Florida schools roundup: Testing bills, naming rights, charters and more

Senate testing bills merged: The Senate Education Committee decides to merge elements from competing school testing bills. The consolidated bill, SB 926, moves testing into a shorter window and toward the end of the school year, kills several end-of-course exams, allows districts the option of using paper and pencils for the tests instead of computers, and will consider allowing national tests such as the ACT and SAT to replace high school assessments. News Service of Florida. Miami HeraldGradebook. Associated Press. Tallahassee Democrat. WFSU. The committee also approved bills increasing the money students get for tax credit scholarships and widening eligibility for teachers and adding principals to the state’s teacher bonuses program. Politico Florida. Meanwhile, the House PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee approves a bill that would require the state Department of Education to release third- and 10th-grade math and language arts tests every three years. The DOE estimates the cost of doing so at $4 million. Gradebook. Politico Florida.

Help with testing: Experts say there are a variety of things parents can do to relieve their children’s anxiety about taking statewide assessment tests. They recommend helping children visualize success, maintaining a routine, having children not study so much and getting them to laugh, which gives a child’s brain a shot of neurotransmitter dopamine and can improve test performance. Miami Herald.

Naming rights: The Lee County School District is selling naming rights to stadiums, gymnasiums and theaters at several schools around the district. “This is a new opportunity for companies to reach our students, families and communities,” Superintendent Greg Adkins said. “It is a way we can provide companies the benefits and loyalty that come with this kind of support while helping out students at the same time.” The Orange County School District has been selling naming rights since 2012, and has raised $241,650 for its Athletic Preservation Fund. And Collier County, directly south of Lee, is also looking into the sale of naming rights at its seven high schools. Fort Myers News-Press.

‘Schools of hope’ in Senate: Legislation in the House that creates a $200 million fund to entice well-regarded charter companies to open schools in areas where public schools have been persistently low-performing now has a companion bill in the Senate. Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Jacksonville, amended a previously filed bill to align with the language of the House bill. The Senate Education Committee is expected to consider it next week. Miami Herald. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, says he hopes the “schools of hope” will be “a beautiful thing,” and added, “When you can get those (charter companies) to come and educate those students, so they no longer have that generational poverty and they have dignity and they have a future – that’s a priority.” Miami Herald.

Trafficking bill passes: A bill that would require students in Florida middle schools and high schools to be taught the dangers of human trafficking is passed by the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee. WFSU.

Open enrollment: An amendment to SB 868 would extend the state’s new open enrollment law to virtual students. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, would also eliminate restrictions on part-time virtual instruction. redefinED. The Palm Beach County School District is now accepting applications for transfers to 78 schools under the state’s new open enrollment law. The application period is open until May 5. Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel.

Changes for district: The Gadsden County School Board votes today on a plan that would merge some schools, close others and build a new K-8 school. District schools have struggled financially and academically. School officials say the plan will cut costs, improve technology and free up money for higher teacher pay. Tallahassee Democrat.

Superintendent search: Three members of the Detroit school board are in Duval County today to visit schools and talk to people who work with School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti. Vitti is one of two finalists for the Detroit Public Schools Community District’s superintendent’s job. Detroit Free Press.

Network expansion: A businessman who runs six private, nonprofit pre-K-12 schools in North Carolina is considering opening two in Florida. Bob Luddy, who owns a leading manufacturer of commercial kitchen ventilation systems, CaptiveAire, is looking to open a school in Groveland or Orlando in 2018 or 2019. “Our goal is to build an American education model that develops students to their highest possible potential at the lowest possible cost,” he said. redefinED.

District honored: The Manatee County School District is honored by the National School Board Association for its work to reduce chronic absenteeism. The district was awarded one of the five first-place Magna Awards for districts with 20,000 or more students for its program to reduce chronic absenteeism among low-income students. Bradenton Herald.

Charter system audit: The Cape Coral City Council votes to require the Cape Coral Charter School system to use the city’s financial staff to ensure best practices. The vote came after an audit revealed questionable financial practices in the system’s internal fund and credit card logs. Fort Myers News-Press.

