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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida education news: Arrests, one-room schoolhouse, art tests and more

YOUTH ARRESTS: Florida lawmakers move forward with a proposal to provide law enforcement officers with alternatives to arresting youthful offenders.

SUPERINTENDENTS: The Palm Beach school district releases a preliminary list of candidates for superintendent, WPTV reports.

ONE-ROOM SCHOOL: Manatee's Duette community will raise funds to support Florida's last remaining one-room schoolhouse, the Bradenton Herald reports.

ATTENDANCE BOUNDARIES: The Bay School Board selects a rezoning option among six choices, saying it's the least disruptive, the Panama City News Herald reports.

AIMING HIGH: Students from a struggling Volusia middle school visit Bethune-Cookman University to get a feel for college life, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

TESTING: The Florida Department of Education is asking students to rate their online testing experience, the Orlando Sentinel reports. • Testing in non-standardized subjects like art proves elusive for Florida schools, the Gainesville Sun reports.

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To market, to market the Hillsborough schools

Hillsborough County School Board members will sit together three times on Tuesday: First to go over policy, then to discuss a marketing plan for the district, and finally for their recognition meeting.

All three events are open to the public.

The 9 a.m. workshop, generally held in a second floor conference room at school district headquarters in downtown Tampa, will give the board a chance to go over policy revisions. Topics include the athletic transfer policy, medical leave for employees, social media and wireless devices.

The social media policy seeks to clarify what teachers can and cannot do amidst an ever-changing landscape. They're being told, essentially, to use official district and school social media for any communication with their school communities. It should be professional and appropriate. Teachers' personal accounts should be off-limits to all current Hillsborough County Public School students.  …

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Opting out? National group is keeping tabs on the movement's strength

Florida school districts continue to administer the Florida Standards Assessments, and with each passing test period they receive letters from families that don't want their children to participate.

The Florida Department of Education isn't keeping track of the opt-outs. But United Opt Out, which had its national conference in Fort Lauderdale this year, is trying to map the opposition online to show how widespread the movement has become.

It's self-reported, but the map is pretty interesting, with hot spots in central Florida as well as Denver and New York.

Have you tried opting out your children? Did your school have a "sit and stare" policy, or handle it some other way?

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Will Florida bills on uniforms, guns in schools make a difference?

A lot of noise has surrounded legislation moving through the Florida Legislature involving student uniforms and concealed weapons at public schools.

The big question is, if they even become law, will they matter?

SB 180, which heads to the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday, would allow superintendents to designate employees to carry concealed weapons on school grounds. School Board approval also would be required.

HB 7043, which passed the House last week, would give school districts $10 per student if they adopt student uniforms.

The key thing about each bill is, despite the political points and rhetorical claims, neither requires schools to do anything. Lawmakers can say they acted, while actually leaving the heavy lifting to school districts.

Action doesn't necessarily follow.

Consider the 2012 passage of the bill allowing school boards to create policies permitting students to offer "inspirational messages" at school functions. Critics called it the "school prayer bill" and fretted over the can of worms the new law would open. In reality, no school districts adopted "inspirational messages" policies. …

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Pasco superintendent chastises local House members over charter school funding

Superintendent Kurt Browning, one of Pasco County's most popular and prominent Republican officials, is taking to task two of his local House members for their position on charter school funding.

Specifically, Browning spoke to a measure sponsored by Miami Rep. Erik Fresen, which would require school districts to share their capital improvements property tax revenue with charters. Lawmakers have been pushing for a couple of years to funnel more taxpayer money to charter schools, which are privately run but publicly funded. (See stories from 2013 and 2014 for examples.)

Already, Browning noted, the state cut districts' maximum local property tax for construction and other capital needs. Many districts including Pasco have turned to sales taxes to boost their funding for projects. But that hasn't been enough, the superintendent said in e-mails to speaker-in-waiting Richard Corcoran and newly elected Danny Burgess. 

