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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Scott signs bill expanding educational opportunities for veterans

Gov. Rick Scott signed the first substantive bill of the session Monday, creating a program that will waive out-of-state tuition fees for military veterans.

The "Florida G.I. Bill" will also connect veterans to potential employers, and pump money into continuing education and industry certification programs for active service members.

Scott, who served in the Navy, said he hoped the legislation would make Florida "the most military-friendly state" in the nation.

The veterans proposal (HB 7015) won unanimous support in both chambers in March.

Lawmakers were particularly proud of the tuition waiver program, which is named in memory of U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young. Under current law, veterans who are not Florida residents must pay out-of-state rates, which can be four times what residents pay.

The measure is expected to cost the state $11.7 million.

The new law also:

* Increases funding for the Educational Dollars for Duty program, which seeks to enhance the education level of Florida National Guard members.

* Creates Florida is for Veterans, Inc., a corporation tasked with promoting Florida to retired and recently separated service members. …

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Pasco schools delay another round of textbook adoptions over Common Core concerns

Pasco County high school leaders have decided not to select new math textbooks for their students this year, hoping that given extra time more and better materials will emerge.

"It is (the selection committee's) recommendation that it is in our students’ best interest to put the textbook adoption on hold for a year," Office of Teaching and Learning director Vanessa Hilton wrote to principals. "With the newly revised standards and assessment, publishers have emerging products that are not available at this time. Delaying the adoption gives us the opportunity to review those materials in addition to materials currently available in order to choose the best resource to meet our students’ needs."

The decision follows a recent University of Southern California report that challenges publishers' contentions that their latest edition Florida math textbooks are aligned to the Common Core standards, which Florida largely has adopted.  "One of my inclinations is they don't  want to make big revisions," researcher Morgan Polikoff told the Tampa Bay Times. "This is what a typical textbook has looked like for a long time." …

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Pasco school district holds firm in face of union complaint over professional learning communities

Pasco County school district leaders are not backing off their wholehearted endorsement of professional learning community, or PLC, meetings despite a complaint to the state by the United School Employees of Pasco.

"The district’s position is that students will reap the rewards of intentional planning and the work of PLCs and intends to fully defend this charge," employee relations director Betsy Kuhn told principals in a recent memo.

In a separate memo, Kuhn also told the principals that they don't have to allow USEP leaders to attend faculty meetings to discuss the complaint. "You are not required to give USEP time to present during your faculty meetings, and we ask that you deny your USEP building representatives’ request to discuss the PLC Unfair Labor Practice charge at your faculty meetings," Kuhn wrote. "While the District does not have the ability to dictate what is or is not said at USEP’s meetings, we have the ability to decide what is said at our faculty meetings, and it is inappropriate for USEP to present to faculty at our meetings."

Meanwhile, some teachers have taken the time to e-mail superintendent Kurt Browning to say they don't agree with the USEP complaint. …

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Florida education news: Reform, vouchers, taxes and more

REFORM RECOMMENDATIONS: Former Florida teacher of the year Megan Allen leaves the state, offers suggestions on how to improve its education system.

VOUCHERS: Many Florida educators remain opposed to efforts that would expand the state's corporate tax credit scholarship program, the St. Augustine Record reports. • The "waiting list" for these scholarships doesn't really exist, the Washington Post reports. More from Redefined.

TOO MANY DEGREES: Florida's state colleges could see a slowdown in four-year degree programs, the Naples Daily News reports. More from the Ocala Star-Banner.

FIXING MISTAKES: Duval eighth grade teacher Erin Royce focuses on learning rather than lecturing in her classroom, the Florida Times-Union reports.

NEW SCHOOLS: The Polk school district plans to build two new schools to ease crowding, the Ledger reports.

NO NEW TAXES: Manatee district officials acknowledge their inability to ask voters to support a new local tax in light of past financial mismanagement, the Herald-Tribune reports.

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Florida education news: Construction funds, stinkhorn, AP exams and more

CONSTRUCTION FUNDS: Florida lawmakers look for ways to provide construction and maintenance funds to both traditional and charter schools.

TUITION: Gov. Rick Scott should actively help pass legislation to give illegal immigrants in-state university tuition, the Times editorializes. • A new database shows that rising college costs impacts poor families disproportionately, the Miami Herald reports.

UNEQUAL TREATMENT: Orange district officials investigate practices where students at some schools get credit for passing AP exams while students at other schools don't, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

IOU: Duval students who can't afford school lunch get a cheese sandwich and juice, which many are too embarrassed to take, the Florida Times-Union reports.