Charter school turnaround: Bonita Springs’ Oak Creek K-8 Charter School begins a turnaround under new management investing $300,000, with a new name and a new academic focus. Fort Myers News-Press.

Graduation security: People who attend high school graduation ceremonies at the University of South Florida’s Sun Dome will be checked with a metal detecting wand. Purses and bags will be searched, and no backpacks, binoculars or cameras will be allowed. Gradebook.

School safety: The city of Jupiter is considering spending $2.8 million to buy two acres of land next to Jupiter High School. The plan is to reconfigure traffic patterns to and from the school to improve safety. Palm Beach Post.

Prom problems: Paula Goodgame, a junior at St. Petersburg Catholic High School, is told she cannot take her girlfriend, Anjali Persad, to the school prom because the school’s policy states “escorts must be of the opposite gender.” A school counselor suggested Goodgame could get around the policy by having a male friend invite Persad. Buzzfeed. McClatchy News Service.

Bus driver shortage: The Marion County School District is looking for at least another 12 school bus drivers to get back to its targeted level. The district has been losing drivers to higher-paying jobs as the economy continues to improve. Ocala Star Banner.

No school zone exception: Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office issues a ruling that no legislative exception can be made to make texting while driving in a school zone a primary offense for Palm Beach County. “To enact legislation granting authority to Palm Beach County to solely enact an ordinance making texting while driving in a school zone a primary offense would be contrary to this express legislative intent of a uniform system of traffic regulation and would violate the Florida Constitution,” the letter said. Florida Politics.

Employees honored: Five finalists are named for the Florida school-related employee of the year award. They are: David Melnick, food service manager at Lake St. George Elementary in Pinellas; Eunice Johnson, exceptional student education classroom paraprofessional at Irby Elementary in Alachua County; Donna Peavy, media paraprofessional at Avon Park High in Highlands; Jamie Skinner, cafeteria manager at Ralph Williams Elementary in Brevard; and Jane Winters, after-school site director at Beacon Cove Intermediate in Palm Beach. The winner will be announced April 21. Palm Beach PostGradebook.

Arrest in teacher’s death: Adam Christopher Lawson Jr., 24, is arrested in connection with last week’s murder of Duval County music teacher Deborah Liles. Deputies say evidence in in Liles’ stolen car helped track Lawson to a trailer park about a mile from Liles’ home. Florida Times-Union.

Guns at schools: Several students are in custody after a gun and ammunition are found at the Westview K-8 School in Jacksonville. Florida Times-Union.

Teacher arrested: A Hillsborough County teacher is arrested on charges of child neglect and allowing an unauthorized minor to drive. Police say Terra Virgin, a math teacher at Freedom High School, appeared intoxicated when her car was stopped with a 14-year-old behind the wheel. WFLA. WTSP.

Opinions on schools: We salute Sen. Anitere Flores for listening to the people of urban Florida, who don’t want people openly carrying guns into schools, airports and coffee shops. Thank you, senator, for being our voice, despite the slings and arrows sure to come your way. Sun-Sentinel. The technology industry should boost enrollment in computer science courses by giving a free laptop to every student who passes the Advanced Placement Computer Science A exam. Wouldn’t that make more sense than undermining foreign language education or further undermining Florida’s already weak high school math and science program? Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: Members of the Child Survivors/Hidden Children of the Holocaust make their annual trip to speak to students at Oak Hammock K-8 School in Port St. Lucie. Sun-Sentinel. A drive to raise $400,000 would turn an existing storm water retention pond in front of Jupiter High School into a wetlands habitat and outdoor classroom. About $55,000 has been raised. Palm Beach Post. Bradenton Southeast High School’s choral group, “Les Chanteurs,” has been invited to perform with the National Youth Chorus at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Bradenton Herald. Students and professional musicians from the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz give rousing performances at St. Augustine High School. St. Augustine Record.