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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Pasco County school impact fee advisory committee seeks input

Care about whether the Pasco County Commission increases school impact fees? The county's 10-person impact fee advisory committee will take public comment at 3 p.m. Wednesday.

The committee, comprised of five commission appointees and five School Board appointees, will hold its first meeting Wednesday to begin considering the board's request for a near doubling of the charge made on new home construction.

The board made its recommendation after noting it cannot afford to build schools quickly enough to meet the needs of the county's fast-growing population.

School district officials have expressed their hope for quick action by the advisory committee, with a goal of getting the commission to act on the fee proposal by fall. …

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Florida education news: Testing, textbooks, coding and more

TESTING: The Florida Senate Education Committee delays consideration of testing reform legislation amid disputes over process, the Times/Herald reports. Entering the meeting, some leaders were prepared to merge two competing bills into one. More from the News Service of Florida, Tallahassee Democrat.

TEXTBOOKS: Bills to make it easier for parents and other residents to challenge Florida schools' instructional materials move through both chambers of the Legislature.

COMPUTER CODING: State lawmakers press ahead with a bill promoting computer coding legislation, but no longer allowing it as a substitute for foreign languages.

HIGHER ED: The Florida House proposes cutting the state university and college budget by $164 million, the News Service of Florida reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: Struggling Manatee Charter School nears an agreement with the Manatee County school district to remain in operation, the Bradenton Herald reports. • A bill in the Florida House would direct more capital funding to charter schools, Redefined reports. …

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House, Senate advance bills making it easier to challenge school books, materials

A Pasco County parent reviews a novel that some parents objected to as inappropriate for middle school children in 2016.

Times file photo

A Pasco County parent reviews a novel that some parents objected to as inappropriate for middle school children in 2016.

In the face of parent and community complaints about the content of some school books and materials, Florida lawmakers on Monday moved ahead legislation to make it easier to see what schools are using and challenge the items.

HB 989 and SB 1210 aim to build upon an effort three years ago to give local school districts more control over the materials used in their schools. Amended amid concerns of initially going too far, the bills would give parents and community residents more access to the books inside the schools, and require districts to establish processes for parents and residents to object to items in use.

House sponsor Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, told the House PreK-12 Quality Committee he wanted simply to create an open, transparent process to ensure children get the most objective and least objectionable materials available. Seeing as the state spends $200 million annually on books and other materials, he said, it makes sense to put more local oversight in place.

He stressed that the Legislature should not be setting all the guidelines for what is picked. "That isn't a job for the Legislature," said Donalds, whose wife sits on the Collier County School Board. …

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Florida Senate Education Committee postpones consideration of testing bill

Times file photo

With several potentially contentious amendments filed and less than 30 minutes remaining for its meeting, the Florida Senate Education Committee narrowly decided Monday to postpone consideration of SB 926, which is poised to become the primary vehicle this session to alter the state's testing system.

Several members of the committee back Sen. Bill Montford's SB 964, while the panel was slated to hear SB 926 by newly named member Sen. Anitere Flores.

Just as the meeting ensued, Sen. David Simmons late-filed six amendments to the Flores bill, aimed at making it look more like Montford's measure. They included:

- Ending the mandate on using value-added measures associated with test results to determine teacher evaluations

- Eliminating several high school end-of-course exams

- Allowing districts to use paper-pencil tests rather than electronic ones

- Studying national alternatives to state high school language arts and math tests 

Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon and a co-sponsor of SB 964, called for the Flores bill to be temporarily postponed just as it came up for discussion. The committee voted 5-4 in favor, and moved on to a workshop on charter schools. …

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This time, no delays expected for Pasco County report cards

At the end of the first semester, Pasco County schools delayed delivery of student report cards, and then missed that second deadline, too.

The issue boiled down to problems with a new data system, and incorrect calculations. Officials pledged at the ultimate release of the report cards that the scenario would not repeat itself.

On Monday, the district made clear it had every expectation of sending home the next round on time.

"Quarter 3 report cards are scheduled to be distributed to students on Monday, April 3rd," the district tweeted. "We do not anticipate any delays."

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Eyes turn to Florida Senate Education Committee for testing debate

Sen. David Simmons

Sen. David Simmons

Social media heated up over the weekend as Florida parents and activists seeking changes to the state's high-stakes testing and accountability system tried to raise attention to Monday's Senate Education Committee session.

