Florida schools roundup: Reading tests, achievement plan, budgets and more

Reading test results: About 90 percent of the state’s high school seniors who had to retake the Florida Standards Assessments language arts test have failed, according to the Florida Department of Education. Last year the number was 84 percent. Students must pass the test to be eligible to receive a diploma. The nearly 16,000 who failed this year can keep retaking the test until they post a passing score. Gradebook.

Achievement plan approved: The Pinellas County School Board approves a plan to eliminate or greatly narrow the achievement gap between white and black students within 10 years. The plan, worked out between the school district and the Concerned Organization of the Quality Education of Black Students, will also settle a long-running lawsuit over the education of black students by the district. The agreement addresses graduation, student achievement, advanced coursework, student discipline, identification for special education and gifted programs and minority hiring. District officials also have committed to providing quarterly progress reports and responding in a more timely manner with reliable information. Tampa Bay Times.

Education bill: More reaction from various groups, education officials and politicians on the Legislature’s education bill, which has yet to be sent to Gov. Rick Scott for consideration. Once it lands on Scott’s desk, he’ll have 15 days to act. Gradebook. Florida Politics. Politico Florida. Miami Herald.

Trump’s education budget: President Trump’s proposed budget would boost programs of school choice, especially charter schools, and cut spending for special education, teacher development, after-school programs and career and technical education. Associated PressEducation Week. NPR.

Language problems: The Orange County School District is not doing enough to accommodate Spanish-speaking students, such as hiring more bilingual employees, school board members are told by students, parents and teachers. There are more than 19,000 students who speak mostly or all Spanish. “We are working very, very hard as a district to hire as many qualified bilingual educators or teachers as we can,” said board chairman Bill Sublette. “To be very candid, it’s a challenge in the state of Florida.” Orlando Sentinel.

School impact fees: The Manatee County School Board votes to recommend that the county commission increase impact fees on new housing to help the district buy land and build schools. The fees would also be collected at 100 percent of value, instead of the current 75 percent. Bradenton Herald.

School sales taxes: The Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce’s Putting Children First Infrastructure Investment Initiative (nicknamed i3) project focuses on repairing and updating infrastructure for the Alachua County School District. The group’s steering committee will consider asking voters for an increase in the sales tax to finance the repairs. Gainesville Sun. The Charlotte County School Board decides to ask voters in November 2018 to approve a tax increase of 1 mill, which would add $15 million a year for school funding. Charlotte Sun.

New school: The Bay County School Board decides to hire an architect to design a new elementary school in Panama City Beach. The project is expected to cost $30 million. WMBB.

District exams dispute: Pasco County teachers and parents are complaining about the district’s final course exams, saying students are posting low grades because the exams contain questions not covered during the school year. But School Superintendent Kurt Browning says teachers shouldn’t have any problems getting students ready for the exams since they are given a course description by the state, and blueprints on test content from the district. Gradebook.

Charter school closing: The Goodwill LIFE Academy charter school in Fort Myers is closing after 12 years of operation. The school was home to about 50 special-needs students. Goodwill Industries of Southwest Florida says it can no longer continue to provide financial support for the school. Fort Myers News-Press.

School bus options: As school choice proliferates, school districts will have to rethink the way they provide bus transportation, according to a report by Bellwether Education Partners. School Transportation News.

Bush honored: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is presented with the John T. Walton Champions for School Choice award given by the American Federation for Children at the school choice summit in Indianapolis. Bush helped create the Florida tax credit scholarship program, now the largest private school choice program in the nation, in 2001. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the program. redefinED. Meanwhile, in a speech at the summit, Bush charges that teachers unions are standing in the way of educational progress. Herald Bulletin. Indianapolis Star.

Notable deaths: Aimee Zekofsky, a principal for almost 20 years at two Hollywood schools who was known for helping those in need, has died of cancer at age 62. Sun Sentinel.

Personnel changes: Thirteen new principals are appointed at Collier County schools. Five are transfers and eight are promotions. Naples Daily News. Six new principals are named at Leon County schools. Tallahassee Democrat.

Teacher arrested: A Hernando County teacher has been arrested on charges of sexual battery, according to the sheriff’s office. No details were released. Tampa Bay Times.

Camera kiss shown: A week after a former teacher pleads no contest to a battery charge, the Boca Raton police release the video showing him kissing the 10-year-old student on the lips in a classroom at the Somerset Academy. Brian Kornbluth, 29, was sentenced to a year of probation. Palm Beach Post. Miami Herald.

Opinions on schools: The Florida education bill is a jam-packed scam. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. If Gov. Rick Scott chooses to veto part or all of the budget, you can blame the cost for the special session on Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, whose secret dealings and parsimonious education budget will have forced it. Naples Daily News. We urge Gov. Scott to sign the education bill immediately to encourage the growth of charter schools in our state. We cannot allow Florida’s most at-risk students to continue slipping through the cracks. Cesar Grajales, Orlando Sentinel. Achieving reading proficiency starts with curbing chronic absenteeism in our schools. Rhonda Rogers, Palm Beach Post. The proliferation of gay-straight alliances on high school and college campuses from the mid-1980s on is a contributing factor to the undeniable sea change in public attitudes toward LGBTQ people. Andrew Printer, Miami Herald.

Student enrichment: Three Gulliver Preparatory students are developing a straw that turns blue when it detects common rape drugs placed in drinks. For their Smart Straw, Susana Cappello, Carolina Baigorri and Victoria Roca were named the winners of the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge High School Track. Miami Herald. All 842 students at Hellen Caro Elementary School in Pensacola are fitted for bike helmets to honor the memory of Lily Rosa-Clark, who was not wearing a helmet when she was struck and killed by a car May 18. Pensacola News Journal. Eighth-graders at the private Cornerstone School in Ocala use a 3-D printer to make a pink prosthetic hand for an 8-year-old Oregon girl. Ocala Star Banner. An iconic mural will be preserved when Melbourne High School’s cafeteria is renovated. Florida Today. The Buckingham Exceptional Student Center gets a ball pit to help students with their proprioception. Fort Myers News-Press. Immokalee High School is installing a new pantry and a weight room for girls. Naples Daily News.