSU.

School leasing: Palm Beach County School Board members express reservations about leasing a high school rather than building one and owning it, and decide to schedule a workshop to discuss the proposal further. Board members are open to the idea of a private-public partnership to get a high school built in Boynton Beach, but would want the district to eventually own it. Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel.

Adding a high school: Broward County School Superintendent Robert Runcie has reversed course and is now recommending that the district make Millennium Middle School in Tamarac into a 6-12 collegiate academy next year. Just last week, Runcie told the school board he was tabling the idea. School officials say he changed his mind after studying costs and enrollment trends. Sun-Sentinel.

District finances: The New York investment house Fitch Ratings has upgraded the assessment of the Hillsborough County School District’s debt from “negative” to “stable.” Fitch noted the district’s recent austerity moves, saying: “Management was successful in eradicating its estimated $100 million structural imbalance through an implementation of significant cost efficiencies, reduction in employees due mostly to attrition, a realignment of positions and strong spending controls.” Gradebook.

Teachers honored: Three finalists are named for Alachua County teacher of the year. They are: Amy MacCord, Hawthorne Middle/High School; Susan Surrency, Chiles Elementary School; and Lauren Marlowe, Oak View Middle School. The winner will be announced today. Gainesville Sun. Antonio Alves, a math teacher at Lincoln Middle School in Manatee County, is receiving a Governor’s Shine Award next week. Bradenton Herald.

Shifting positions: Marion County School Superintendent Heidi Maier announces a plan to shift 14 position from the administrative offices to schools. Craig Ham, deputy superintendent for operations, says the idea is to place specialized resources based on school needs. The goal is to have a paraprofessional in every kindergarten class, and to reduce the administrative burden for special education teachers. Ocala Star Banner.

Comparing districts: Palm Beach County school officials prepare a comparison with Miami-Dade, Broward and Orange counties on a variety of educational strategies, such as hours of school, the number of early release days, planning periods for teachers and the use of the program iReady. Palm Beach Post.

Charter school delay: The Pasco Charter Academy again asks the Pasco County School Board to delay its opening another year, to 2018. The academy, which has ties to CharterSchools USA, was granted a five-year contract to open in 2016, but couldn’t secure a location and asked for a delay. Superintendent Kurt Browning says: “Failure to open the school within two years is good cause for termination of this charter.” Gradebook.

Private school sold: Lake Mary Preparatory School, a private boarding school near Orlando, has been sold to an international investment firm headed by Bill Batchelor. Some of the parents of Lake Mary’s 400 students say Batchelor’s previous ownership of two troubled charter schools have them worried about the future of the school. Batchelor was CEO of the Tri-Valley Learning Corp. in Livermore, Calif., which had financial and legal problems. East Bay Times.

Program funding: Hernando school officials say they will not ask the state to continue funding a program that helps students with mental illnesses. The StarFISH program began with a $500,000 grant from the state, and initially district officials were planning to ask for $250,000 this year. But after being warned by lawmakers that the state budget is tight, school officials decided against a request. Tampa Bay Times.

Complaint settled: A formal hearing is avoided when Gulf County School District officials and the teachers union settle a complaint the union lodged against Superintendent Jim Norton. The union alleged that Norton was interfering in union activities. The settlement acknowledged the union’s concerns about Norton’s actions. Port St. Joe Star.

Whooping cough: A ninth grader at Eustis High School is diagnosed with Pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough. It’s highly contagious, and parents and the Health Department were notified. Daily Commercial.

New access routes: Emergency evacuation routes will be reconfigured at the Roger Weaver Educational Complex in Citrus County. Six schools are located at the complex, and school officials say emergency evacuation isn’t efficient enough. Construction is scheduled to begin in summer 2018. Citrus County Chronicle.

Notable deaths: Malcolm Wiseheart Jr., a Miami attorney who helped create French International Studies program at Sunset Elementary School in South Miami and Carver Middle School in Coral Gables, dies at the age of 74. Miami Herald.

Principal resigns: A Lee County principal resigns and the assistant principal is transferred after an investigation uncovered their sexual relationship. Daman Essert was principal at Varsity Lakes Middle School. He hired Kimberly Conn as an assistant principal three months after their relationship began. She was suspended for 10 days and is now assistant principal at Cypress Lakes High School. Fort Myers News-Press.

Weapons at schools: Guns are found at three Jacksonville-area schools Wednesday. A First Coast High School student and an Ed White High School student are arrested for bringing firearms to their schools. And Chaffee Trail Elementary School officials find a gun during a search for a student’s missing belonging. WJAX.

Opinions on schools: Magnet programs should be used to improve diversity in Alachua County schools and help close an achievement gap that has been a problem for too long. Gainesville Sun. Nonprofit charter schools are the traditional public school’s ally, not enemy. John Fuller, Gainesville Sun. Gov. Scott’s education budget is good news for students, but perhaps not so good for teachers. St. Augustine Record. As much as allowed by the new federal education law, Florida should get out of the math and science testing business. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: A Jacksonville high school is a winner in a national Campaign for Youth Justice’s competition. Lee High School’s social media campaign points out the differences in how the justice system treats black and white youths. Florida Times-Union. More than $200 is donated to Palm Beach County schools to pay off student lunch debts after a TV station airs a story about a New York writer’s tweet encouraging such actions. Palm Beach Post.