Florida schools roundup: K-12 funding, recess, choice, charters and more

K-12 funding: The Senate Budget Committee proposes a boost of $790 million in spending in the next school year for Florida’s K-12 public schools. Almost 68 percent of that would come through higher property taxes for local districts. Gov. Rick Scott has proposed an $815 million increase for K-12 schools, also with 68 percent of the boost coming from local property taxes. House leaders, who have said they won’t accept any tax increase, propose an increase of $251.3 million. The House budget’s chief priority is $200 million to attract charter school networks into areas where traditional public schools have struggled. News Service of FloridaPolitico Florida. Politico FloridaFlorida Politics.

Recess bill: The Florida House K-12 Innovation Subcommittee makes significant changes to the mandatory recess bill, then passes it. The original bill called for at least 20 minutes of unstructured but supervised recess every day for the state’s elementary school students. The amended bill changes the daily requirement to at least twice a week, lets schools count recess time toward physical education requirements, and removes the recess requirement for fourth- and fifth-graders. Miami HeraldSunshine State News.

School choice: The House Education Appropriations Subcommittee approves a bill that would increase the money students can receive through the state’s tax credit scholarship program. But removed from the bill was an expansion of eligibility and triple the money for Gardiner scholarships for students with disabilities. Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, helps administer both programs. The subcommittee also stripped the bill of a provision that would have allowed McKay scholarships for students with special needs even if they hadn’t attended a public school for an entire school year. redefinED. News Service of Florida.

Charter schools: The House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee approves a bill that could make it easier for high-performing charter schools to expand, give charter networks the ability to received federal funding directly, allow school districts an extra 30 days to review charter applications, and make public schools accountable for the academic performance of students who transfer to private or alternative charter schools. Ralph Arza of the Florida Charter School Alliance says his group supports nearly all the bill, but said alternative charters should be held responsible for students who transfer from traditional schools. redefinED. The committee also approves a bill that would require school districts to proportionately split local property tax revenues with charter schools after the money districts set aside for construction debts is deducted. The state’s 556 charter schools would receive about $148 million, or nearly double what they now get. redefinED.

Help for teachers: The Florida Department of Education is now offering to help pay the fees for teacher certification exams. The department will include $15 million in its budget to help pay fees for exams for new teachers and veteran teachers seeking renewal of their licenses. It will save new teachers up to $555, and veteran teachers $75. WFTS.

Opposition to bills: Two bills moving through the Legislature have critics who are drawing attention to the bills in hopes of stopping them. One target is a bill (HB 989SB 1210) that allows parents and community members more authority to challenge school materials and textbooks. Opponents say the bill a danger to science education. The other (HB 265, SB 104) is an attempt to promote computer coding classes. Critics say legislators are boosting coding at the expense of other subjects. Gradebook.

Superintendent’s review: Broward School Superintendent Robert Runcie receives mixed reviews in his latest midyear evaluation from school board members. Runcie, who has been in the job since 2011, was praised for his work on student progress and maintaining visibility on state and national levels. But board members faulted him for a lack of transparency on a troubled $800 million bond program, and would like to see a better environment for teachers and higher student achievement. Sun-Sentinel.

School sales taxes: Santa Rosa County voters overwhelmingly approve an extension of the school district’s half-cent sales tax surcharge. The tax, which generates about $7 million a year to the district, is now extended through 2028. Pensacola News Journal. Northwest Florida Daily News. A half-cent sales tax in Polk County has generated more than $420 million for Polk County schools since 2004, and a committee is starting a campaign to educate voters on what the tax has done, and to get it extended in the November election. Lakeland Ledger.

Revenue concerns: Alachua County school officials say if the proposed sale of a private biomass plant to the city-owned Gainesville Regional Utilities goes through, the district would lose about $2.4 million in revenue from taxes paid by the plant. Gainesville Sun.

School start times: The Hillsborough County School Board postpones a decision on school start times for the 2017-2018 school year. “We are still gathering input from our stakeholder group meetings, which include students, parents and teachers,” said district spokeswoman Tanya Arja. Gradebook.

Administrators honored: Six finalists are chosen for the Broward County School District assistant principal of the year award. They are: Patricia Brown, Coral Springs High; Marie Hautigan, Fort Lauderdale High; Patricia Genhold, Bair Middle; David Argent, Coral Springs Middle; Sophia Myers, North Fork Elementary; and Janet Calamaro, Nova Blanche Foreman Elementary. The winner will be announced April 5. Sun-Sentinel.

