Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Education

Nine ways Florida schools would change if the Legislature gets its way

For the second straight year, Florida lawmakers spent the closing hours of their session debating hot-button education issues.

And again, despite some hand wringing, they adopted a few measures that had much more support among the political classes than from educators, parents and students.

RELATED: Hits and misses in Florida education legislation

The final bill incorporated ideas from more than 20 bills. Those, along with proposals approved earlier in the session, could impact Florida education in a big way — providing Gov. Rick Scott signs them into law.

How significant would the changes be? Here's a look at the major ones:

Recess

Florida's self-designated "recess moms" pushed a mandate for 20 minutes of daily elementary school recess for a second year, and found quick success in the Senate. The House, however, held the bill hostage despite widespread support.

In the final days, the idea resurfaced and won approval, although with an unrequested exemption for charter schools.

Bright Futures

The Legislature proposes spending an extra $151 million a year to expand the Bright Futures scholarship program for qualifying for students who are Florida residents and choose a public or private college in state.

The change would affect only the top-level award for "Florida Academic Scholars," about 45,000 students. At a four-year institution, the scholarship would increase from the current $103 per credit hour to fully paid tuition (at the public university rate). It also would cover a variety of fees, plus $300 that could be used every fall and spring for books and other education-related expenses.

Student testing

Even before the session began, lawmakers sounded determined to scale back a testing system that had grown out of control. They wound up with one fewer end-of-course exam (Algebra II) and the elimination of a physical education test for student-athletes who don't take a PE course. Their bill would move the start of the state testing window back to May 1, with a few exceptions, and limit the time spent on those tests to two weeks.

The exceptions would be third-grade reading, and paper-based tests in grades three through six, which take longer to grade.

Also, the Legislature agreed to provide test results more quickly and with clearer explanations.

Charter schools

Lawmakers said they were fed up with schools that consistently fail in state accountability measures, and sought to give families some alternatives. So the House created a new class of charter schools called "schools of hope," to be run by operators with records of success in low-achieving communities.

They'd get five-year contracts and a variety of passes from state and local red tape, supported by millions in state funds. They'd also get a share of local property taxes for capital projects, and their status would be elevated for state funding purposes.

Senators balked at pouring so much money into these new charters without offering some help to struggling traditional schools. So they offered a compromise that would provide a portion of the millions to some, but not all, of those schools.

Schools earning two D's or one F would have two years to show improvement, or face closure or takeover. Close to 200 traditional schools could be affected.

The Legislature also decided to spread federal Title I funds for low-income schools to more schools, and change the way that money may be spent.

Effective schools

On the other side of the coin, the lawmakers devised a "schools of excellence" designation for schools whose grade results are consistently in the top 20 percent. So long as they remain at that level, they would receive certain exemptions from mandates.

Their principals would have more autonomy on staff and money matters. And they would be allowed to calculate their class sizes using the school average, a more lenient method that was considered for all schools but did not pass through both chambers.

Teacher contracts

Responding to teacher complaints, lawmakers passed legislation removing the requirement for districts to gauge teacher effectiveness using the controversial "value-added model," which relies on test scores.

They also made clear that school boards may not offer any guaranteed employment extensions to teachers on annual contract, something many districts have done since 2011.

In addition, lawmakers extended the Best and Brightest bonus to more teachers. For the next three years, those who earn a "highly effective" rating would get a $1,200 bonus while those with "effective" ratings would get $800.

After that time, new criteria would kick in for a higher payout. The expansion also added an award for principals in schools with the highest percentage of Best and Brightest teachers.

Lawmakers also eliminated the bonus cap for teachers whose students successfully complete AP, AICE and similar tests.

Textbooks

Acting on concerns from residents, lawmakers adopted rules making it easier for parents and others to challenge classroom materials such as textbooks. Districts would have to bring in an "unbiased and qualified hearing officer" to hear complaints and issue recommendations.

Religious expression

Citing a need to protect student and school employees' religious freedoms, the Legislature adopted a measure to guarantee students may use religious content during lessons, wear clothing and jewelry with religious symbols at school, and participate in religious activities including prayer at school during appropriate times.

