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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida education news: Validity testing, education funding, student discipline and more

TESTING: The lone bidder to review Florida's testing validity is selected to to the job.

FUNDING: The Florida House and Senate differ on some key education budget issues as they approach a June 1 special session, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

STUDENT DISCIPLINE: The Southern Poverty Law Center says Escambia County schools have among the worst records in Florida for discipline of minority students, the Pensacola News Journal reports.

LABOR NEWS: Palm Beach teachers have yet to reach a contract deal for the year that's about to end, the Palm Beach Post reports.

SPECIAL EDUCATION: The Okaloosa school district changes its approach for students with emotional and behavioral disabiltiies, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports. • A Broward family wins a lawsuit to allow their son's service dog to accompany him to school, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

OUTSOURCING: The Volusia school district considers dumping its outside custodial firm as complaints about its poor service mount, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

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Still no decision on appeal of Florida tax credit scholarship ruling

It's been nearly two weeks now since a Leon County judge threw out a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Florida's tax credit scholarship program, saying the plaintiffs had no legal standing.

Many institutional opinion makers have been saying that's a good thing.

"As the courts have repeatedly recognized, the scholarships do not hurt public schools," the Tampa Tribune recently editorialized. "Eliminating the scholarship, in contrast, would hurt disadvantaged families who would no longer be able to find the best education option for their children."

"It's up to parents to decide for themselves if the school is worthy of their child, their trust and their money," chimed in the Panama City News Herald. "And it is parents, not teachers' unions or Tallahassee bureaucrats, who should decide which school their child attends."

"(Judge George) Reynolds made the right decision for current students, and those who will follow them," editorialized the Ledger, "and hopefully the union, the school boards and others who backed their allegations will now give up this misguided fight."

That decision hasn't been made yet. …

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What's on tap for Florida education in the coming special session?

Florida lawmakers head back to Tallahassee on Monday to finish what they couldn't resolve during their two month regular session, namely a budget for the looming fiscal year.

Of course, the overall education spending plan remains up for debate. The Florida Board of Education has made its pitch for Gov. Rick Scott's "historic" per-student funding proposal, while superintendents are calling for full funding of enrollment growth.

District leaders also have raised concerns over a proposal to share local capital projects tax revenues with charter schools.

Those issues are likely to come up. So, too, are discussions on classroom technology, support for students with disabilities and performance pay for higher education. They appear in some form in the proposed House and Senate budget implementing bills, which notably are good for only one year. Anything in them would need to be renewed to have a long-lasting effect. …

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Florida education news: Student goals, social media, summer reading and more

ASPIRATIONS: Two Pasco fourth graders beat a decade-old school reading record and set their sights on the previous holder's next big accomplishment — valedictorian.

COSTLY ERRORS: A recent audit of Hernando school finances turns up mistakes that could cost the district nearly $4 million.

NEXT STEPS: Pasco High School's first class of AVID participants are ready for college. • Hernando High School's "Mr. Fix-It" prepares for life in information technology.

SOCIAL SNOOPING: The Orange school district uses new software to monitor students' social media for possible cyberbullying, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

DRESS CODE: The Fort Myers teen who lost her National Honor Society post over the length of her dress tells her story to MTV, among others.

A LITTLE HELP: About 50 mentors help struggling Leesburg Elementary students find success, the Daily Commercial reports.

SUMMER READING: The Collier school district removes "age inappropriate" titles from a summer reading assignment after parent complaints roll in, the Naples Daily News reports. …

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Why didn't more firms bid to evaluate Florida's testing validity?

The news that just one firm submitted a proposal to review the Florida Standards Assessments raised eyebrows among the activists seeking to reform the state testing system.

They questioned whether companies are trying to avoid the state's messy political debate. They challenged whether the validity study can be relied upon.

We contacted two of the six firms on the state's approved list of potential vendors to ask why they didn't participate. Their key reasons: They're already busy, and ramping up to do this big job in a short period would be too difficult.

"We're up to our eyeballs doing a testing interruption study in Georgia," said Scott Marion, associate director of the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment in New Hampshire. 

His group also is doing work for Smarter Balanced and PARCC. Additionally, Marion noted, "Florida is a little sticky situation" that isn't easily entered.