The committee, which meets at 1:30 p.m. (watch on The Florida Channel), is to feature debate and a vote on this year's primary testing legislation. It looks to be Sen. Anitere Flores' SB 926, nicknamed the "Fewer, Better Tests" bill to the chagrin of critics who note it does little to eliminate or improve state exams. 

They prefer Sen. Bill Montford's SB 964, which has been endorsed by a bipartisan slate of senators including several who sit on the committee. They've adopted #StopSB926 as their social media tag, and have contacted reporters along with lawmakers to make their views known.

And because the bill is scheduled to go only to one more committee -- Rules -- after this stop, the stakes are feeling high.

Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs and chairman of PreK-12 Appropriations, said senators have discussed the measures between meetings to see where they can arrive at consensus in bringing SB 926 closer to what others want.  …

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Florida education news: School visits, testing, teacher contracts and more

SCHOOL VISITS: Sen. Anitere Flores seeks to give Florida school board members access to schools in their districts without interference.

TESTING: Sen. Flores brings her "Fewer, Better Tests" bill to the Education Committee while a more expansive bill by Sen. Bill Montford waits, the Tallahassee Democrat reports. Sen. Montford remains optimistic his ideas will be heard at some point in the process. Testing legislation is among nine key bills that could affect Florida education, Florida Today reports.

LABOR NEWS: A local Florida Education Association group seeks to represent Santa Rosa County teachers, the Santa Rosa Press Gazette reports. • The Manatee County School Board is scheduled to resolve contract impasse with its teachers, the Bradenton Herald reports.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: A Manatee County charter school fights to remain open, the Bradenton Herald reports.

RECESS: A bill to mandate daily recess in all Florida elementary schools faces revisions in the state House, the Miami Herald reports.

TEACHER BONUSES: Volusia County teachers remain discouraged by the state's Best and Brightest award program, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports. …

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ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of March 19, 2017

Times file photo

It was another active week for Florida education news, with controversial measures moving through the Legislature and new revelations about achievement and access gaps for minority children. A federal judge allowed immigrant families to pursue their lawsuit alleging Collier County schools denied their children an education, and the Jefferson County School Board approved a contract to have all its schools run by a charter operator.

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

Florida Senate takes 'stand for liberty' in passing religious freedom bill for schools over Democratic concerns, Kristen M. Clark
"Florida's public schools would have to let students lead religious prayers during the school day and at school-sanctioned events under a controversial proposal that the state Senate approved Thursday." …

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Senator proposes more autonomy for Florida school board members visiting schools

Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, has offered an amendment to her testing legislation that has nothing to do with testing at all.

Rather, Flores has proposed 21 lines that would ensure school board members have unfettered access to schools in their districts. The amendment would allow individual board members to visit any traditional or charter school "on any day and at any time at his or her pleasure."

No one could require board members to provide advance notice before their visit, under the proposal, and the school would be allowed to offer but not require an escort on the campus.

"Another school board member or a district employee including, but not limited to, the superintendent, the school principal, or his or her designee, may not limit the duration or scope of the visit or direct a visiting school board member to leave the premises," it continues. "A school board, district, or school administrative policy or practice may not prohibit or limit the authority granted to a school board member under this section." …

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Pinellas applies for grant to strengthen, expand magnet programs

The Pinellas County school district has applied for a $15 million, five-year federal grant through the Magnet Schools of America program to enhance and expand existing magnet programs.

If awarded, the schools would begin accepting additional students in the 2018-19 school year. School district officials don't expect to hear back from the program until later this year or early 2018.

Bill Lawrence, the district's director of student demographics, assignment and school capacity, said the application's strength lies in making feeder program pathways from Kindergarten to 12th grade. For example, grant dollars would be used to enhance the "tech triangle" between Bay Point Elementary, Bay Point Middle and Lakewood High.

Bay Point Middle would get to integrate arts into its STEM program, build a new technology lab, enhance professional development for teachers and strengthen its engineering program. Lakewood High would use its dollars to beef up its athletic and lifestyle management magnet. …

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The blacker the school, the newer the teacher


With town hall meetings taking place around the state about equity in education, organizers are asking: Do public school systems distribute their resources fairly to children, regardless of race and income level? And what about the classroom teachers? Does every child have an equal shot at a teacher with experience?

The data available suggests the Hillsborough district spends plenty of money in low-income communities, much of it on teacher trainers and social service providers.

