Florida schools roundup: Hearing on scholarships, teacher pay and more

Scholarship hearing: Florida House leaders say they are planning a hearing into the state’s K-12 scholarship programs that provide money for students to attend private schools. According to a recent Orlando Sentinel investigation, private schools where students use the scholarships go largely unregulated by the state. Some hire uncertified teachers and administrators, and in some cases even continued collecting payments after being evicted. About 140,000 students receive money from the state’s three scholarship programs, and a fourth is being proposed that would allow bullied students to get money to attend private schools. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit scholarships for low-income students and the Gardiner scholarships for students with special needs. Orlando Sentinel.

Working the contract: Teachers in Hillsborough County will protest their contract dispute with the district by “working to the contract” for the week after Thanksgiving. They say that means no late meetings, no phone calls from parents, and no grading papers after school. “It’s to make a point that this is what things would be like if teachers really did that all the time,” says Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, director of the teachers union. Teachers are angry that the district says it can’t give them a pay raise promised in 2013. For about a third of the district’s 14,000 teachers, the district’s decision will cost them $4,000. Tampa Bay Times.

Redirecting pay: Lake County School Superintendent Diane Kornegay is proposing to use money that had been providing bonuses for teachers to work in high-poverty schools for bonuses to all teachers in lieu of a pay raise. The district now sets aside $1.6 million to pay teachers bonuses of $1,000 to $3,000 to work in the poorest schools. Kornegay’s plan is to use that money to give all teachers bonuses of $350 or $500. “The initial response was total disbelief,” says union president Stuart Klatte. “A lot of these schools recognize this as a pay cut.” School board member Bill Mathias says the problem is caused by going “into this year with basically flat funding.” Orlando Sentinel.

Charter district finances: While state lawmakers are generally positive about the changeover of the Jefferson County School District to a charter school company, they did express concern about the district’s financing during a recent hearing. Somerset Academy, which is now running the district, has added a culinary lab and has a new, upgraded technology and introduced a more generous teacher pay plan. But its expenses have been greater than its revenues, and state lawmakers think the Jefferson County School District administration, which parcels state and federal funds it receives to Somerset, is the source of the problem. The district is still paying for a superintendent, an administrative assistant and five school board members. “The district on its own, which is not providing services to the kids, looks like it might be a liability,” says state Rep. Manuel Diaz, R-Hialeah. redefinED.

Guns and schools/churches: A bill is filed that would allow people to carry concealed weapons into churches that also have schools on their property. Under current law, it’s a felony to carry a weapon into any school. But state Sen. Kelli Stargell, R-Lakeland, who filed the bill, believes private schools and churches should be able to set their own rules. Daily Commercial.

Truancy arrests: Failing to send their 11-year-old and 9-year-old children to school has gotten two Bay County parents arrested. Victoria and Brad Burns did not enroll their children in school. The arrests mark a change of direction in the way the Bay County School Districts is dealing with truancy. Mike Jones, the school district’s safety and security chief, says a line has to be drawn somewhere. He says he will meet with the state attorney again this week to decided whether to proceed with more cases. Panama City News Herald.

Broadband and success: A study in Florida suggests that a lack of broadband Internet access for students leads to a smaller percentage of students with college degrees or certificates. The study, by the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida, says about 700,000 Florida residents don’t have what the FCC defines as adequate Internet access speed needed for online learning. Thirteen small, rural counties were identified as “trailing” in broadband access, and another 16 were designated as “underserved.” EdTech. News Service of Florida.

Early learning: Florida’s Office of Early Learning hands out $600 million a year in school readiness funding to 30 coalitions throughout the state. But even officials at the agency cannot explain the formula for handing out those funds, and some public officials want to make changes to make the distribution more equitable. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. St. Johns County school officials say an expansion of pre-kindergarten programs is showing results with students being better prepared for kindergarten. St. Augustine Record.

Homeless students: More than 500 Lee County School District students were homeless because of a hurricane when a count was taken Nov. 2, and school officials say another 5 to 15 are added to the rolls every day. The district is working with a federally funded program, Project ACCESS, to help students and their families connect with community resources and get the children into school. Fort Myers News-Press.

