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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of Feb. 14, 2016



What a week in Florida education news. The Florida House moved several bills relating to choice and charter schools, and now awaits a response from the Senate. School districts made final rounds of preparations for a new year of computerized testing, with experts saying problems remain a possibility. Social studies teachers tackled the Donald Trump phenomenon as they taught about the presidential campaign. And districts faced a wide range of concerns, from book challenges to transgender restroom policies. Keep up with the latest Florida education news daily on the Gradebook.

Top of the Times

Teachers ask themselves: How do you teach Trump?, Cara Fitzpatrick
"For civics and government teachers, who have to explain how the American political system works, Trump's candidacy has been both a blessing and a curse. Many of their students hear every cringe-worthy comment and come to class with tough questions. But, some teachers ask themselves, how do you teach Trump?"

Despite fixes, computer testing troubles still likely for Florida schools in 2016, Jeffrey S. Solochek
"Students, teachers and administrators recall all too well the woes that plagued Florida's first large-scale attempt at computerized testing last spring. As this year's testing season approaches, they're working to avoid a repeat. ... Even with such moves, though, the department warned that students still might encounter interruptions beyond their control. And that, said FairTest public education director Bob Schaeffer, could hurt some children."

Why can't your child sit quietly and read in the Florida Standards Assessments testing room?, Jeffrey S. Solochek
"Florida parents continue to seek ways to work within the state's testing system while still not forcing their children to sit for the exams when they begin Feb. 29."

Rep. Fresen's school capital funding reform bill ready for Florida House floor, Kristen M. Clark
"After more debate, a contentious plan to reform how traditional public schools and charter schools get money for capital costs -- and how they can use those dollars -- is on its way to the Florida House floor for consideration."

Middle schools. Are Hillsborough's in trouble?, Marlene Sokol
"Some of the district's middle schools, especially those in the inner city, are nearly half empty."

Pinellas schools using early intervention to reduce dropout rate, Colleen Wright
"Clausen joins school administrators across the county working on an initiative to transition middle schoolers into successful high school students, measured by freshman attendance rates, credits earned per semester and a minimum 2.0 grade point average. The program goes beyond the niceties of a typical orientation program to intervene when students show signs of failure and engage parents with information specific to their child with scheduled parent nights. The district's goal: for every freshman to start sophomore year on time."

Around the State

Board splits on transgender bathroom policy, Herald-Tribune, Shelby Webb
"Sarasota County schools will decide on a case-by-case basis whether to allow transgender students to use the restroom that best matches their gender identities or to require them to use the restroom corresponding to their gender at birth. But that could change."

Duval board considers disappointing some charter schools seeking renewals, Florida Times-Union, Denise Smith Amos
"A charter school is facing concerns about separation of church and state as Duval's School Board gets set to consider renewing contracts for four charter schools at its March meeting."

Flagler NAACP objects to handling of school suspensions, Daytona Beach News-Journal, Shaun Ryan
"The president of the Flagler County Branch of the NAACP wants to know more about what she says is ‘an increasing number of recent out-of-school suspensions of black students.'"

New book challenge rule proposed for Brevard schools, Florida Today, Ilana Kowarski
"School Board member Amy Kneessy has proposed allowing more people to challenge books used by Brevard Public Schools and to have the School Board have the final say on whether certain books remain in classrooms and library shelves."

Reports of Note

School Breakfast Scorecard 2014-15, Food Research and Action Center
"Many states left a significant amount of money on the table by not reaching more children that were eligible. Large states with average-to-low participation rates such as 24th-ranked California, 33rd-ranked Florida, and 39th-ranked New York, have the most to gain by meeting FRAC's goal."

"Male respondents outnumbered females by a four to one ratio. Respondents were also overwhelmingly White (non Hispanic). Female respondents also tended to be older than males. The average and median age of all respondents was 53."

Other Views

Chamber's report ignores the grim facts about Florida public education, Context Florida, FEA president Joanne McCall
"The Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation had a story to tell last week about education improvement. Like politicians, they don't let facts get in the way when making their case."

Take time out on mandatory recess, Daytona Beach News-Journal editorial
"Ask a Republican legislator in Tallahassee about federal education mandates and you're likely to get a well-practiced diatribe about how Washington should butt out, schools are best left to local control, the people closest to the problem should address it, etc. And that same lawmaker is just as likely to vote to attach more strings between the Capitol and the local school districts. Hence, the numerous state mandates on curriculum, testing, budgeting, and other areas that tie the hands of hometown education officials. It's a wonder the Legislature hasn't yet scheduled bathroom breaks for all first-graders. It is, however, trying to schedule recess."

Miami state Rep. Erik Fresen unfazed by charter school conflicts of interest, Miami Herald columnist Fred Grimm
"The Fresen clan has a lot riding on charter school construction funds. Erik Fresen earns $150,000-a-year as land consultant for Civica, an architecture firm that specializes in charter school construction. Civica has designed a number of schools for Academica, the largest charter school management company in Florida. Fresen's sister and brother-in-law just happen to be Academica executives. But state Rep. Fresen's ethical deportment in the state Legislature is governed by such tepid regulations that the chairman of the House Education Budget Committee can get away with sponsoring legislation that would deliver a windfall to the family business."

Don't mix science, religion in public schools, Daytona Beach News-Journal guest column, Brandon Haught of Florida Citizens for Science
"SB 1018/HB 899, if passed into law, would cause havoc in education just like it would in my dentist story. These bills would empower taxpayers to object to the use of specific instructional materials in the public schools on the grounds that they fail to provide "a noninflammatory, objective, and balanced viewpoint on issues." We at Florida Citizens for Science have noted that the organizations with whom these bills originated have unambiguously documented their complaints against established factual science. They wish to balance scientific evidence for evolutionary biology with blatantly religious creation stories."

Reject bill for open enrollment in Florida schools, Orlando Sentinel editorial
"The Florida Legislature is playing a dangerous game with the state's public-school system under the guise of giving parents more choices. It goes like this: See any school anywhere in the state you like, your child can go there. Maybe. With some caveats and hidden threats to local support for schools thrown in."

Bills On the Move (or not)

Educational Opportunity for Military Children:
SB 7016, by Sen. Don Gaetz, Passed the Legislature

High School Sports:
SB 684, Choice in Sports, by Sens. Kelli Stargel and Don Gaetz, On 2nd reading
SB 1026, High School Athletics, by Sen. David Simmons, On 2nd reading

Membership Associations:
HB 1155, by Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, Passed the House
SB 1426, by Sen. Kelli Stargel, On 2nd reading

Pledge of Allegiance:
HB 1403, by Rep. Doug Broxson, On 2nd Reading

Principal Autonomy:
HB 287, by Rep. Manny Diaz, Passed the House

See also:

Charter schools, open enrollment among education bills to pass Florida House, Kristen M. Clark
Florida Senate Education Committee again won't meet, killing several bills, Jeffrey S. Solochek
Florida Face to Face - Senate President Andy Gardiner, The Florida Channel

On the Agenda

The midway point of Florida's legislative session approaches, with many of the education matters either on the move or essentially dead. The House has cleared most of its major education legislation, though it's left Friday open for one more Education Committee session. The Senate has dealt with most of its bills, too, with the Senate Education Appropriations Committee meeting Wednesday to take up some items on school choice, testing and related concerns. Watch for the debate to turn to funding, where issues such as Best and Brightest bonuses and charter school capital projects money remain in play.

[Last modified: Friday, February 19, 2016 3:38pm]


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