Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

In-state tuition bill hits roadblock in Senate

The Senate Appropriations Committee will not hear a proposal seeking to extend in-state college tuition rates to undocumented students, Sen. Joe Negron announced Thursday.

"After careful consideration, I have decided not to place Senate Bill 1400 on the Appropriations Committee agenda for our meeting on April 22, 2014," Negron said in a statement.

The announcement, which came hours after Senate President Don Gaetz expressed his opposition to the measure, significantly weakens the bill's chances of becoming law. The proposal needs the approval of the Senate Approprations Committee to advance to the floor. And April 22 is the panel's last scheduled meeting.

Negron said he decided not to hear the bill because in-state tuition discounts should be "reserved for legal residents of Florida."

"Florida law does not prohibit students who are undocumented from accessing our state colleges and universities," he said. "Once these students favorably resolve their residency status, they could become eligible for in-state tuition."

Negron also said "a need for SB 1400 has not been established" and included a list of unanswered questions. …

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Senate president won't support in-state tuition for undocumented students

The holiday break didn't stop Senate President Don Gaetz from weighing in on one of the most controversial bills of the session.

On Thursday, Gaetz sent an email to his constituents in Northwest Florida voicing opposition to Senate Bill 1400. The proposal by Sen. Jack Latvala would allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates at Florida colleges and universities. 

A version of the bill has already passed in the House.

The Senate bill has 20 co-sponsors, meaning it has enough support to pass on the upper chamber floor. But in order for that vote to even take place, Latvala must first secure a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Gaetz, R-Niceville, has had issues with the bill since the beginning of session.

He made his position clear in his electronic newsletter Thursday.

"Though I am likely in the minority in the Legislature on this matter, I cannot support taxpayer subsidies in the form of tuition discounts for undocumented or illegal students," he wrote.

Gaetz acknowledged that the issue was politically charged. …

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Pasco schools to clarify penalties for student-athletes who are arrested

For years, the Pasco County school district has had a lengthy set of rules detailing how to deal with student-athletes who are arrested.

"Every time we had a situation, a principal would call and say, 'What do I do?'" district athletic director Phil Bell said.

There were eligibility suspensions of 20 days in some circumstances, 40 days in others, and 90 days for still others. The rules were, in a word, confusing.

No more.

Under a new guideline giving tentative approval this week, all criminal activity for all students will be treated in the same, simple manner. It reads:

"If a student is found to have been arrested on or off campus and/or charged with a felony or a delinquent act that would be a felony it that student were an adult, even if adjudication is withheld, then the student will be suspended from an ineligible to participate in extracurricular activities. The student shall be suspended/deemed ineligible to participate in extracurricular activities, including athletics, for no less than 90 school days from the date the school becomes aware of said violation."

The district can lift the suspension if the charges are dropped or a not guilty verdict is rendered. …

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Hand over your mice. It's FCAT season

Florida lawmakers wondering whether schools are prepared for computerized testing need to look no further than Pine View Elementary School in Pasco County for an answer.

With the FCAT approaching, the school's media-technology coach sent an e-mail to teachers confiscating all the computer mice from their classrooms for the testing period. "We need a total of 70 and we have 30 in the computer lab," the specialist wrote. "We need them during the week of April 21st and will get them back to you by the end of that week."

The upshot? Classroom teachers will be bringing compatible computer mice from home to use, or they'll simply do without computers for instructional purposes during the testing time.

This is important because the state has targeted 2015 -- that's next year -- for schools to become largely digital. Lawmakers continue to debate how much money to put into the effort, as the state continues its move to new computer-based assessments. …

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Florida education news: Principals, tests, single-gender classrooms and more

WHOSE JOB? A Hernando School Board member criticizes the superintendent for changing high school schedules without asking for public input or a board vote.

LEADERSHIP: Principals of two Pinellas elementary schools are selected to lead new schools opening in the fall.

SLOW DOWN: Duval teacher and parent leaders call for a longer transition to Florida's next tests, the Florida Times-Union reports.

SIDESTEPPING: Gov. Rick Scott won't commit on the debate over whether voucher recipients should take the state's annual accountability tests, State Impact Florida reports.

SINGLE-GENDER INSTRUCTION: Florida lawmakers move to set rules for districts that establish single-gender schools or classrooms, the Naples Daily News reports.

DROP A LINE: A Marion School Board member encourages employees to send her anonymous complaints after the district refuses to put up complaint boxes, the Ocala Star-Banner reports.

MAKING STRIDES: Polk's superintendent says she's pleased with the district direction after 10 months on the job, the Ledger reports.

