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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Students to protest tuition hikes, higher ed cuts on Thursday

 Students from public universities across the state on Thursday will protest what they see as "aggressive attacks" on higher education in Florida. That includes tuition hikes and cuts to universities' funding -- both of which are currently being considered by the House and Senate as they work out a final budget.

The Florida Alliance for Student Action is advertising events on seven university campuses:

Students from the University of Florida will rally outside Senate President Mike Haridopolos's office on the UF campus, where he teaches a political science course. Florida State University and Florida A&M University students will march from their Tallahassee campuses to the Capitol. University of South Florida students will stage a walkout from classes then walk across campuses. Florida Atlantic University students and teachers will hold a joint teach-in. University of West Florida students will gather on the campuses' main lawn, and at the University of Central Florida, students will construct a "Wall of Debt" out of bricks representing individual students' loan burdens. 


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USF Pharmacy dean: cuts would decimate program

 With the House and Senate still hammering out the final budget cuts coming to the state university system, the University of South Florida continues to lobby for an additional $3 million for its pharmacy program still on the chopping block. 

The fledgling program was formerly funded through the USF Polytechnic budget, but a bill slipped into the Senate's budget a couple weeks ago would immediately break off that Lakeland branch campus from USF -- taking its money with it.  The school says it needs $6 million to continue operating in Tampa. An amendment negotiated by Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, would give back the school $3 million of that.

If the school doesn't get back that additional money, it could "totally decimate everything we've been able to accomplish," said Kevin Sneed, dean of the program.

Sneed held a news conference Wednesday to highlight those dismal implications. But he would not give specifics, instead saying, "I don't even want to consider what could happen." …

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Florida lawmakers approve bill to let school employees share sick leave

Three years ago, Bayonet Point Middle School teacher Connie Duffy was ailing and out of sick leave.

“There are a lot of people who would have shared their time with Connie, if it were allowed,” principal Mike Asbell recalled. “But it wasn’t legal.”

Florida lawmakers took a big step toward changing that picture on Wednesday.

The state Senate unanimously approved a bill that would permit school districts to allow employees to share their unused sick days with any district employee who they choose. The state House unanimously supported the identical measure earlier in February.

“I think that’s wonderful,” said Nadine Rife, who worked with Duffy and had wanted to donate some of her accrued sick time to her friend, who has since passed away. “Connie went through so much. There were a whole bunch of us willing to give her our sick days. It was just a shame that we couldn’t.”

Full story here.

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Former Pasco School Board candidate pops up as Hillsborough hopeful

williams.jpgBack in October, Bryan V. Williams was gung ho to run for the Pasco County School Board.

Though sketchy on some of his personal details, such as his own marital status, Williams said he was wanting to serve in the community where he sat on a school advisory council and where his future family had its home.

Flash forward four months, and Williams had dropped out of the Pasco board race, saying he no longer lived in the county. On the same day he withdrew, Williams filed papers to seek the District 7 seat on the Hillsborough School Board.

He now is on track to challenge longtime incumbent Carol Kurdell in a crowded field for her at-large seat. 

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Charter school group aims to make it easy to support the cause

A bill to expand the scope of Florida's charter schools is in trouble. HB 903 has hit the Florida House floor unable to win support for language that would dedicate a portion of school districts' revenue to charters for capital project expenses.

The Florida Charter School Alliance still has hope for the "equitable funding" effort, which remains in play in the Senate. So the organization, which boasts board members including former ed commissioner Jim Horne and Jeb Bush education foundation executive Patricia Levesque, has launched a new website to make it easier to show lawmakers your backing for the initiative.

"Provide your name, age, email and zip code.  With this information, an email will be sent to your legislator, expressing your support of our efforts to equitably fund public charter school students," alliance president Cheri Shannon said in an e-mail to supporters. "In addition, the Alliance will be in touch with you if, and when, we need your support in reaching out to your local newspaper or community paper to further express your support of Florida’s public charter school students."

The site urges people to sign up to help: …

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Parent trigger: It's all in how you look at it

California-based Parent Revolution, the organization that began parent trigger concept on the west coast, claimed an "important, bipartisan step forward" had took place Tuesday. From the group's overnight press release: 

"Yesterday, the Parent Trigger law took a big step forward in the Sunshine State as members of the Florida Senate Appropriations committee gave bipartisan support to the bill, voting 4-3 in support of the Parent Trigger legislation. This most recent committee action follows as the Parent Trigger legislation received bipartisan support in both the Florida House education subcommittee and the Senate education committee. Now the bill will be heard before both the Florida Senate and House floors.

"The Parent Trigger legislation, introduced by Representative Michael Bileca and Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto, was originally developed in California but takes on a number of new provisions, developed through bipartisan collaboration that ensures protections for parents and their local schools. Lawmakers have repeatedly worked across the aisle and included significant oversight to ensure that parents are protected and that the Parent Trigger process fosters collaboration between parents and their schools. ...

"Unfortunately, despite these collaborative, bipartisan efforts, the Florida Education Association decided to go “all in” to oppose parent power, spreading the numerous lies and misinformation that have been spread since day one in the parent empowerment fight. FEA even went so far as to threaten the legislators with legal action if the legislation follows."