They also made clear that school employees may participate in student-led religious activities on school grounds, as long as the activities are voluntary and do not interfere with the employees' responsibilities.

Vouchers

Lawmakers expanded eligibility for children with special needs to receive a Gardiner Scholarship, and they increased the base award amounts for low-income students who receive corporate tax credit scholarships. Students use these state programs to attend private schools.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at (813) 909-4614 or [email protected] Follow @jeffsolochek.

Comments
Hernando County teachers union endorses candidates for School Board

Hernando County teachers union endorses candidates for School Board

The Hernando Classroom Teachers Association, the union for the county’s instructional staff, has announced its recommendations for School Board candidates ahead of next month’s election.The group made its decisions via a private forum, where about fi...
Published: 07/18/18
Fired Hernando school superintendent Lori Romano finds a job in the county next door — Pasco

Fired Hernando school superintendent Lori Romano finds a job in the county next door — Pasco

Lori Romano, fired from the Hernando County superintendent post for "ineffective leadership" a month ago, has snagged a job in the neighboring Pasco County school district.She won’t be nearly as high up the administrative ladder in her new role.Subje...
Published: 07/17/18
Artist, advocate, Marine: New Pasco school security director compelled to serve

Artist, advocate, Marine: New Pasco school security director compelled to serve

LAND O’ LAKES — Chris Stowe has a storied past as an explosives technician in the U.S. Marine Corps.The retired master gunnery sergeant has mementos of his service — a field knife mounted to the lid of an explosives box, for instance — hanging promin...
Published: 07/17/18
Members new and old appointed to Pasco-Hernando State College boards

Members new and old appointed to Pasco-Hernando State College boards

Three trustees for Pasco-Hernando State College have been reappointed to their posts by Gov. Rick Scott, and a new member joined the college’s Foundation Board of Directors.The reappointments to the Board of Trustees are Alvaro Hernandez, Lee Maggard...
Published: 07/17/18
Hillsborough training school resource officers during active shooter exercise

Hillsborough training school resource officers during active shooter exercise

DOVER — With the start of classes nearly three weeks away, Hillsborough County school resource officers are receiving extensive active shooter training Tuesday morning to prepare them in the event of another school tragedy.Members of the Hillsborough...
Published: 07/17/18
Teacher on a plane talked about her low-income students. Passengers overheard and gave her more than $500 in cash.

Teacher on a plane talked about her low-income students. Passengers overheard and gave her more than $500 in cash.

Chicago schoolteacher Kimberly Bermudez has always been the chatty type.So when she was on a Southwest Airlines flight to Florida to visit her parents last week, and her seatmate asked her what she did for a living, she told him about her first-grade...
Published: 07/17/18
In District 6, School Board candidates offer ideas on teacher pay, achievement gap and more

In District 6, School Board candidates offer ideas on teacher pay, achievement gap and more

In Pinellas County’s only School Board race without an incumbent, three longtime Pinellas residents — a retired City Council member and coach, a human resources manager and a special education teacher — will duke it out for the District 6 seat. All t...
Published: 07/17/18

New student address verification rules on tap for Pasco schools

Pasco County parents have demanded for more than two years that their school district make sure students are not lying about their addresses. They’ve done so in hopes it might alleviate the need to change attendance zones at crowded schools.They migh...
Published: 07/17/18
Hillsborough headed for a new mark: 25,000 charter school students

Hillsborough headed for a new mark: 25,000 charter school students

TAMPA — Three more charter schools will join the Hillsborough County system this year, pushing the number of students in these tax-funded, but privately operated institutions to well over 10 percent of the enrollment.District officials predict that 2...
Published: 07/13/18
District 3 candidates see challenges and potential for Pinellas schools

District 3 candidates see challenges and potential for Pinellas schools

A three-term incumbent, an educational specialist with a doctorate in school counseling and a teacher with 33 years of classroom experience are vying for the countywide District 3 seat on the Pinellas County School Board.All three have clear ideas on...
Published: 07/12/18