Florida schools roundup: Bright Futures, budget cuts, guns, AP tests and more

Bright Futures: The Senate passes a higher education bill that would allocate $151 million to restore Bright Futures funding to 100 percent and allow recipients to use the scholarships for summer classes. Also in the bill are a scholarship program for migrant workers and their children and an expansion of benefits to National Merit Scholars. Miami Herald. Sunshine State News. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. The bill is a top priority for Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, but he somehow missed the vote even though he was present in the chamber. He said he intended to vote after the roll call, but it was locked down before he could. Miami Herald.

Education budget cuts: Rep. Manny Diaz, Jr., R-Hialeah, says he will release details next week on a pair of House education budget-cutting exercises. One of the plans trims higher education and K-12 spending by $232.7 million, while the other cuts $485 million. Diaz says specific cuts under the plans may or may not be part of the House’s final education budget. Politico Florida.

Guns in schools: Two Republican senators from Miami-Dade can control gun bill votes on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and one of them has publicly stated she opposes the guns in school zones proposal. Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, also opposes several other gun-related bills, but says that doesn’t mean she would oppose any gun bill. Sen. René García, R-Hialeah, says he can’t support any gun bill that doesn’t include a mental health component. Miami Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

AP test improvements: Florida is fourth among U.S. states in the percentage of graduating seniors who passed at least one Advanced Placement exam, and more than half the growth came from low-income students, according to the Florida Department of Education. The percentage of low-income graduating seniors in Florida who passed an AP exam went up 500 percent from 2006 to 2016. redefinED.

Model districts: The Pinellas County and Broward County school districts are among eight in the United States named as model districts by the organization Great Districts for Great Teachers. The new program cited Pinellas for its professional development practices for teachers, and Broward for facilitating high quality school leadership and making decisions at the school level. Honorable mentions were given to Duval County for teacher support and feedback, and to Osceola County for professional development. Gradebook.

School infrastructure: Florida gets a grade of C for its infrastructure in a report from the American Society of Civil Engineers, but a D+ on school infrastructure. The report notes: “In 1997, the SMART Schools Act established a 20-year capital outlay funding program using $2 billion in lottery funds for the construction of permanent classrooms, but this funding has since lapsed and other funds have been curtailed. Uncertainties remain as to the effect lowered county impact fees, total new construction allocations and deferred maintenance costs will have on Florida’s K-12 schools.” Associated Press.

Undocumented children: U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami, files legislation in Congress that would allow people brought to the United States illegally as children to remain in the country. The new version of the DREAM Act is called Recognizing America’s Children Act, and it would offer a path to citizenship for all children who entered the country illegally before Jan. 1, 2012, and were 16 years old or younger. Miami Herald.

Superintendent’s goals: Palm Beach County School Superintendent Robert Avossa outlines his four priorities in his annual “state of our schools” message. Avossa hopes to get third-graders reading at grade level, get students prepared for high school, boost the graduation rate and help students succeed after high school. Avossa also detailed improvements over last year, saying 21 schools raised their D or F grades to a C or better, and the district graduation rate hit a record 82-plus percent. WFLX. Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel.

Investigation ordered: The city of Jacksonville is appointing an independent prosecutor to investigate whether a Duval County School Board member harassed a teacher who had criticized the district on his blog. Chris Guerrieri says the district has refused his request for public records and retaliated against him for his comments, and that board member Scott Shine has harassed him. Florida Times-Union.

Teacher bonuses: More than 900 Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach teachers are getting bonuses from the state’s Best and Brightest teacher bonus program. Palm Beach’s 495 and Broward’s 198 are double the number from last year, while Miami-Dade’s 222 is down slightly. Sun-Sentinel.

Teacher ratings: More than 60 percent of teachers in St. Lucie, Martin and Indian River counties received evaluations rating them as “highly effective” teachers, according to Florida Department of Education records. Fewer than a dozen were judged to be “unsatisfactory.” TCPalm.

Portable classrooms: Enrollment growth prompts the St. Johns County School District to buy 36 portable classrooms to place at 10 schools. There are now 345 portables classrooms in county schools. St. Augustine Record.

Gifted program: The Marion County School District’s new Gifted and Talented Education program will be located at Evergreen Elementary School. The school will have about 180 spots for gifted students. Ocala Star Banner.

New math curriculum: The Pasco County School District will switch its math curriculum from Go Math to Eureka Math, which is aligned with Common Core standards. The district has been using Eureka Math in several of its lowest-performing schools. Gradebook.

Community-schools partnership: Two struggling St. Johns County elementary schools are chosen as community schools that will partner with the Children’s Home Society of Florida, Flagler Hospital and St. Johns River State College to provide students with needed resources. St. Augustine Record.

Union election: Don Peace, a physical education teacher at Gulf Middle School, wins the presidency of the United School Employees of Pasco, beating incumbent Ken Blankenship 427-375. The union and the district are currently in a contract impasse, and have not met since December. Gradebook.

School volunteer’s past: A man who was arrested last week and accused of molesting several children was a volunteer in the cafeteria at Sugar Mill Elementary School in Port Orange. None of the charges Michael McCabe faces involved children from the school, but Volusia County School District spokeswoman Nancy Wait said it was “very unsettling” for the district to find out about the recent volunteer’s background. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Opinions on schools: An incident at Auburndale High School has cast a spotlight on some of the potential pitfalls created by the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration, and signals that great care must be taken before assuming who should be in the country and who shouldn’t. Lakeland Ledger. Don’t let parents game the system by having their children opt out of the state’s standardized testing. TCPalm. Lee County School Board members have rightfully vented about the higher-than-expected costs projected for the new Bonita Springs High School, which necessitated scaling back the plans. But there is a silver lining to be found. Naples Daily News. A decade-long Wisconsin study has shown that communicating with parents of high school students about the importance of upper level high school math and science courses significantly increases the rate at which students take those courses and also results in a larger percentage of those students choosing careers in STEM fields. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: Surya Dodia, a 13-year-old seventh-grader at North Naples Middle School, wins the Collier-Lee County Spelling Bee and earns the right to compete at the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Naples Daily News. Bishop Moore High School students get a realistic view of the effects of drunk driving during a mock DUI crash scenario. Orlando Sentinel. A $50,000 grant from the Annenberg Foundation will supply the St. Clair Evans Academy’s new science lab. Florida Times-Union.