It's all a matter of perspective. The bipartisanship was really a single Democrat, Sen. Jeremy Ring, who saved the bill as two Republicans balked at the heavy handed way the bill was handled in committee.

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Florida education news: Scientology school, school grading, parent trigger and more

life_212328a.jpegNO GO: Pinellas superintendent John Stewart raises concerns that could spell trouble for a charter school affiliated with Scientology. 

MORE F'S EXPECTED: The Florida Board of Education adopts new rules for grading schools (Times) that are likely to push grades downward (Orlando Sentinel).

SPEAKING OUT: The Hillsborough School Board considers rules governing who may speak at district schools amid complaints that an Islamic group advocate addressed a group of students.

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Jefferson High School principal is promoted

bonilla.jpgThere’s another principal vacancy in the Hillsborough County public schools. The school board on Tuesday named Dan Bonilla, principal of Jefferson High School, as an administrator on special assignment to supervise a call center as part of a grant from the Wallace Foundation.

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"Parent empowerment" bill squeaks past Florida Senate stop

The "parent empowerment" bill that many Florida parent groups have fought against barely made its way out of the Senate Pre-K-12 Appropriations committee today, with two Republicans — Evelyn Lynn and Nancy Detert — joining Democrat Bill Montford in opposing the measure. Lynn then challenged the 4-3 outcome, saying the committee had not followed Senate rules in discussing and voting on the bill.

The legislation — a priority for Jeb Bush's education foundation — would give parents the right to petition for a school turnaround option if their school receives an F grade from the state. Sponsor Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Wellington, submitted a strike-all replacement that she said attempted to answer the many concerns raised by critics of the idea.

Changes included ensuring that students in both charter and traditional schools would not have a teacher rated as unsatisfactory or needs improvement in two consecutive years, and setting strict rules for collecting parent signatures. Benacquisto suggested that many of the provisions for school turnarounds  already exist.

"We are just seeking to give parents a meaningful voice in the turnaround program for the school and their students," she said. …

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The problem with online education is ...

Cheating. And lawmakers are looking to deal with that issue.

A  bill that would expand Florida Virtual School, including funding for part-time students in kindergarten through high school, also aims to make it a misdemeanor for anyone to take an online course or exam for another person.

In an amendment to the bill, sponsor Sen. Andy Gardiner suggested that the penalty should apply to anyone who takes the course or exam for compensation. Polk County schools lobbyist Wendy Dodge came forward to point out that would reduce the penalty, in that anyone who cheated for free wouldn't be subject to the punishment.

Sen. Evelyn Lynn, who initially supported the amendment, asked for it to be reconsidered.

"One of the problems with online now is, other people can do the work for you," Lynn said, offering an example of a police officer she read about who had employees take online courses for him so he could earn promotions. "Why would we want to lessen?" …

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Pinellas school gets literacy lesson


A distracted custodian had a big oops moment while posting this sign for a literacy night at Pinellas Lakewood High School.

"This was just an accident. It's every principal's fear," principal Robert Vicari said. "I sure hope that sign doesn't end up on Jay Leno."

Story here.

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Commissioner Robinson offers changes to proposed school grading rules

UPDATE: The State Board of Education has adopted all the proposed amendments to Florida's school grading system, including revisions offered by commissioner Gerard Robinson (see original post below). Members said they did not want to lose the state's No Child Left Behind waiver.

They did, however, call for creation of a task force to meet within 30 days to find ways to include special education and English-language learner students in the grading system more fully without penalizing students or running afoul of federal requirements. The biggest complaints about the proposed rule revolved around accounting for ESE and ELL student performance. Observers said they were hopeful something could be worked out, but worries remained. 

Story here.


Several proposed rule changes for Florida's school grading system riled educators and parents.

Education commissioner Gerard Robinson eliminated a key one -- grading special education centers -- late last week after hue and cry. Robinson amended others on Tuesday morning while introducing the topic to the board. …

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Florida school grading debate begins

It's 7:30 a.m. It's time to see what the Florida Board of Education will do with proposed changes to the state's school grading system.

You can watch via webcast here as board members debate recommendations that have raised the ire of parents, education activists and educators since they saw what the rule might look like.

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Florida education news: Jeb Bush's influence, school bus ads, education funding and more

b4s_pinteach022812_212206c.jpegTOP TEACHER: Dunedin Elementary teacher Stephanie Whitaker is named 2012 Pinellas teacher of the year.  (Times photo, Douglas Clifford)

WHEN JEB SPEAKS... Florida lawmakers listen, as former Gov. Jeb Bush and his foundation steer the state's education policy.

TIME TO CHANGE: The Pinellas School Board and top administration look to reorganize using a FADSS leadership audit as a guide.

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Party is planned for Blake High School idol contestant

Blake High School is getting behind sophomore and aspiring American Idol Shannon Magrane in a big way.

The performing arts magnet is inviting friends and fans to a watch party Wednesday night at the Postcard Inn on the Beach at St. Pete Beach. See the attached flyer for details.

Shannon and Durant High School graduate Jeremy Rosado are both contestants on the reality talent show.

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