Turnaround principals: The Bay County School Board approves a plan to create a “turnaround principal” position. This principal would be assigned to a struggling school, put a fix in place and then move on to another school after two years. The board also approves hiring five or six police officers for elementary schools. Panama City News Herald.

Contract settlement: The pay raise for teachers approved by the Manatee County School Board amounts to $212 for highly effective teachers and $159 for effective ones. Union president Pat Barber said it was the first time she could remember the board approving a pay raise but not making it retroactive. “It makes it less of a raise, but it at least does build their base for when we start bargaining next year,” Barber said. Bradenton Herald.

Legislator cleared: The Florida Commission on Ethics dismisses a case against Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park, ruling that he did not abuse his position to retaliate against an Okeechobee County School District principal with whom he had a contentious personal relationship. Pigman was accused of implying he could have state funding withheld from the district if this principal was “the best that the Okeechobee School District has to offer.” Florida Politics.

Sunshine violation? The Hernando County School Board recently gathered at a retreat, but failed to provided the required public notification under the state’s sunshine law, according to Barbara Petersen, president of the Tallahassee-based First Amendment Foundation. Tampa Bay Times.

School expanding: Started as preschool in 2003, Kids Community College (KCC) in Riverview is expanding and will soon have classes in pre-K through 12th grade. KCC’s Southeast Elementary School is adding grades 6-8 in the fall to its K-5 program, and a KCC Preparatory High School also opens this fall to 9th and 10th graders. It plans to add 11th and 12th grades in the next two years. Tampa Bay Times.

Notable deaths: Maria Carolina Duran-Carpenter, a popular Chiles High School Spanish teacher, dies of an apparent heart attack. She was 44. Tallahassee Democrat.

School suit settled: The Leon County School Board approves paying $55,000 to Woody Hildebrandt, former principal of Lively Technical Center, to settle a whistleblower suit. Hildebrandt claimed he was retaliated against for providing the FBI information about alleged bid rigging in school construction projects. Tallahassee Democrat.

Teacher arrested: A sixth-grade social studies teacher at a Pinellas County dropout prevention school is arrested on 10 counts of possession of child pornography and one count of tampering with physical evidence. Largo police say Robert James Plotkin, 57, who teaches at Clearwater Intermediate, had images of children ages 3 to 17 on his personal laptop. None were his students, police say. Tampa Bay Times.

Stabbing at school: A 15-year-old Chamberlain High School student is arrested and accused of stabbing another student with a steak knife in a hallway. The injured girl was taken to a hospital with wounds that are not thought to be life-threatening. Police say they don’t know what provoked the attack. Tampa Bay Times.

Sickness on bus: Seven Duval County students and their school bus driver are briefly hospitalized by fumes from a cleaning product used to wipe off the bus seats. The students were from Grasp Academy and Fort Caroline Middle School. Florida Times-Union. WJAX.

Opinions on schools: It probably was unlikely that Duval School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti would make it to his fifth anniversary. Partly because he arrived as a rising star in education, partly because the average tenure of an urban district superintendent is about four years, and partly because our school board has such a remarkable history of dysfunction and unrealistic expectations for overnight miracles that it begs the question: “Why would anyone want this job?” Mark Woods, Florida Times-Union. Legislative bills proposed under the guise of giving taxpayers a greater voice in deciding what type of textbooks and other resources are used in Florida classrooms are, in reality, an intent is to blow open holes through which inaccuracies and blatant falsehoods based on narrow ideologies can be taught to students as if they are truthful facts. Brandon Haught, Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Student enrichment: Ridgewood High School students are helping Calusa Elementary students learn the basics of French. Tampa Bay Times. The mock trial team from the American Heritage School in Plantation wins its fourth state championship. South Florida Reporter. Hernando County’s Spring Hill Elementary School creates a Goodnight Moon reading corner in the school’s media center to give students a comfortable place to read. Tampa Bay Times. Grammy-winning jazz flautist Nestor Torres is holding a three-day master class for students in Martin and St. Lucie counties. TCPalm. Film students in Riverview High School’s International Baccalaureate program hold an awards ceremony to screen the 11 student movies and public service announcements completed this year. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Flagler Palm Coast High School’s guitar class receives a donation of 28 new acoustic guitars and guitar stands from the nonprofit Kids Rock The Nation and Total Entertainment in Daytona Beach. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

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BY NextSteps staff