TEACHERS WANTED: Volusia schools have a teacher shortage, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

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Two models of assessing civics: Florida and Tennessee

In its examination of states' civics education initiatives, the Education Commission of the States has found just two that have statewide exams with consequences -- Florida and Tennessee.

Both states are launching their tests this year. Both have the same goal in mind, to enhance civics understanding. Yet their approaches are "very different," the ECS reports in a newly released white paper.

Florida continues its high-stakes approach, giving middle schoolers and end-of-course exam that counts for up to 30 percent of their final grade. They must pass the course to move to high school.

Tennessee, by contrast, tries a project-based assessment. The report explains: "The tests are designed to show student mastery of content, including relevant knowledge related to public policy, the structure of federal, state and local government, and the U.S. and Tennessee constitutions. Additionally, the assessments will not be 'standardized tests developed by vendors according to state-determined specifications, but instead are to be developed and implemented by [individual] school districts,' the law states." …

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Pasco school district officials seek consistency in student discipline

Pasco County superintendent Kurt Browning had heard the stories too frequently that students at one district school received a punishment much different from students at another campus committing the same offense.

"I was starting to get e-mails from parents," Browning told the School Board on Tuesday. "There needs to be some consistent practices."

So for the first time, the district has created a three-page chart detailing offenses and the specific penalties associated with each. Principals and teachers are still offering input as officials edit it in time to place it in the next Code of Conduct.

"It remains a work in progress," Browning said, as he introduced the matrix for initial approval by the board.

As part of this effort, the administration added an expanded explanation of expectations for academic honesty and integrity, which took up just two sentences in the current Code of Conduct. The new section makes clear that students are expected to complete their own work, and lists several examples of violations including cheating, plagiarism, allowing others to copy, and forging parent signatures. …

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Florida education news: Charter schools, summer school, strategic planning and more

CHARTER SCHOOLS: A Pasco charter school serving children with autism faces closure without a big cash infusion as its management company backs out. • One of Duval's oldest charter schools could close if its academic performance doesn't improve, the Florida Times-Union reports. • Miami-Dade breaks ground on a privately funded, district-run charter school, the Miami Herald reports.

SUMMER SCHOOL: Pinellas schools launch a new summer algebra "boot camp" for students with low test scores.

FIX IT: Hernando officials consider major renovations for Westside Elementary School.

PLANNING: The Pasco School Board agrees to pay a consultant $290,000 to help write its next strategic plan.

LABOR NEWS: The Orange teachers union reelects its controversial president to another term, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

TEXTBOOKS: Florida lawmakers should not completely remove the state from textbook selection, the Miami Herald editorializes.

NO SMOKING: The Broward School Board moves to ban all tobacco products at all district schools and sites, the Sun-Sentinel reports. …

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Common ground -- with one exception -- on Common Core

Hillsborough curriculum specialists crammed into a conference room to help the board understand the Florida Standards, aka Common Core.


Hillsborough curriculum specialists crammed into a conference room to help the board understand the Florida Standards, aka Common Core.

It's not hard to find an argument about Common Core.

Members of the Hillsborough County School Board, who held an informational workshop on the issue Tuesday, didn't even have to leave their conference table.

In the final moments of the session, member Stacy White announced, "I refuse to be a PR agent for Common Core."

Espousing the views of many fellow conservatives, White said, "I'm concerned about federal over-reach ... We should be driving this at the local level. When we lose that local control, we get a one-size-fits-all, all-or-nothing model that we have today."

Given that aspects of the Florida Standards, as the state calls its version, are still being debated in the legislature, he said, "I think we need for this to slow down to the greatest extent possible."

White, now finishing his four-year term on the board, is running for Hillsborough County Commission in the largely conservative east Hillsborough District 4. …

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Pasco school district changes rules for foreign exchange and travel programs

Pasco County schools have tightened up their rules for student travel abroad and foreign exchange programs, in light of a recent state Ethics Commission opinion criticizing the district's past practices.

New guidelines, circulated to all principals a week ago, make clear that only foreign exchange companies that have been fully vetted by the district may participate in the schools during the coming year. Further, firms seeking students for travel abroad are not allowed on school grounds to solicit students or teachers.

"The District School Board of Pasco County has policies and procedures in place to create partnerships with various organizations for services," teaching and learning director Vanessa Hilton wrote in her memo to principals. "We need to remain cognizant of who we allow onto our campuses and in front of our students."

The state has warned the district that a conflict of interest could arise if teachers directly recruit their own students to participate in travel tours that offer the teachers rewards for bringing in participants. Superintendent Kurt Browning sought the guidance after learning of the model that teachers have used in the past.

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Scott to schools: Great work creating private-sector jobs

Sure it's just a form letter. But Gov. Rick Scott's recent letter congratulating the Pasco County school district for being named one of the region's healthiest employers by the Tampa Bay Business Journal has raised a few eyebrows.