WHAT'S THAT SMELL? Stinkhorn fungus invades the campus of a Marion elementary school, the Ocala Star-Banner reports.

CLASS SIZE: Florida should relax its class-size reduction mandate, the Orlando Sentinel editorializes.

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Community meeting Monday night for Hillsborough

Two Hillsborough County School Board members have been holding community meetings to get input about transportation and other pressing issues, which raises some questions of etiquette. Such as: What's the proper way to notify the public, especially since some of the meetings attract more than one board member?

Susan Valdes posted flyers. April Griffin, who will have a meeting Monday night in Plant City, asked her secretary to send out a notice. The district's media office sent out a sunshine notice too, although you will find more information -- including the address -- on the first flyer.

The meeting runs 6 to 9 p.m. at the Hillsborough Farm Bureau, S.R. 60 and Mullrenan Road in Valrico.

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Florida education news: Charter schools, bus routes, raises and more

WHO'S IN CHARGE? Hillsborough district officials question the leadership of three charter schools all operated by Charter Schools USA.

BUS ROUTES: The Pasco school district asks parents to confirm their addresses so it can create bus routes earlier for the coming school year.

RAISES: The Hernando School Board considers pay raises for administrators from the state's teacher salary funds.

INADEQUATE: Florida's system of needs-based financial aid for higher education needs an overhaul, the Times editorializes.

FULL-SERVICE SCHOOL: A Pasco judge and community leaders explore opening a community school that includes social services.

VOUCHERS: Florida lawmakers consider making it easier for some middle class families to get school vouchers, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

LESS TESTING: Duval superintendent Nikolai Vitti plans to reduce the number of district-mandated tests for students, the Florida Times-Union reports.

JOB SECURITY: Florida Gulf Coast University faculty worry as the administration plans to move to more part-time teachers, the Fort Myers News-Press reports.

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Revamped voucher expansion proposal starts moving in the House

A bill combining the proposed expansion of the school voucher program and the creation of education savings accounts for special-needs students moved forward on Friday, winning the support of the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, called the vote "an important step toward providing more Florida students with more opportunities to receive a quality education."

"This scholarship program has allowed tens thousands of students to rise to their full potential, and more opportunities will mean a brighter future for more students," Fresen said in a statement. "We look forward to working with the Senate as we continue to make the expansion of school choice for Florida's families a priority."

Fresen said the bill could be heard on the floor as early as next week.

Friday's party-lines vote did two things. First, it set the stage for a bitter partisan battle in House.

"There is no secret that our minority caucus did take a position to oppose this bill," said ranking Democratic member Rep. Dwayne Taylor, of Daytona Beach. "They only take those types of positions when they see troubling bills that they have some major concerns. This was one of them." …

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Pinellas to talk charter schools

Three Pinellas charter schools and one would-be charter have been singled out for a discussion at the Pinellas School Board workshop on Tuesday.

Dot Clark, the Pinellas administrator who oversees charter school applications, "will provide a status report of select charter schools in the district." They are: Imagine Middle, Gulfcoast, Pinellas Academy of Math and Science and University Prep.

Agenda documents also indicate that Clark will discuss charter high school graduation rates.

Why these schools? Pinellas officials are off for spring break, so no concrete answers until next week. But there are some things we can glean.

Imagine is a standalone middle school program for the first time this school year, its elementary grades shuttered because of students' chronically low performance. Still, the middle school earned an F last year.

Pinellas Academy of Math and Science is a new addition to the charter scene, having opened its doors in the 2012-13 school year. In its inaugural year, the Academy earned a C grade; while not ideal, it's also not uncommon for brand-new schools to open wto D or F grades as they get things in order. …

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Never mind that job ad for a high school principal in Pasco

Job seekers visiting the Pasco County school district's employment website have might have found an ad again seeking candidates to lead Marchman Technical Education Center. The post has been open for a few months, since principal Sheila Bryan's retirement, and it's been advertised a few times in hopes of snaring a top applicant.

But the ad isn't supposed to be there anymore.

Assistant superintendent Amelia Larson told the Gradebook that the administration received several "excellent" applications already and is not looking for more. Six candidates interviewed on Wednesday, and three more are set to make their case on Monday. Three finalists will advance to meetings with the superintendent and his key staff, with a selection to follow shortly after.

Bottom line: If you're not already in the pipeline, don't try now. But if you want to lead a Pasco school, there's still a chance. The top job at River Ridge Middle School has not yet been filled.