Marianne Perie, director of the Center for Educational Testing & Evaluation in Kansas, said via email that the Florida job was too big for her "small shop." …

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Eyes on Elia

The Times Union in Albany published this photo of MaryEllen Elia shortly after she was named New York's Commissioner of Education

John Carl D'Annibale | TIMES UNION

The Times Union in Albany published this photo of MaryEllen Elia shortly after she was named New York's Commissioner of Education

Reporters and bloggers in New York are asking a lot of questions about their new education commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, including: "Does Florida even have schools?" [Insert gratuitous comment about New Yorkers here.]

More often they're asking about Common Core and teacher evaluations.

For a look at the way Elia handled Common Core skeptics, here's a story about her sessions with parents.

There have also been questions about Empowering Effective Teachers, and whether, at one point, Hillsborough's Gates-funded project pledged to fire five percent of teachers a year.

Short answer: Yes, but only briefly.

The often-criticized passage is on page 16 of the 2009 proposal.

But almost before the ink had dried, district officials backed away from that goal, citing new research. Union leaders said they could barely remember including those words. …

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Florida education news: Sales tax, college prep, start times and more

CAPITAL NEEDS: The Hernando school district kicks off its campaign for a local sales tax.

ON THE RUN: Candidates emerge for Hillsborough School Board.

TOP GRADS: Valedictorians for Pinellas and Pasco counties are named.

PARENT INVOLVEMENT: Senate Education Appropriations chairman Don Gaetz says parents need to better support teachers, the Crestview Bulletin reports.

TESTING: Florida students still need to pass the Algebra I state end-of-course exam to graduate, the Palm Beach Post reports.

COLLEGE PREP: Six Broward high schools will launch a pilot progam aimed at helping Hispanics succeed, NBC Miami reports.

SUPERINTENDENTS: Diana Greene gets a well deserved promotion to Manatee superintendent, and faces a tough job ahead, the Bradenton Herald editorializes.

DRESS CODE: A Lee high school student fights a decision to remove her from a National Honor Society position over her clothing, NBC 2 reports.

DOUBLE DEGREES: Some first-generation Miami-Dade college students get their diplomas and degrees at the same time, the Miami Herald reports.

STUMPED: Florida students in the national spelling bee run into the hurdle of a difficult new written test, the Medill News Service reports. …

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29 Bay-area students receive National Merit Scholarships

The National Merit Scholarship Corp. announced its first round of college-sponsored scholarships to graduating seniors on Wednesday. About 2,200 students received the awards nationwide.

Among them were 29 students from Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties. They are: …

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Florida gets one bid to review its testing validity

The panel asked to choose a firm to review the validity of Florida's new testing system doesn't appear to have much work to do when it meets Friday.

Only one group has submitted a bid to do the work.

A partnership of Utah-based Alpine Testing Solutions and Washington, D.C.-based edCount LLC proposed to do the evaluation for $594,310. It included the resumes of eight key staff members who would participate in the project. Andrew Wiley, who recently served on the Board of Directors for the Association of Test Publishers, would be the lead investigator.

The group would submit its project plan by June 19, preliminary reports by July 31 and final report by Aug. 28.

Lawmakers called for this evaluation amid questions and concerns from educators and parents regarding the way the tests were developed and administered. Issues ranged from the lack of field testing in Florida to the technology problems students faced while sitting for the exams. …

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Some Pasco schools shuffle principals

Principal changes are afoot for some Pasco County schools as the district prepares for its administrative reappointments.

Katie Lail, who has led Pasco Elementary in Dade City since 2011, will retire after 27 years with the district. Her staff learned Wednesday morning that Nena Green, the school's well-liked assistant principal, has been recommended to take over the top job.

Green, who joined the district from out-of-state in 2012, will come to the School Board for approval on June 16.

On the same day, the board also will consider transferring Pasco Middle School principal Kim Anderson to the principal vacancy at San Antonio Elementary School. Anderson, a 21-year district veteran, has led Pasco Middle since 2009. Before that, she ran Pine View Middle.

During the past two years, Anderson has overseen the school's implementation of the Cambridge accelerated study program in conjunction with nearby Pasco High. Recently, though, superintendent Kurt Browning has decided the school needs new leadership, district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said.

The Pasco Middle post will be advertised. Also open is the Zephyrhills High principal job, with the pending retirement of Andy Frelick. …

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Florida education news: MaryEllen Elia, UF online, high school for sale and more

NEXT STOP, NEW YORK: Ousted Hillsborough superintendent MaryEllen Elia lands on her feet as New York State's next education commissioner. More from Newsday, Wall Street Journal, NY Times, Buffalo News.