Why? The governor praised the tax-supported public school system for its efforts in creating private-sector jobs.

"You are to be commended for building a company that is recognizable within your community," Scott (or, presumably, his letter writer) wrote to the district that's headed by his former secretary of state. "Because entrepreneurship is the foundation of Florida's success, I am focused on making the Sunshine State the best place for businesses to grow so that entrepreneurs like you can succeed and continue adding private-sector jobs to Florida's economy."

Some might argue that, while the district does not create private-sector jobs, it has in recent years put some of its employees in line for such work. In dealing with state budget cuts and declining local tax revenue, the school district let go nearly 500 workers in 2011 (although many won new posts later), eliminated nearly 90 jobs in 2012 and about 100 positions in 2013. …

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Florida education news: Construction, opting out, teacher discipline and more

CONSTRUCTION FUNDING: Democrats say Florida's traditional schools are not given their fair share of state money for construction and maintenance needs.

TESTING: Escambia and Santa Rosa schools have trouble transitioning to computerized state testing, the Pensacola News-Journal reports. • A Fort Myers mom joins the growing opt-out movement for her son, the Fort Myers News-Press reports. • Bay officials are hopeful of better results as FCAT testing begins, the Panama City News Herald reports.

TEACHER DISCIPLINE: A St. Lucie teacher is dismissed for having a group of students attack another student who threatened her, WPTV reports. • The Okaloosa district moves to fire a high school vet tech instructor for endangering students by keeping an anaconda on campus, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports. • A Manatee middle school teacher faces criminal charges for allegedly inappropriately touching a female student, the Herald-Tribune reports.

SCHOOL CHOICE: More than three-quarters of Lee students seeking choice options get their first selection, the Naples Daily News reports. …

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Bus driver complaints continue in Hillsborough

School bus drivers at a town hall meeting in Apollo Beach


School bus drivers at a town hall meeting in Apollo Beach

More than 50 transportation employees of the Hillsborough County school district turned out Monday evening for a meeting in Apollo Beach that this time included four School Board members.

Candy Olson, whose district includes Apollo Beach, listened and acknowledged that the drivers have not always been served by innovations called for in a 2007 reorganization. And she said she regrets that the district didn't move sooner to buy buses.

Member April Griffin, meanwhile, said chairwoman Carol Kurdell was using "a scare tactic" when she suggested the district consider privatizing the transportation system. Some drivers are expected to protest the idea at the next 3 p.m. board meeting on April 29, and Griffin cautioned them to finish their work day. There will be time at the end of the meeting for their comments, she said.

Superintendent MaryEllen Elia has promised a comprehensive action plan that will pull together the work of a paid consultant, district-led focus groups and multiple investigations stemming from a January memo by four transportation trainers. …

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Randy Avent is Polytechnic's first president

From the News Service of Florida:

Randy Avent, associate vice president for research at North Carolina State University, was offered the position of president at Florida Polytechnic University, the state's newest university, on Monday.

Avent must still negotiate with the Lakeland-based school’s board of trustees on a contract that is expected to be between $310,750 and $550,000 a year. He must also be confirmed by the Florida Board of Governors.

A release from Florida Polytechnic noted that Avent is expected to begin this summer at the school, which legislators separated from the Tampa-based University of South Florida in 2012. The school, to be focused on science, technology, engineering and math, is scheduled to open in August with about 500 students.

Avent, who is also an associate provost at the Raleigh, N.C.-based school, was selected over finalist Robert McGrath, vice president of the Georgia Institute of Technology and director of the Georgia Tech Research Institute.

The two had been selected last week from a list that included more than 40 names gathered by a search firm.

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Pasco teachers file class-action grievance against district administration

Fresh off a complaint to the state over planning time and "professional learning communities," the United School Employees of Pasco has filed a class-action grievance regarding the same issues with the superintendent's office.

The charge is signed by 933 teachers district-wide, or just less than one-fifth of the instructional staff.

They allege that the district has violated their contractual rights in requiring "onerous and lengthy" PLC meetings interfere with planning time. The USEP claims that the meetings exceed 40 minutes agreed to in the contract, and that they adversely affect their ability to meet students' daily academic needs.

For relief, the union asks for an end to the current form of PLC meetings, and for compensation for work done outside the contractual school day, among other things. Read the grievance here.

Superintendent Kurt Browning has remained steadfast that the district has not violated its teacher contract with its professional learning communities. District spokeswoman Linda Cobbe added that Browning is looking into asking the USEP to focus on its complaint with the state, which is set for an April 28 hearing, or the grievance, which is similar.

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