Florida schools roundup: Blaine Amendment, school spending and more

Blaine Amendment: The Constitution Revision Commission’s Declaration of Rights Committee approves a proposal to put repeal of the Blaine Amendment before voters in 2018. The amendment prohibits the use of tax money “directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect or religious denomination.” In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court cited the amendment when it ruled that a state violated the law with its scholarship program for students to attend private schools. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, has long called for a repeal of the amendment. The proposal now goes to the full commission, where 22 of the 37 members would have to approve it to put it on the November 2018 ballot. Sixty percent of voters would then have to approve the repeal to put it into effect. Tallahassee Democrat. News Service of Florida.

Education spending: Gov. Rick Scott continues a state tour to promote his education budget, which he says will boost spending on K-12 education to a record $21.4 billion. “We’re going to have historic funding for the sixth year in a row,” says Scott about his proposal to increase per-student spending from $7,297 to $7,497. But an analysis in Folio Weekly magazine questions that statement. Using the Consumer Price Index calculator, the magazine says it would take $8,377.89 per student today to match the $7,126 per student from then-Gov. Charlie Crist’s 2007, pre-recession budget. Florida Politics. WJCT. Florida and 28 other states are spending less on education now than they were before the 2008 recession after an adjustment for inflation, according to a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. And Florida and six other states each spent at least 15 percent less per-student in 2015 than in 2008. The 74.

Superintendent honored: Pinellas County School Superintendent Mike Grego is named Florida superintendent of the year for his work to close the achievement gap between black and nonblack students. Grego, 60, has been superintendent in Pinellas for just over five years. He now represents Florida at the national competition in Nashville in February. Gradebook. WUSF.

Scholarship hearing: The Florida House’s Pre-K-12 Innovation Subcommittee will hold a hearing Dec. 6 to discuss “oversight and monitoring” of the state’s three scholarship programs that pay for low-income and disabled students to attend private schools. The hearing was prompted by the recent Orlando Sentinel series entitled “Schools Without Rules,” which looked into the lack of state oversight over the 2,000 or so private schools that receive nearly $1 billion a year in state scholarship money. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer two of those programs, the tax credit and Gardiner scholarships. Its response to the Sentinel series can be found here. Orlando Sentinel.

Schooling in America: A poll by EdChoice shows that 83 percent of American children attend public schools, but only 33 percent of parents say they prefer the public schools. About 42 percent would prefer a private school, even though just 10 percent of U.S. students attend those schools. Tuition costs seem to be the biggest factor in the gap. redefinED.

Contract negotiations: The Palm Beach County School District and its teachers union tentatively agree on a contract that would give teachers an average raise of 3.2 percent. Teachers rated “highly effective” would get a 3.5 percent raise, and teachers rated “effective” would get an extra 2.75 percent. Other teachers would get a pay raise of 0.5 percent. Palm Beach Post. Hillsborough County School Superintendent Jeff Eakins says he’s confident that students won’t be shortchanged this week as teachers “work to the contract” to protest the district’s decision not to follow through on a promised pay raise. He also says teachers made significant pay gains in 2013, and the average salary of $49,000 is higher than those in neighboring Pasco, Pinellas, Polk and Manatee counties. Tampa Bay Times.

Rezoning dispute: The Pasco County School District will be back in court over a rezoning dispute. Parents who opposed rezoning in the west side of the county filed suit, alleging the committee that decided the new school boundaries did so privately, in violation of the state’s Sunshine law. The district denies the charge, and is asking a judge to dismiss the case. Gradebook.

Affordable housing: A plan to build 20 affordable homes for Monroe County school employees behind the Sugarloaf School is already being scaled back to 10 or 15 homes because a conservation easement on the property limits development. Key West Citizen.

Personnel moves: The former superintendent of the Brevard County School District resigns his job as superintendent in the Plano, Texas, school district after about two years. Brian Binggeli left Brevard in 2015, and was succeeded by Desmond Blackburn. Florida Today.

The chainsaw nun: To everyone at Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll High School in Southwest Miami-Dade County, Sister Margaret Ann is the cheery principal. To the rest of the world, she’s the famous “chainsaw nun” who took it upon herself to clear out a fallen tree after Hurricane Irma. WLRN.

Charge stricken: An appeals court rules that a charge of disrupting an educational institution should be dismissed against an Indian River County student who got into a fight in the school hallway. The judges wrote: “This fight created a group of onlookers who crowded the hallway, but they were immediately chased away by school officials, and there is no evidence that any of the students were late to class. These facts do not demonstrate the type of flagrant or provocative behavior that rises to the level of specific intent to disrupt the function of the school.” News Service of Florida.

Teachers accused: The Palm Beach County School District is expected to fire a Hollywood Hills High School teacher accused of having a sexual relationship with a student. School officials say language arts teacher Dirk Hilyard, 53, had sexual relations with the girl several times during the 2015-2016 school year. Hilyard denies the allegations. Sun-Sentinel. WPLG. A former band teacher for the Gadsden County School District is arrested and accused of sexual misconduct with a student. Stanley Norton, 50, was teaching at James A. Shanks Middle School at the time of the alleged offense. He’s charged with lewd and lascivious molestation of a victim over 12 years of age and misdemeanor battery on a child. Tallahassee Democrat.

Opinions on schools: Thanks to the Florida Legislature, the potential exists to throw an already overburdened state public education system into chaos if both individuals and organized groups like the Florida Citizens’ Alliance attempt to advance their agendas with groundless challenges to textbooks, teaching methodology and established facts. Daniel Ruth, Tampa Bay Times. The state needs to track the number of complaints about classroom textbooks and materials that occur in the wake of the new law. See if patterns develop. Monitor the hearing process to determine if it inhibits school boards from carrying out their duties. Then adjust the law accordingly if needed. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Nearly 300 Wesley Chapel High School seniors studying government and economics came to the Pasco legislative delegation meeting to watch democracy in action. They ended up witnessing a lesson that could have come from Miss Manners. C.T. Bowen, Tampa Bay Times. If you need a friend at Englewood Elementary School, just sit on one of the buddy benches and they’ll come to you. Carrie Seidman, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Constitution Revision Commission is supposed to give voters an opportunity to have their say. It’s not supposed to be a second chance for failed legislative priorities. And, yet, that’s exactly what we’re seeing with measures like a potential amendment that would repeal a ban on sending taxpayer money directly to religious institutions, including private schools. John Romano, Tampa Bay Times.

Student enrichment: Two Lake County high school students are honored for their academic achievements during this week’s meeting of the Florida State Board of Education. Daily Commercial. Two students from Westwood High School in Fort Pierce win the regional Fresh From Florida Student Chef Cook-Off and will advance to the state contest in Tallahassee on Jan. 30. Palm Beach Post. About 600 Hernando County high school students who didn’t have access to the Internet now have free smartphones and data plans through an initiative by Sprint. Tampa Bay Times. The Seabreeze High School band will perform in the London 2019 New Year’s Day parade. Daytona Beach News-Journal.