LEADERSHIP: The Manatee School Board names deputy superintendent Diana Greene as its interim leader for at least a year, the Bradenton Herald reports. • The first candidate files for Okaloosa's superintendent election, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports. • Volusia's new superintendent reorganizes his administration, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

DISCRIMINATION: Residents ask the Brevard School Board to add language referring to LGBT individuals into district policy, Florida Today reports.

ONLINE EDUCATION: Only a handful of invited students choose to enroll in the University of Florida's virtual program after being turned away from the full university, the Ocala Star Banner reports.

PLAY TIME: A foundation donates $250,000 for a handicap accessible playground at a Bay elementary school, the Panama City News Herald reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: The Polk school district denies two charter school requests to increase their enrollments, the Ledger reports. …

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Pasco teacher gets reprimand over testing

A Pasco County math teacher who faced an investigation over concerns that she encouraged students to opt out of a state end-of-course exam has received a formal reprimand for her action.

Meredith Jewell, a district teacher since 2005, has told the district she plans to submit a rebuttal to some of the specific accusations against her. Mitchell High School principal Jim Michaels wrote in his reprimand that Jewell deviated from set procedures for administering tests, in that she discussed the possibility of opting out of the exams with students and made them believe she supported that decision.

"Although many stated you advised them to discuss with their parents, several also stated that you provided them with information that influenced their decision not to fully participate in the test," Michaels wrote.

He noted that he did not think Jewell intended to undermine state or district testing procedures. Her actions, however, disrupted accurate testing and could have hurt student outcomes, he added.   …

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MaryEllen Elia snares top New York education post

UPDATE: The New York Board of Regents unanimously voted to install MaryEllen Elia as their next state education chancellor just before 4 p.m. She is to begin on July 6.

ORIGINAL POST: MaryEllen Elia, recently let go as Hillsborough County schools superintendent, wasn't out of the business for long.

The Buffalo News reports that Elia is about to become the next education commissioner for New York State: 

ALBANY - The State Board of Regents is preparing to appoint a well-regarded Florida schools leader with Lewiston roots to become New York's next education commissioner.

MaryEllen Elia, 66, would become the first woman and first Buffalo Niagara native to ever take the post.

Elia is being recommended by the board's search committee, but the full body must approve the appointment. The 17 Regents were given notice over the holiday weekend to report to Albany on Tuesday for a special meeting to interview Elia and then vote on her appointment.

They went into an executive session at noon to discuss her appointment.

If approved, Elia would replace John B. King, who left last year to take a job at the U.S. Department of Education. …

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Pasco school district taxable value rises

A second consecutive $1 billion increase in local property values will bolster the Pasco County school district's bottom line for the coming fiscal year.

Property appraiser Mike Wells informed district officials that their estimated taxable value for fiscal 2016 is $23.46 billion, up from $22.41 billion a year ago. The higher values should contribute to a stronger budget picture for the district as leaders seek to expand programs and improve salaries.

This positive news does not allay all concerns, though, as lawmakers have yet to settle the state budget, which annually includes specific mandates on local tax rates as well as the distribution of state tax dollars. Pasco officials have said they have to make plans without enough detail from the state.

They've also joined a statewide effort of superintendents and board members in urging lawmakers to fully fund student growth, as well as increase per-student funding, during a year that looks to have budget surpluses. …

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Florida education news: Testing, Spanish lessons, magnet schools and more

TESTING: The Palm Beach School Board will ask Gov. Rick Scott to halt the negative consequences associated with state testing, the Palm Beach Post reports.

HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS: Proposals to overhaul high school sports oversight won't return in Florida's special legislative session, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: The failure of Acclaim Academy schools raises questions about the group's finances, the Florida Times-Union reports.

LANGUAGE LESSONS: The Miami-Dade school district reassesses the way it teaches Spanish, the Miami Herald reports.

ACHIEVEMENT GAP: Palm Beach leaders want to know why black and Hispanic boys struggle in school, the Palm Beach Post reports.

ON THEIR OWN: Some Okaloosa high school students learn through independent study, the Northwest Florida Daily News reports.

ATTENDANCE: The Bay school district looks into ways to improve student attendance, the Panama City News Herald reports.

MAGNET SCHOOLS: The Orange school district prepares to add more magnet programs, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

REVAMP: East Gainesville families warm to the Alachua school district's reorganization of their area schools, the Gainesville Sun reports.

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