Florida schools roundup: Scholarship reforms, Bright Futures bill and more

Scholarship reforms: School choice advocates recommend a series of reforms at a House education subcommittee hearing Wednesday called to discuss concerns about oversight of private K-12 schools that receive money from one of the state’s scholarship programs. Doug Tuthill, president of Step Up For Students, which helps administer two of the programs and hosts this blog, says the state should eliminate the cap on inspections of those private schools, have fire and inspection reports submitted directly to the state, and demand those schools adopt stronger financial reporting requirements. Orlando SentinelredefinED.

Bright Futures: The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approves a bill that would permanently expand Bright Futures scholarships. S.B. 4 would fully fund Bright Futures scholarships for about 41,000 students who have a grade point average of at least a 3.5 as well as a score of 1,290 on the SAT or a 29 on the ACT, and provide 75 percent funding to Medallion scholars. It now goes to the Senate floor. Sunshine State News. Meanwhile, a House committee approves a “Sunshine scholarship” proposal that would cover tuition and fees for students entering the Florida College System whose family income is less than $50,000. Politico Florida.

Virtual teachers’ union: Administrators of the Florida Virtual School are fighting back against a drive to unionize the school’s teachers. “We believe that a union is not needed here at FLVS and that bringing a union into our school can drastically affect our relationship with you,” CEO Jodi Marshall wrote in an email to the staff. “That is why we intend to oppose the union by every legal means available to us.” Gradebook.

Educators honored: Steve Crognale, principal at the Endeavor and Discovery Academies in Brooksville, is named the Hernando County School District’s principal of the year. High school age students with severe behavior problems attend Endeavor, and Discovery serves middle school students who are lagging academically. Tampa Bay Times. Four finalists are named for Manatee County teacher of the year, and four others are nominated as support employee of the year. The teaching finalists are: Heather Anderson, language arts teacher at King Middle; Richard Daenell, business education teacher at Lee Middle; Carrie Ling, 4th-grade teacher at Braden River Elementary; and Mallorie Ray, 5th-grade teacher at Mills Elementary. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Five finalists are named for the Leon County School District’s teacher of the year award. They are: Candace Gautney, testing coordinator and teacher at Godby High; Melissa Gilliland, 2nd grade teacher at W.T. Moore Elementary; Sheronda L. Green, 2nd grade teacher at Bond Elementary; Theresa Lambert, kindergarten teacher at DeSoto Trail Elementary; and Jennifer Powell, economics/government teacher at Chiles High. The winner will be announced Dec. 13. Tallahassee Democrat.

Tax cut impact: The tax cut bills approved by the U.S. Senate and House could have a significant impact on the ability of school districts and other state agencies to refinance bonds. Both bills would end the “advance refunding” of tax-exempt bonds, which has saved state and local governments agencies $2.5 billion over the past six years. State officials expect the final version of the bill to take effect Dec. 31, and are rushing to refinance $400 million in school construction bonds before then. News Service of Florida.

Gun bill shot down: A bill that would have allowed people to carry concealed weapons at schools on church properties is killed in the Florida Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, would have decriminalized the possession of concealed weapons while on a school campus that includes a church. Carrying a concealed weapon into a Florida school is a felony. Daily Commercial. WFSU. News Service of Florida.

Achievement gap: The Alachua County School District has the largest achievement gap between black and white students in the state, according to statistics from the Florida Department of Education. Black students lagged behind white students in all four of the state’s Florida Standards Assessments exams. In language arts, the gap was 45 percentage points, with 74 percent of white students and 29 percent of black students passing the test. In math, the gap was 42 percentage points; in science, 47 percentage points; and in social studies, 42. Independent Florida Alligator.

Superintendent evaluation: Palm Beach County School Superintendent Robert Avossa is given a “highly effective” overall rating at his annual evaluation, but school board members still haven’t decided how much of a raise he’ll get. Avossa makes $325,000 a year, third-highest of any state superintendent. The board also agreed to reassign 1,900 students from the Odyssey Middle School to five other schools. Odyssey will be closed at the end of this school year. Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel.