Bus driver shortage: The Manatee County School District has struggled all year to find bus drivers, and now some children who were bused as a “hardship” are being told they will no longer get transportation. The students attend Anna Maria Elementary School through a school choice program and had been extended busing to school as a courtesy. “We are 25 drivers short,” says district spokesman Mike Barber. “Due to the shortage of bus drivers, we have had to re-examine our approach to hardship busing. It’s going on constantly this year.” Bradenton Herald.

Charter high school: Two groups are expected to submit plans to become Volusia County’s first charter high school. The Southeast Volusia School of Science and Technology would emphasize career and technical education. The other would follow the model of the Ivy Hawn Charter School of the Arts in Lake Helen. Both project an August 2019 opening. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

New school buildings: Marion County school officials want to consider building a new headquarters for the district office that would include a school board meeting room. The idea is to consolidate all district offices into a two-story building on the Marion Technical Institute campus. Ocala Star-Banner. An inspection of the under-construction Plantation Key School shows little damage from Hurricane Irma, and school officials still expect it to open next August. Keynoter.

School board training: Sarasota County School Board member say a third training session leads to an acceptance of differences, and pledges to keep past issues in the past and to engage in productive communication in the future. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Accreditation review: An accreditation review team from AdvancED says the Lake County School District has a well-managed learning environment and praised the way the school board, superintendent and district staff work together. The team suggested there was room for improvement in digital learning and safety and security. Daily Commercial.

Teacher acquitted: A former Leon County charter school teacher is acquitted of lewd and lascivious charges. Lucas E. Stricker was accused of fondling a homeschooled student during an after-hours art lesson in 2014. He was a teacher at Governor’s Charter Academy. Tallahassee Democrat.

District sued: The fathers of two Lake Nona Middle School students are suing the Orange County School District after their teacher sent them explicit video messages. Scott John Peters, 46, was arrested in June of charges of transmission of harmful materials to a minor and tampering with physical evidence, and goes on trial next month. WKMG.

Teacher loses license: A girls basketball coach at Santaluces High School who was fired in 2015 for telling a 17-year-old student he wanted to see her naked has his teaching license revoked. Garrick Black denies the accusation, and was not charged with a crime. Palm Beach Post.

Bus attendant arrested: A Polk County school bus attendant is arrested and accused of  hitting a student with special needs from the Doris Sanders Learning Center in Lakeland. Brenda Nelson, 65, is charged with child abuse. She has been a Polk bus attendant for 34 years. Lakeland Ledger. WFLA. Tampa Bay Times.

Opinions on schools: It’s important to know, should the amendment find its way to the ballot, is that the class size mandate is pretty much a joke these days — watered down through the years by small legislative loopholes and exceptions — death by a thousands “buts,” if you will. The real issue remains student spending, and Florida is 41st in the nation. St. Augustine Record. Why are teachers leaving the profession? There’s a long list of problems, but let’s start with testing. Janet Meckstroth Alessi, Palm Beach Post.

Student enrichment: About 20 elementary schools in Orange County now have “share tables,” where students can place unwanted food items that are then redirected to needy students and the homeless. Orlando Sentinel. The Clay County School District now has more than 20,600 laptops and almost 3,000 wireless access points as it expands access to online educational activities. Florida Times-Union. Ninety-four teachers get almost $70,000 in grants from the Citrus County Education Foundation for supplies and programs. Citrus County Chronicle. A group of high school students provide CPR training to students at Lake Worth Middle School. Team Certified, from John I. Leonard High School in Greenacres, got a $12,500 grant to provide the training, which could become a standard for all Palm Beach County schools. Palm Beach Post. W.H. Rhodes Elementary School in Milton receives a $6,000 grant from StoryBook Treasures to start a reading enrichment program for first-grade classes. Northwest Florida Daily News. Nineteen Lake County elementary schools are honored with HealthierUS School Challenge Smarter Lunchrooms awards for creating healthier students through nutrition and physical activity. Daily Commercial.