Forcing districts to give up a portion of what they have to charters, whose leaders should have anticipated their own needs before opening, rubs the wrong way, Browning wrote. Here's his full e-mail: …

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Florida education news: Concealed weapons, computerized testing, teacher raises and more

ELECTED VS. APPOINTED: Voters should choose the Florida Board of Education, the Palm Beach Post editorializes.

GUNS AT SCHOOL: Some north Florida residents see no problem with measures allowing selected school officials to carry concealed weapons, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports.

TESTING: Some experts say Florida should stick with computerized testing despite high-profile problems with the systems, WLRN reports.

STUDENT RIGHTS: A St. Lucie student is suspended for making a video of a teacher being mean to a classmate, WPTV reports.

TEACHER PAY: Raises to Duval teachers will total $40 million over three years, the Florida Times-Union reports.

CHALLENGES: The principal of Orange County's Evans High identifies with her students' problems, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

SIMPLY THE BEST: Santa Fe College leaders talk about how the school won the nation's top honor for community colleges, the Gainesville Sun reports.

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Florida education news: Virtual school, color guard, principal training and more

VIRTUAL SCHOOL: The University of Florida online campus struggles to meet its enrollment projections, the Ocala Star-Banner reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Florida lawmakers should take more care in their zeal to expand charter schools, the Palm Beach Post editorializes.

BOYS TOO: High school color guards are no longer for girls only, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

REACHING HIGH: Florida International University offers a full scholarship to a 14-year-old, the AP reports.

BUDGETS: The Florida Senate and House differ in their education spending proposals, the Florida Times-Union reports.

GETTING READY: The Manatee school district launches a leadership training academy for principals and assistant principals, the Bradenton Herald reports.

CONSTRUCTION: The Fort Myers News-Press looks into how much building a new high school costs and why. • The St. Johns school district explores how to deal with enrollment growth without new schools, the St. Augustine Record reports.

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Florida education news: Achievement gap, rats, student-athletes and more

ON THE FLOOR: The Florida House approves measures on class size, charter schools, dress codes and school leadership with little conversation.

ACHIEVEMENT GAP: Jeb Bush gets it Mostly True with his comments that Florida has led the nation in decreasing the gap, Politifact Florida writes.

TESTING: Florida House and Senate leaders differ on key points in legislation to change the state's testing rules, WFSU reports. • Jacksonville-area school districts see an increase in parent interest in opting out, the Florida Times-Union reports.

RATS: Rodents disturb classes at a Collier high school, NBC 2 reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: A struggling Palm Beach charter school may be forced to close, the Palm Beach Post reports.

STUDENT-ATHLETES: Some high school officials worry that top athletes could become free agents under a bill moving through the Florida House, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

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Florida school administrators' group drops out of voucher lawsuit

In August 2014, the Florida Association of School Administrators joined with a group of education and civic groups to challenge Florida's 13-year-old corporate tax credit scholarship program.

Executive director Juhan Mixon announced Friday that it would no longer be party to the suit:

The Board of Directors of the Florida Association of School Administrators (FASA) has decided to withdraw from the lawsuit filed in the Leon Circuit Court regarding tax credit scholarships (vouchers). Following a full review of priorities, the Board made the decision to focus resources on FASA’s main objective – to ensure that the quality of administrative leadership within our schools continues to make Florida’s graduates competitive worldwide.

FASA members are dedicated to increasing student achievement and positively impacting teaching and learning. To accomplish this, the Association will continue to target professional development needs of administrators; to support teachers and students regarding digital conversion and technology in schools; and to advocate for administrators at all levels. …

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Florida House approves construction money for charter schools

Without a word of debate Friday, the Florida House approved a controversial proposal that could require school districts to share tens of millions of dollars in construction funds with rival charter schools.

The bill was one of four high-profile education proposals that won the support of the Republican-dominated House. The others would:

* Ease the penalties for schools that fail to comply with the Constitutionally-mandated limits on class size;

* Create a pilot program to give principals more control over hiring and budget decisions; and

* Encourage school districts to adopt mandatory school uniform policies for children in grades K-8 by offering incentive money.

