Florida schools roundup: School choice, education court challenge and more

School choice wins: A clear winner in Tuesday’s elections in Florida is school choice, according to the founder of the state’s tax credit scholarship program. “When given a clear choice between a candidate who supports empowering parents to choose K-12 options for their children and a candidate who wishes to restrict those choices, voters prefer the candidate who supports educational choice,” says John Kirtley, whose Florida Federation For Children donated about $1.6 million to school choice supporters in 39 key races around the state. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit scholarship and several others. Gradebook.

Education challenge: The Florida Supreme Court hears oral arguments today in a 2009 case that claims the inadequacy of funding for education is a violation of the state constitution. Citizens for Strong Schools, the plaintiffs, lost at trial and in an appeal as judges ruled that the constitutional amendment requiring a “high quality education” uses political terms that can’t be objectively measured. Another plaintiff, Eunice Barnum of Jacksonville, says her then-elementary aged children “were failing in math, failing in reading, even though they were there every day. The constitution clearly says that it’s the paramount duty of the state to provide a high quality education. And, you know, when I went to school, ‘F’ was never considered high quality. It just wasn’t.” WJCT. Orlando Sentinel.

After the storm: State utility companies tell the Florida Public Service Commission that all power now has been restored to areas affected when Hurricane Michael hit Oct. 10. Associated Press. Two more Bay County schools reopen today. Another 14 are scheduled to reopen Tuesday, and Arnold High School is set for a Nov. 15 return, according to school officials. Panama City News Herald. Chautauqua Learn and Serve, a transitional school in Bay County where students with disabilities learn life skills, has reopened. Panama City News Herald. Leon County school officials may cancel three early-release days in December to make up for the time lost when Hurricane Michael hit the area. Tallahassee Democrat. Gulf County schools are “slowly” returning to normal, say district officials. Port St. Joe Star.

Charter schools: A charter school that will teach classes in both English and Spanish wins approval from the Sarasota County School Board. Dreamers Academy is expected to enroll more than 280 students in K-5 when it opens next fall. Its goal is to make students fluent in both languages. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Duval County School Board unanimously rejects a chart school’s application, saying it falls short of state and federal requirements. Duval officials noted that the plan for the Seventh Generation Classical Academy didn’t meet the established state standards on its budget, safety and security plans, discipline and culture practices, and its organizational structure. The district also had questions about funding and the school’s ability to serve students with disabilities and low performers. Florida Times-Union.

Selling a tax hike: The Hillsborough County School District had just 10 weeks to sell voters on approving an increase in the sales tax to pay for mounting school infrastructure needs. Here’s how school officials pulled it off. Gradebook.

Appointed superintendents: Voters in Escambia and Marion counties approved a switch to appointed school superintendents. Now both counties are looking to the state for guidance on how to make the transition. Ocala Star-Banner. Pensacola News Journal. WEAR.

Gay board member: With her election Tuesday to the Polk County School Board, Sarah Fortney becomes the first openly gay school board member in Florida. Fortney teaches science at Stambaugh Middle School. Florida Politics.

Oversight for DeVos: With Democrats now in charge of the U.S. House of Representatives, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos can expect increased scrutiny over her decisions on issues ranging from student civil rights to the department’s approval of Every Student Succeeds Act plans from the states. Politico.

Legislative committee posts: State Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Eustis, is named chairwoman of the House Education Committee by incoming Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes. The committee includes the Higher Education & Career Readiness, PreK-12 Innovation and PreK-12 Quality subcommittees. Rep. Travis Cummings, R-Fleming Island, is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which includes the Higher Education Appropriations and PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittees. Politico Florida.

Teachers honored: The 2019 teachers of the year are named for all 42 Clay County schools. The county teacher of the year will be selected in January, and the winner will be eligible for the state teacher of the year award. Clay Today.

Narrowing achievement gap: Principals of the lowest-performing elementary schools in Pinellas County say the key to closing the achievement gap is a holistic approach that includes academics, addressing the barriers students face outside the classroom and boosting parental involvement. Gradebook.

School closing proposal: Pasco County Superintendent Kurt Browning says the decision to close Lacoochee, Hudson and Mittye P. Locke elementary schools is about improving the education for students, not just about saving money. Closing the schools and transferring students to nearby schools would provide more services for those students, better use available space and help stretch the district’s financial resources. “If we don’t change the way we think about delivering education to the kids we serve, we are doing them a huge disservice,” Browning says. “We have got to make some tough decisions.” Tampa Bay Times. Parents of Mittye P. Locke Elementary students have mixed opinions on the proposal to close the school in 2020. Gradebook.

Long-distance learning: Julie Roberts of Pasco County is one of about 60,000 instructors teaching English to about 100,000 Chinese students 8,000 miles away through the VIP Kid program. Roberts teaches six classes a day through her computer from her Land O’ Lakes home. Tampa Bay Times.

Replacing board attorney: The Clay County School Board will meet Nov. 26 to discuss the process it will follow to replace board attorney David D’Agata. D’Agata is taking a job as deputy general counsel for the Florida Department of Education, and his final day in Clay is Dec. 21. Clay Today.

Teacher arrested: A Manatee County teacher is fired five days after he was arrested for solicitation of a child in Orange County. Authorities say Austin Pearce, 28, an agriculture teacher at Palmetto High School, is charged with soliciting a child to engage in sexual battery, possession of material including sexual conduct by a child, unlawful use of a two-way communications device, committing an unnatural and lascivious act and soliciting a child for unlawful sexual conduct using computer services or devices. Bradenton Herald. WFLA.

Teacher aides’ troubles: Katie Leigh Carsey, a former teacher’s aide at the Fort McCoy School in Marion County, is sentenced to five years in prison for having a sexual relationship with a former underage student. Carsey, 37, pleaded guilty Tuesday to a charge of lewd or lascivious battery of a child 12 to 16 years old. Ocala Star-Banner. A Volusia County teacher assistant is arrested and accused of slapping a 16-year-old student who is nonverbal and has Down syndrome and autism. Patricia Reynolds, 71, who works at Deltona High School, is charged with child abuse without great harm. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Opinions on schools: Florida SAT results look good when making apples-to-apples comparisons with other states, which includes controlling for racial and income differences. Unfortunately, that good news is often ignored by many professing anxiety over education quality in the Sunshine State. Patrick R. Gibbons, redefinED. Voters showed faith in the Martin County School District, in the kids, by approving another tax increase for schools and making the change to appoint superintendents. Now the district must validate that faith down to the last penny. Gil Smart, TCPalm. Marion County voters’ decision to appoint a school superintendent was a clear statement that they want better schools. Ocala Star-Banner.

Student enrichment: More than 25 Cotee River Elementary School 4th- and 5th-grade boys are members of the Distinguished Gentlemen, a Pasco County group that is taught responsibility, commitment, integrity and, once a month, how to dress up. Tampa Bay Times.