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Florida education news: The Florida model, school choice, test prep and more

IN PRAISE OF REFORM: Jeb Bush's education foundation launches a new campaign touting Florida's accountability efforts, sparking an immediate backlash.

'SCHOOL CHOICE AGENDA': The Florida House approves two measures to expand school choice with promises of more to come.

TEST PREP: Pasco County schools launch new online programs to help students hone their skills for upcoming end-of-course exams.

TEXTBOOKS: Lawmakers should keep Florida's textbook adoption process at the state level rather than handing it to districts, the Times editorializes.

GUNS IN SCHOOLS: The Florida Senate kills a proposal that would have allowed some teachers to carry guns in public schools, the Florida Times-Union reports.

EDUCATION FUNDING: Charlie Crist's accusation that Gov. Rick Scott tried to slash Florida education funding by $3.3 billion is Mostly True, Politifact Florida reports. • State appropriations committees propose the highest public education funding levels in years, the Gainesville Sun reports. • Lee School Board members press lawmakers for more money for school infrastructure needs, the Fort Myers News-Press reports. …

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Cracks in House Democratic caucus exposed by vote on university 'sunshine' exemption

Today, the House approved a proposal to shield universities' discussions about prospective donors from the state's "sunshine" laws. In the process, rifts inside the Democratic caucus were on display for all to see.

House Bill 115 has mostly flown under the radar. The First Amendment Foundation, which champion's the state open meetings and open record laws, chose not to oppose or support the measure. The foundation is also neutral on the Senate counterpart, SB 318, which is one committee away from a floor vote.

The bill would allow university direct-support organizations -- think foundations and booster clubs -- to privately discuss plans to seek research funding or strategies for supporting research.

Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda of Tallahassee had opposed HB 115 all along, casting the lone "no" vote during an early committee meeting. The other two committee votes were unanimous with numerous Democrats voting in favor of the bill. …

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Community college bachelor degree 'mission creep' becomes focus of Senate tuition proposal

Florida's community colleges are offering too many bachelor's degrees that duplicate programs at the 11, soon to be 12, state universities, Sen. Joe Negron says. As the Senate's budget chief, he is in a position to do something about it.

Negron is championing Senate Bill 1148, which today passed the Appropriations Committee that he chairs with one dissenting vote. The bill requires the Legislature to approve any new bachelor's degree programs at community colleges. That takes power away from the state Board of Education, which approves new bachelor's programs at state colleges except St. Petersburg College. By law, it doesn't have to get outside approval.

Separately, the Appropriations panel approved a budget amendment filed by Negron that reduced community college funding for bachelor degrees by 10 percent. That money, was then redistributed to the state's two "pre-eminent" universities. Florida State University and University of Florida received an extra $1.7 million each from the 24 state colleges that have baccalaureate programs. (Four community colleges choose not to offer bachelor degrees.)

Read more on The Buzz.

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Pasco schools seek address confirmation to firm up next year's bus routes

Pasco County parents will get letters in their children's report cards next week asking them to confirm where they live, preferably as soon as possible.

It's part of an effort to design school bus routes for next fall early, and then leave them intact through the first two weeks of classes. The plan is to make no changes to the routes after June 27.

"We want to make it more efficient for the beginning of school," district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe explained.

Children whose address information changes after June 27 could still ride the buses, Cobbe said, but they'd have to board at the nearest established stop rather than have a new stop added during the first days of school.

Superintendent Kurt Browning, who also recorded a phone message for parents on the issue, called for changes to the student transportation system after receiving multiple complaints last fall. He said the start of school is an annual event, and the district should be better prepared to deal with the logistics. …

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Florida Education Association takes issue with lawmaker's comments on Common Core

During debate over new rules (HB 7117) for Florida's school accountability system, state Rep. Janet Adkins remarked this week that schools have had since 2010 to implement the Common Core standards.

It was part of the rationale against giving schools a three-year transition period to new school grading and accountability measures, which superintendents and others have requested.

Florida Education Association president Andy Ford found the statement so misleading that he sent a letter to all House members on Thursday to rebut the claim. "Just because an elected official believes and says the Florida standards have been fully implemented since 2010, does not make it so," Ford wrote.

He noted that the State Board of Education adopted the Common Core in 2010, but that the state implementation plan didn't come out until 2011. (See it here, reiterated for the State Board on page 28 of its February 2013 meeting materials.) That plan made clear that in 2013-14 -- the current school year -- the full Common Core rollout would be in kindergarten through second grade. The rest of the grade levels would be included in 2014-15 -- that's next year. …

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