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ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of Oct. 22, 2017

A collection of education stories, opinions, reports and more from across the state.

With lawmakers in committee weeks, and the Constitution Revision Commission in full swing, Florida is hopping with education policy debates. But there's just something about Marlene Sokol's story about some sophomores who gave up their cell phones for a day as part of a class lesson that speaks to everyone, whether in school or out. Could you do it? Catch up on this story and other highlights of the week's Florida education news below. You can keep up with our conversation on Facebook, hear our podcast, and follow our blog to get all the latest Florida education news. All tips, comments and ideas welcome. Know anyone else who'd like to get this weekly roundup or other email updates? Have them send a note to

Top of the Times

With classrooms to spare in urban areas, Hillsborough wants to fill empty space with preschool kids, Marlene Sokol
"Hundreds of low-income children could have access to quality preschool next year under a plan now under development in the Hillsborough County School District."

Here's what happened when 30 high school sophomores gave up their phones for a day, Marlene Sokol
"They were everywhere at Steinbrenner High School. Teens with panic-stricken faces, furiously slapping one thigh, then the other. My phone … Where's my phone? Then they'd remember. They were reading Ray Bradbury's 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451, and the assignment from English teacher Tiffany Southwell – strictly optional – had been to explore the book's themes of entertainment overload and social alienation. Give me your phones for a day, she suggested to 30 sophomores, and write me an essay."

Some teachers allege 'hostile and racially charged' workplace at Pinellas Park Middle, Colleen Wright
"In a letter addressed to Pinellas County school district officials, the presidents of the Upper Pinellas and St. Petersburg branches of the NAACP said the problems began when nine minority teachers banded together over the summer to develop an after-school tutoring program primarily for black students, who scored the lowest on this year's state English language arts exam."

Are Florida school board members paid too much?, Jeffrey S. Solochek
"In most school districts around the nation, school board members do not get paid. That's not the case in Florida. And Collier County board member Erika Donalds wants to put a change to that, using her post on the Florida Constitution Revision Commission to push the issue."

Have financial need? Tell FSU, and your application fee will be waived, Claire McNeill
"With an eye toward increased access for underrepresented students, Florida State University is waiving its $30 application fee for prospective students who tell the university they have financial need."

Around the State

Algebra II test still haunts students, even after state banished it, TC Palm, Andrew Atterbury
"Parents argue the varying policies adopted by school districts create a disadvantage for students. As a result of H.B. 7069, students in the same graduating class could be graded differently for the same course. The state, parents argue, should discount 2016 and 2017 Algebra II exam scores for everyone."

Florida Gov. Scott wants to spend more on teacher supplies, Associated Press, Gary Fineout
"Dealing with low poll ratings at the time and a looming re-election campaign, Gov. Rick Scott four years ago pushed strongly to give every teacher a $2,500 pay raise. But this week when asked by a top teacher about low salaries, Scott contended that it was largely out of his control and instead could only be remedied by county school boards."

Carlos Trujillo: 'Let's take a year off' new PECO projects, Florida Politics, Danny McAuliffe
"House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo is looking to take a breather on education-related new construction and rehabs."

Some States With 'English-Only' Laws Won't Offer Tests in Other Languages, Education Week, Corey Mitchell
"Florida is among several states gambling that their English-only laws will provide cover from a new federal push on English-language-learner education."

Other Views

Rick Scott Gets It: Teachers Supplement Classroom Supplies, Need Help, Sunshine State News, Nancy Smith
"School systems don't operate under a simple definition. Students have increased, needs have increased, expectations have increased. Teachers have become so used to their classroom supply requests falling on deaf ears, most of them no longer ask — they just open their wallets."

Florida owes taxpayers, students and parents tighter scrutiny of school scholarships, Orlando Sentinel editorial
"Supporters of the scholarship programs claim students outperform their counterparts in public schools. If so, they should welcome more scrutiny from state regulators to buttress that claim, and ferret out more private schools that don't make the grade."

Public vs. private: Why my daughter left teaching, Sun-Sentinel columnist Kerry Smith
"[T]he rules, the tests and the culture frustrated her. Her focus turned from the kids to the system. When she told other teachers she was getting out, they universally said: 'Oh, no, that's such a shame … but I understand.'"

Florida's school privatization debacle is a warning for Iowa's politicians, Des Moines Register guest column, Karen Nichols of Iowans for Public Education
"As our Republican governor and lawmakers plan sweeping legislation to divert as much as $240 million in taxpayer dollars to private education, we should ask how these changes might affect Iowa's children. We can look to Florida for clues."

Missouri should look to Florida's education policies to increase college enrollment and save state revenues, St. Louis Business Journal commentary, Brian Murphy and Laura Slay
"The Children's Education Alliance of Missouri encourages both bodies to take a careful look at a new groundbreaking study from the non-partisan Urban Institute, which shows that creating a robust climate of parental choice may be the best way to achieve those goals."

Reports of Note

The Uneven Implementation of Universal School Policies: Maternal Education and Florida's Mandatory Grade Retention Policy, Christina LiCalsi, Umut Ozek and David Figlio
"We find that Florida's third-grade retention policy is in fact enforced differentially depending on children's socioeconomic background, especially maternal education."

A GROWING MOVEMENT America's Largest Public Charter School Communities, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
"When families have public school choice, they increasingly select charter schools over district-run schools. In fact, a recent survey by Phi Delta Kappan (PDK) found that 17 percent of parents would send their child to a charter school if location and capacity were not an issue-meaning that the potential number of charter school students is nearly 9 million."

Coming Up

Oct. 31: Florida Constitution Revision Commission Education Committee, 1 p.m.

Nov. 2: Florida Constitution Revision Commission Education Committee, 8:30 a.m.

Nov. 4: Florida PTA All Children State Summit, Miami-Dade County

Nov. 17: Commissioner's Education Convening (for superintendents and college presidents), Orlando

On File

Lawmakers have begun filing education related legislation in advance of the coming session. Some of the latest notable bills are:

SB 646, Sunshine Scholarship program
SB 586, Instructional personnel salaries
SB 668, Year-round education
HB 427, Salary schedules

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