All of the Democrats in attendance voted against the charter school bill (HB 7037). But none debated the measure on the floor.

Read more here.

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Pasco County schools to begin 2015-16 contract talks early

Pasco County school district leaders hope not to have another year when teachers and other school staff return to classes in the fall not knowing all the terms of their employment.

That in mind, they've scheduled to begin negotiations for 2015-16 in April.

"We're going to try to get it done much quicker," employee relations director Betsy Kuhn said. "We think by starting sooner, there is a chance when teachers come back in August, we could have it done."

This school year, bargaining took nearly half a year, as the sides disagreed over issues such as tobacco use, early retirement benefits and planning time. As frustrations rose, leaders from the district and United School Employees of Pasco sent dueling updates to workers, trying to explain their positions.

Ultimately, they reached a deal that included raises of about 3 percent, on average. Employees got the added pay in Feburary, about six months after they returned to work. …

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Zephyrhills High teachers defend student restroom restrictions

News that Pasco County's Zephyrhills High School would restrict student bathroom use during class time met instant resistance from parents this week. As the story went viral, superintendent Kurt Browning called for the school to change its approach.

His request prompted a pushback from teachers and staff, who emailed him to say how much they like the idea.

"I only have the safety and the best interest of every student here at ZHS in my practices and I honestly believe the new policy is for the safety of every student and staff," first year reading teacher Cynthia Ritz wrote.

Language arts teacher Natalie Probst wrote of her "total support" for the effort, which she contended had an immediate positive effect. …

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Florida education news: Soccer school, dress code, gifted classes and more

FOR FUTBOL: Families learn about a new soccer academy seeking to open in the Tampa area.

AIMING HIGH: Pasco-Hernando State College new president Tim Beard has big aspirations for the school.

TESTING: It's not all bad, columnist Dan DeWitt writes.

SPORTS: The Florida House presses forward with a bill to revamp high school athletics rules, the Sun-Sentinel reports. The Florida High Schools Athletic Association is in the crosshairs, the News Service of Florida reports.

DRESS CODE: A proposal to pay Florida school districts to adopt student uniforms heads to the House floor, the Capitol News Service reports.

ACHIEVEMENT GAP: Duval's lowest performing schools make gains but still lag behind others in the district, the Florida Times-Union reports.

TEACHER INSURANCE: Florida lawmakers move to provide liability insurance to public school teachers, the Naples Daily News reports.

GIFTED EDUCATION: The Escambia school district will reorganize its programs for gifted students, the Pensacola News-Journal reports. …

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Education commissioner's new advisory committee to meet Friday

Florida education commissioner Pam Stewart's new advisory panel, the Keep Florida Learning Committee, will have its inaugural meeting via conference call starting at 9 a.m. Friday.

The 11-member group will talk about its public role, covering such things as Sunshine Laws, before setting its guiding principles. Stewart already has made clear she expects that, at a minimum, the committee will review "further deregulation opportunities for the school system, reviewing the instructional material review processes used by school boards, identifying strategies to increase parental involvement in education, and reviewing the implementation of the Florida Standards and the Florida Standards Assessment."

Interested in keeping tabs on the members, who include lawmakers, school board members and school leaders in addition to two parents? The meeting will be webcast from the FLDOE website.

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What did Florida senators do about third grade retentions?

After lengthy, sometimes confusing debate Wednesday over Florida's testing and its consequences, the state Senate Appropriations Committee adopted a proposal that would change the rules relating to third-grade retention.

Reports quickly emerged that the state where likely presidential candidate Jeb Bush launched third-grade retentions based on reading test performance was about to suspend the practice. "If Florida lawmakers agree to the change, it would mark a major departure from a policy pushed into law by then-Gov. Jeb Bush who decried 'social promotion' when he campaigned for governor," the Associated Press wrote.

So what exactly did the Senate panel adopt? Its language refers to how test results will be used in the transition to new Florida Standards Assessments (see the TRANSITION section of the main bill, starting at line 493). The amendment reads: …

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