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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of March 6, 2016



Florida lawmakers took education issues down to the wire of their 2016 session, debating the provisions of a lengthy train bill as one of their final acts of business before closing. Charter school capital funding was one of the key matters on which the House and Senate tried to reach agreement. Next up, school districts must determine the their spending efforts and other plans, based on all the action in Tallahassee. Testing continued with fewer problems than a year earlier. And a long-awaited school funding lawsuit loomed as a court hearing nears next week. Visit the Gradebook daily for the latest on these and other Florida education issues.

Top of the Times

'Best & Brightest' teacher bonuses to continue another year, Kristen M. Clark
"Over opposition from rank-and-file lawmakers and other critics, the controversial ‘Best & Brightest' teacher bonus program will continue for at least one more year - and with $5 million more in funding."

Pasco school district leaders aim to offer raises despite meager state funding increases, Jeffrey S. Solochek
"News of a smaller than expected funding boost for 2016-17 has disappointed Pasco County education leaders, who had high hopes for more amid Florida lawmakers' early talk of ‘historic' increases. The lower numbers have not deterred district officials from their goal of giving employees a third straight raise of around 3 percent."

Officials wary as nonprofit acquires troubled Pinellas charter school company, Colleen Wright
"A troubled charter school management company that operates four schools in Pinellas with six-figure deficits has been acquired by a Florida nonprofit."

In Florida testing, 'participation' means ... participation, Jeffrey S. Solochek
"Florida education commissioner Pam Stewart, among other state education leaders, has repeatedly stated that all public schools and their students are required to participate in annual state testing. She's relied on the Florida statute that sets forth the rule as a way to bat back parents who say they wish to opt out of the system. Participation, officials declare, is mandatory and opting out is not permitted. But what exactly does ‘participation' entail?"

Hernando schools set to receive extra funding for small districts, Dan DeWitt
"The Hernando County School District has so far won the annual tug-of-war for ‘sparsity' money that is available for smaller districts - money crucial to bolstering the district's dangerously low level of reserve funds."

Around the State

Florida education on trial; Lawsuit seeks to redefine public education to benefit poor, Florida Bulldog, Eric Barton
"A case that could fundamentally change how Florida funds and administers education is center stage in a trial that begins next Monday in a Tallahassee courtroom. The lawsuit, brought by a public advocacy group, wants a judge to declare the state's public education system unconstitutional. Such a ruling could require lawmakers to envision a new way to fund schools that would seek better parity between the rich and the poor."

Frustrated South Florida families opting out of state exams, Sun-Sentinel, Brittany Shammas
"Testing has begun in Florida schools, but some students are pushing away the exams after doing nothing more than breaking the seal and writing down their names. Their parents are part of a national movement that rejects high-stakes testing - even though their children could face repercussions that include being held back a grade. They say they're fed up with constant test preparation for too-tough Common Core Standards."

Bright Futures budget to fall, as fewer high school graduates qualify, Orlando Sentinel, Leslie Postal
"Florida will spend less on its popular Bright Futures scholarship program in the coming year because fewer students will qualify for the awards, state data shows."

Manatee County School District committees to help close Orange Ridge-Bullock Elementary School, Bradenton Herald, Meghin Delaney
"Although Manatee County School District staff has already created new preliminary attendance zones to move children out of Orange Ridge-Bullock Elementary School and into the surrounding schools, committees began meeting Wednesday to pore over the plans and possibly suggest their own ideas."

Reports of Note

Achievement Growth: International and U.S. State Trends in Student Performance, Education Next, Eric Hanushek, Paul Peterson and Ludger Woessman
"Some regional concentration is evident. Five of the top-10 states were in the South, while no southern states were among the 18 with the slowest growth. The strong showing of the South may be related to energetic political efforts to enhance school quality in that region. During the 1990s, governors of several southern states - Tennessee, North Carolina, Florida, Texas, and Arkansas - provided much of the national leadership for the school accountability effort, as there was a widespread sentiment in the wake of the civil rights movement that steps had to be taken to equalize educational opportunity across racial groups. The results of our study suggest those efforts were at least partially successful."

"Outcomes-based higher education funding structures have gained popularity in recent years as a means for achieving the goal of linking public investment in our colleges and universities to the social and economic benefits that states reap with an educated citizenry. Faced with fiscal constraints of late, many states have sought to link higher education appropriations to specific institutional outcomes, a shift from budgeting these funds based solely on input measures such as enrollments or on historical base funding allotments."

Constitutional obligations for public education, Education Commission of the States
"Of the 50 state constitutions, nine states require public education for students with disabilities, 37 include language regarding religious restrictions and 30 speak to the establishment of higher education."

Other Views

Collier schools listening to ways to improve an "A" district, Naples Daily News editorial
"The leadership of Collier County Public Schools is again demonstrating an ability to operate an ‘A' district while also searching for ways to become ‘A plus' by listening and improving."

'Opting out' a strong backlash to overzealous standardized testing, Bradenton Herald editorial
"More and more impassioned parents are sending a loud message to the people in charge of education policy not only in Florida but across the nation: Scale back the excessive use of high-stakes standardized tests. Families are putting some muscle behind their opposition by ‘opting out' of the tests, with students simply refusing to take the exams. This is civil disobedience at its finest."

The teachers union likes private school choice after all, Tallahassee Democrat op-ed, Step Up For Students policy director Ron Matus
"Talk about irony. The head of the Florida teachers union - which is suing to kill the nation's largest private school choice program - is now praising a private school program for 4-year-olds that relies almost entirely on government vouchers."

Sine Die

The Florida Legislature finished its 60-day session on Friday, bringing some education legislation in for a landing and killing other matters for the year. Here's partial list of the notable ed bills that passed and failed.


Budget (HB 5001/HB 5003)
Education omnibus (HB 7029) -- this bill includes open enrollment, high school athletics governance, charter school capital funding and more
Culinary education (HB 249)
Competency based education pilot (HB 1365)
Character development instruction (HB 1147)
Education Programs for Individuals with Disabilities (HB 837)

Signed into law

Education personnel (HB 719)


Computer coding as foreign language requirement (SB 468/HB 887)
Class size (SB 1634)
Mandatory recess (SB 1002/HB 833)
Elected education commissioner (HB 767/SB 942)
Statewide charter school authorizer (HJR 759/SJR 976)
Testing options (SB 1360)
Instructional materials (HB 899/SB 1018)
Reading (HB 7021)

[Last modified: Saturday, March 12, 2016 6:42am]


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