Florida schools roundup: Graduation rates, school vouchers, storm losses and more

Behind the graduation rates: The impressive high school graduation rates reported last month by the Florida Department of Education are bolstered by the subtraction of about 60,000 students who were recategorized as “withdrawing” from their schools. That’s about 22 percent of the number of students who began 9th grade four years ago. Some of those 60,000 transferred, some moved, some enrolled in private schools, some are home-schooled, some have died. But no one knows if any of those students graduated. Florida Phoenix. Legislators are considering expanding the paths to high school graduation. Here’s what some students think should, and shouldn’t, be done. Tampa Bay Times.

New court, new hope: The new, more conservative Florida Supreme Court has Republicans hopeful that the idea of private school vouchers can be reconsidered. The court struck down the “opportunity scholarship” proposal of then-Gov. Jeb Bush in 2006, ruling that it “diverts public dollars into separate private systems parallel to and in competition with the free public schools that are the sole means set out in the Constitution for the state to provide for the education of Florida’s children.” Tampa Bay Times.

More storm losses: The Bay County School District is expecting to lose $51 million in funding from the state because of declining enrollment after Hurricane Michael. The district is projecting a loss of 3,149 students and lower property tax revenues because of declining values, which will translate to a loss of $12 million to $17 million for the current fiscal year and $24 million to $34 million next fiscal year. Panama City News Herald.

Vaping ‘epidemic’: Vaping is now an epidemic in Brevard County schools, with referrals and suspensions up fivefold in the last year, officials say. “It’s an epidemic,” says assistant superintendent Stephanie Soliven. “It exploded, literally since the end of last year to the fall of this year.” Florida Today.

Runcie meeting parents: Broward County School Superintendent Robert Runcie says he will meet with parents of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland four times, starting Thursday, about their concerns over the way he’s handled school security. Runcie canceled a meeting last week “due to concern for student and parent safety.” Sun Sentinel. California artist David Best will build a 35-foot “Temple of Time” for the Parkland community as a healing tribute. It opens Feb. 14, one year after the shooting deaths of 17 people at Stoneman Douglas, then will be set afire in mid-May. Sun Sentinel.

Security priorities: The Florida Coalition of School Board Members’ goals for the legislative session that starts March 5 include more money for security and mental health services in schools, more flexibility is meeting the state mandate for armed guards in schools, and expanding school choice and education savings accounts. Gradebook. Osceola County school officials also are asking their legislative delegation to provide more funding for school security. Osceola News-Gazette. Sarasota school officials defend their decision to start their own police department. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Teachers honored: Hollie Cunningham, a registered nurse who teaches health science at West Port High School in Ocala, is named the Marion County School District’s 2019 teacher of the year. Ocala Star-Banner. Five finalists are chosen for the Clay County School District’s teacher of the year award, and for the employee of the year. The teacher finalists are: Evan Gould, chorus and drama teacher at Lake Asbury Junior High; Cynthia Leporati, language arts teacher at Orange Park Junior High; Jessica Moreland, who teaches autistic students at Ridgeview High; Billie Jean Peeples, family and consumer science teacher at Clay Virtual Academy; and Elizabeth Toney, a 5th-grade teacher at RideOut Elementary. The winner will be announced Jan. 31. WJXT.

Making the grade: The St. Johns County School District is one of seven in the state receiving an A grade from the Department of Education. A study reveals shows there are some differences among those districts, but that most have veteran teachers and a low rate of student absenteeism. St. Johns also counts fewer students in poverty and high community support. One area it would like to improve is teacher salaries. St. Johns has the lowest average annual salary among the top seven districts. St. Augustine Record.

Contract negotiations: The Pasco County teachers union declares an impasse in contract negotiations with the school district. The sides have agreed to a 2 percent pay raise, on average, but still have differences on how to distribute the salary increases, performance evaluations, when teachers can be transferred without their approval, and training at turnaround schools. Gradebook.

Later start times: Seminole County School Superintendent Walt Griffin is asking his staff to research how the district can accommodate later starting times for high schools. Griffin says he’d love to make a change, but acknowledges that he hasn’t been able to figure out a way to do it “without it costing dollars we don’t have” for more school buses and drivers. Most Seminole County high schools start at 7:20 a.m. Orlando Sentinel.

Catholic school enrollment: Catholic school enrollment in Florida has declined 1 percent this year, according to the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops. There were 86,691 students in the 2017-2018 school year, but 85,784 this year. The drop ended a seven-year streak of slow but steady enrollment growth. redefinED.