But when it comes to the teacher who spends the entire day with the students, richer and whiter schools are getting those with more experience.

For example: The average teacher at a mostly white elementary school earns $51,459 a year. Her counterpart at a mostly black school earns $45,057. That $6,000 spread equates to about five years of experience. And the gap grows to $8,000 -- roughly six years' experience -- when comparing schools that are even more segregated. …

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Sen. Montford remains confident Florida testing will be scaled back

Sen. Bill Montford

Times file photo

Sen. Bill Montford

The chief proponent of legislation to significantly scale back Florida's high-stakes testing system is sounding upbeat about the chances for success, even after his bill was left off the Senate Education Committee's next meeting agenda while a competing measure appeared.

"I'm confident that one way or another we'll get our bill heard," Sen. Bill Montford, the Tallahassee Democrat who also heads the state superintendents association, told the Gradebook. "If not, maybe they can do a committee bill."

Montford's SB 964 calls for several actions backed by the superintendents, including the elimination of VAM scores for teacher evaluations, the deletion of several end-of-course exams and a return to paper-pencil testing.

"It is not a retreat from high levels of accountability. It is not a watering down of our standards or expectations," he told the committee at a recent workshop. "It is, I believe, a commonsense approach to accountability." …

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Gradebook podcast: Education bills on the move, turnaround schools and more

Potter Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Ciera Fox, 28, who attended Potter as a child, says repetition and routines help to comfort kids as they take on responsibility.

Octavio Jones | Times

Potter Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Ciera Fox, 28, who attended Potter as a child, says repetition and routines help to comfort kids as they take on responsibility.

Times education reporter Jeff Solochek highlights some of the bills moving closer to becoming to state education law, including SB 964 and SB 926 on testing, SB 436 and HB 303 on religious expression, and HB 591 and SB 808 on class size. Then Times education reporter Marlene Sokol joins the conversation for a discussion of the efforts to improve four-time F-rated Potter Elementary School. Read Sokol's story and follow-up for more details.

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Florida education news: Religious speech, teacher contracts, free lunch and more

RELIGIOUS SPEECH: The Florida Senate adopts a controversial bill aimed at allowing more religious expression in public schools, including among employees.

TEACHER CONTRACTS: The Florida House moves ahead legislation to prevent school districts from negotiating added job protections for teachers on annual contract.

FREE LUNCH: The Hernando County school district expands its federally funded free meals program to include almost all elementary and middle school students.

BAD ACTS: A Hernando County high school art teacher is arrested on accusations she had sex with a student. • Three Sarasota middle school students are arrested for having a weapon on school property, the Herald-Tribune reports.

TEACHER TESTS: Florida teachers grow frustrated with the state's certification exams, which many struggle to pass, ABC Action News reports.

STUDENT TESTING: An Orange County teacher testifies her students lose 37 days of learning because of testing and related preparations, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

ADVANCED EDUCATION: Minority students in Palm Beach County are less likely than white children to be enrolled in accelerated courses, the Palm Beach Post reports. …

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Rezonings in North Tampa AND New Tampa will be discussed next week

Parents and teachers from Cahoon Elementary are leery about the planned merger with Van Buren Middle. A district open house is planned Tuesday at Van Buren but it is about school boundaries in the area, not the merger.


Parents and teachers from Cahoon Elementary are leery about the planned merger with Van Buren Middle. A district open house is planned Tuesday at Van Buren but it is about school boundaries in the area, not the merger.

Try to keep this straight.

Hillsborough County, responding to a building boom and the need to contain costs, is embarking on two sets of school rezonings that are related, but generating different kinds of push-back.

In North Tampa, as we have reported before, Cahoon Elementary and Van Buren Middle are to be merged, with Cahoon losing its status as an animal sciences magnet school. That change will free up seats for neighborhood children who now go to numerous schools in north Tampa and, in some cases, all the way up Bruce B. Downs Boulevared and into New Tampa. Hunter's Green and Clark Elementary both have these so-called "satellite" populations. According to the boundary plan, that arrangement will stop.

But here is where it gets tricky:

The district says it can free up 1,500 spots in New Tampa by keeping the North Tampa children closer to home. But new home construction on the eastern edge of New Tampa means they will have to move some children from Pride Elementary to Hunter's Green Elementary. That plan isn't popular among homeowners who say they were sold on Pride's high grades from the state. While Pride earned an A in 2016, Hunter's Green had a C. …

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