Contract negotiations: The Citrus County School Board approves a deal to boost the $35,000 starting salary for teachers by $1,000 this year and $1,200 in each of the next two years. Also approved is a 1.25 percent rate for noninstructional employees. Pay increases for teachers depend on their evaluations. Citrus County Chronicle. Both Pasco County school employees and district officials believe they’re close to a contract agreement, with pay the final obstacle. The union is asking for an average 2.3 percent raises, and the district is offering 2 percent. The sides resume negotiations today. Gradebook.

Learning center: The Gulf County School District and Gulf Coast State College are collaborating to build an advanced learning center at the college. The center will be home to learning programs for local residents, from kindergarten to adults. Port St. Joe Star.

School choice information: A federal Government Accountability Office report says that most parents of students with special needs aren’t informed about the tradeoffs that come along with getting a state scholarship for their children to attend private schools. Under the law, parents who accept a scholarship forfeit the rights they have if their child attends a public school. The GAO recommends that Congress require states to inform parents how their rights would change if they choose a private school. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the Gardiner scholarship for students with special needs. redefinED.

Discipline meeting: Members of the Lee County NAACP meet with school Superintendent Greg Adkins to discuss the discipline of minority students and their academic progress. The NAACP filed a complaint three months ago with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, alleging that minority students are more likely to be disciplined and enter the school-to-prison pipeline than white ones. Fort Myers News-Press.

Security at schools: A number of incidents in Sarasota County School District schools prompts a digital town meeting on safety and security for students. Superintendent Todd Bowden says social media is contributing to the problems, forcing schools to react and sparking absenteeism even when a threat is not credible. He says another issue the district grapples with is when to notify parents about an incident. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Notable deaths: Maria Rybka, a longtime teacher and administrator in the Hernando County School District and an advocate of healthy lifestyles, dies of lung disease. She was 50. Tampa Bay Times. Students at Timber Creek High School are grieving the death of a popular classmate. Grace Foley, 14, died after having an epileptic seizure earlier this week. Orlando Sentinel. Paris Byrd, the 13-year-old who collapsed and died while trying out for the Murray Middle School basketball team this week, had an enlarged heart, according to preliminary findings of the Duval County medical examiner. WJAX.

District headquarters: The Martin County School District may reconsider building its new headquarters on the East Stuart property that includes Sailfish Ballpark. Residents of the area say tearing down the ballpark would be a disservice to them and to neighborhood children. TCPalm.

Old school, new use: The Orange County School District has an agreement to sell the old Grand Avenue School to the city of Orlando, which plans to turn it into a recreation center. The school, which was built in 1926, was declared an Orlando historic landmark in 1995 but closed in June. Orlando Sentinel.

Teachers arrested: An auto mechanics instructor at Nature Coast Technical High School in Hernando County is arrested and accused of committing battery against a 19-year-old male student. Kevin Thomas Moglia, 61, allegedly touched the buttocks of the student, who told school officials and then called the sheriff’s office. Moglia is on administrative leave until the investigation is complete. Tampa Bay Times. A Marion County teacher who resigned last week is arrested and accused of burglary and possession of drug paraphernalia. Sharon Easterly-Meggison, 50, was put on administrative leave Nov. 16 for a suspected violation of the district’s substance abuse policy. Ocala Star-Banner.

Opinions on schools: In 2010, I was Florida teacher of the year. Then I moved the Massachusetts and was introduced to the frustrating rules governing certification and licensing. Megan Allen, Education Week.

Student enrichment: Bay County contractors donate $10,000 to the Bay Education Foundation. The money was divided among the district elementary schools with the highest percent of students on free and reduced-price lunches. Panama City News Herald. Broward County students get high tech career advice from professionals during TechGateway Day. WLRN.