Aid for DACA students: A bill is filed that would allow students granted protected immigration status, through either the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program or the Temporary Protected Status program, to become eligible to receive Bright Futures scholarships. Florida Politics.

Open enrollment: The number of St. Johns County students applying for transfers to other schools under the state’s open enrollment law is declining, according to district officials. In the first year of open enrollment, 163 students applied to attend schools outside their zones but only 65 transferred. Last year that fell to 29 applications, and school officials expect fewer again this year. St. Augustine Record.

Corporal punishment: U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Democrat who represents the 20th congressional district in the Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach areas, introduces a bill in the House that would withhold federal funding from U.S. schools that allow corporal punishment. “Corporal punishment is an outdated, barbaric and ineffective practice that has no place in our schools today,” says Hastings. Florida Daily.

Nurses in schools: Sarasota County school officials are considering replacing some health room aides in schools with licensed practical nurses to help reduce waiting times for students. The district now has 10 registered nurses, two LPNs and 40 health room aides. A proposal to shift that balance to 23 LPNs and 24 aides would cost an additional $340,000 a year. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Textbook contracts: Education experts and some school officials around Florida say long-term district contracts with textbook publishers are hampering innovation in classrooms. Some districts are turning to software as a solution to stay more current. Florida Politics.

Book vending machine: Students at Umatilla Elementary School in Lake County will soon be able to select books from a vending machine, using school credit earned with academic success or good deeds. Daily Commercial.

Aging schools: Duval County school officials will hold a series of meetings with the community to discuss its crumbling buildings. At least 56 percent of Duval County’s school buildings or considered to be in poor condition, according to a recent engineering report, and repairing or replacing them will cost more than $1 billion. Florida Times-Union.

New school plans: Polk County School Board members get a preview of the plans for the new new high school in Davenport, which is expected to open in the fall of 2021 with up to 2,500 students on 60 acres next to the Davenport School of the Arts. The cost will be about $86 million. Lakeland Ledger.

Event at school in question: A wrestling event scheduled Feb. 9 at Coral Springs High School in Broward County is canceled after school officials learned that the promoter has a criminal part and a warrant outstanding for his arrest. Sun Sentinel.

Medical pot use: A Brevard County teacher has been fired for using marijuana, but she says it’s medical marijuana and she has had a legal prescription for it for more than a year. Marta MacCullagh, a 2nd-grade teacher at Endeavour Elementary Magnet School in Cocoa, is protesting the firing. WFTV.

Student stabbed: A Broward County student is stabbed by a classmate at Boyd Anderson High School in Broward County, The victim suffered minor injuries and a suspect was detained. WSVN.

Opinions on schools: For over 225 years we’ve shown that giving journalists the freedom to collect and report information with minimal government oversight, while often messy and contentious, works. It will also work in public education. Doug Tuthill, redefinED. It’s a good idea for St. Lucie County voters to back a tax hike for higher teacher pay. But you know what’s an even better idea? Fix the broken system of how the state funds education. Gil Smart, TCPalm. Orange County school officials been yakking for more than a decade about starting high school a little later in the morning. We’re beginning to think there’s a lack of resolve. Orlando Sentinel. Given the makeup of our current state leadership, the trend toward privatizing K-12 schools is likely to escalate, even with pushback from those who still believe in America’s long-held tradition of free and equitable public education for all. Carrie Seidman, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. People who care about the future of Florida’s children and who understand the economics of the workforce are going to have to just keep looking for opportunities to persuade parents and stakeholders to improve their students’ preparation for the best economic opportunities in the 21st century economy. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. The Manatee County Florida School Board may make history by becoming one of the first, and perhaps only, public entity in modern times to name a school after a slave-owner.
Clarence V. McKee, Newsmax.

Student enrichment: Twenty-five Orange County students attend school at the Universal Education Center on the grounds of Universal Orlando. They’re students during the day, and work at the theme park in the afternoon. Orlando Sentinel. Students at Rushe and River Ridge middle schools in Pasco County are learning robotics in an after-school pilot program called Beyond the Bell. Tampa Bay Times. Manatee County School District employees and service providers get training in a program called Life on the Edge, which is intended to give them a lesson in hardship and empathy for those living it. Bradenton Herald. Students at Crestview High School in Okaloosa County can now earn certification  as emergency medical technicians when they graduate through a joint school district-Northwest Florida State College program. Northwest Florida Daily News. Sixteen 8th-graders from Oak Park Middle School are selected to visit the Leesburg High School Construction Academy for an introduction to the program. Daily Commercial.