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Politics

2017's Top Education Stories

December 26, 2017 - 1:45pm

Education has long been a top priority for Florida lawmakers and in 2017 education once again made a splash in a variety of headlines throughout the year.

Here’s a look back at the year’s top education stories in Florida:

Betsy DeVos Named Secretary of U.S. Department of Education
President Donald Trump took the reins of the U.S. in 2017, and with his presidency named a new Secretary of Education.

American businesswoman and Republican donor Betsy DeVos was confirmed by the U.S. Senate to the position in February. Like many new recruits in the Trump administration, DeVos has a Florida connection -- her family members were part owners of the Orlando Magic. 

DeVos visited Florida frequently during her first year as Education Secretary to promote school choice, touring with Trump and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., to schools in Orlando in March and heading to Tallahassee for a school visit in August.

 

All Work, No Play Makes Florida Kids Very, Very Dull Boys and Girls
Mandatory recess became a pivotal issue for state lawmakers during the 2017 legislative session, and many of them said Florida students needed recess every day to promote concentration and an overall better learning environment. 
 
Groups of parents, dubbed “recess moms” pushed for the bill since they said would give kids a break from academics and allowed them to socialize.
 
"Research suggests that children need recess in their lives," said the bill’s Senate cosponsor Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. "Our public schools need to find the time to allow kids to run around and be kids. Recess improves physical fitness of our children and may help them focus in class."
 
State lawmakers agreed, ultimately wrapping the recess legislation into the “education train” bill, HB 7069, which Gov. Rick Scott signed into law this summer. Florida schools are now required to have mandatory daily recess, with the exception of charter schools.


 
State Cuts Back Testing -- By a Little
Florida lawmakers have tried to eliminate excess tests in Florida schools over the years, and anti-testing advocates found a small victory during this year's legislative session.

In an effort to scale back an "oversaturation" of standardized tests, Florida lawmakers eliminated the Algebra II end-of-course exam this legislative session. The provision was part of HB 7069, a larger education bill signed into law by the governor in June

 


Florida Lawmakers Push ‘Schools of Hope’ Legislation, School Districts Fight Back
One of the most controversial pieces of legislation to make its way through the 2017 legislative session was HB 7069, a large education package supported by House leadership but criticized by traditional public school advocates. Among the provisions added to the legislation: a $140 million "Schools of Hope" proposal, which pumps money into turning around failing public schools. 

The large bill pitted school choice activists against traditional public school supporters and officials, who worried HB 7069 would funnel important funding away from schools and provide students with subpar classroom instruction as a result.

It was uncertain whether or not Gov. Scott would sign the education package, but he ultimately gave his seal of approval and the bill became law.

Over a dozen school districts have challenged the constitutionality of the ‘Schools of Hope’ legislation, arguing the law is unconstitutional because it limits the power of local school boards to “control and supervise” all public schools in their districts.

 

Appeals Court Tosses School Quality Suit
Florida’s First District Court of Appeals threw out a sweeping lawsuit alleging Florida violated its own constitution by failing to provide funding for “high quality” public schools in December.
 
The three-judge panel ruled unanimously to toss the suit earlier this month. 

The original lawsuit, filed in 2009, asked state judges to determine whether or not Florida had provided adequate funding for thousands of public schools in Florida’s 67 counties, which serve nearly 3 million students each year. 
 
The suit, whose plaintiffs include education advocacy groups Citizens for Strong Schools and Fund Education Now, in addition to several parents, was filed against the Florida State Board of Education, the Speaker of the House and the Senate President, demanding the state create a “remedial plan” to deal with budget cuts for “constitutional deficiencies” in Florida schools.
 
Ultimately, the judges sided with a Circuit Court judge who said the plaintiffs couldn’t meet the burden of proof to show the state wasn’t maintaining its constitutional commitment to Florida’s education system.

Attorneys for the state pointed to 20 years of progress for Florida’s education system, which has steadily improved graduation rates and overall academic successes. Florida’s graduation rate has soared over the last two decades, with almost 78 percent of high schoolers graduating in 2015.
 
The First District Court of Appeals began hearing the case in July and the suit finally appeared to reach the end of the lengthy legal road on Dec. 13.
 
“To agree with Appellants would entangle courts in the details and execution of educational policies and related appropriations, involving millions of students and billions of dollars, in an arena in which the courts possess no special competence or specific constitutional authority,” the judges wrote.
 
 
 
Reach reporter Allison Nielsen by email at allison@sunshinestatenews.com or follow her on Twitter: @AllisonNielsen.


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Comments

outside the top 20 and still falling. The U.S. school systems continue to fall in the world rankings, and will continue to do so until people have had enough and realize what Finland and Japan did a long time ago. There can be no government or political interference in our schools, no ridiculous charter and public/private schools, or we will continue to fall and have more of the same...

Naples Daily News, Dec. 26, 2017 Lawsuit justified In a Dec. 7 guest commentary, state Rep. Byron Donalds’ claimed that House Bill 7069 addresses school district “complacency.” In 2013, Collier County had 10 D/F-graded elementary schools; it now has only one. This district is not complacent. Instead of searching for ways to improve schools like Village Oaks Elementary School, the state is giving up on them. The legislation requires districts to set up special charter schools (“schools of hope”) near D/F-graded schools (schools listed at http://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article162592568.html). Most districts won’t have an opportunity to improve before a “hope operator” arrives. The state offered 25 of 93 “newly failing” schools turnaround funds for one year. At the Nov. 14 school board meeting, Collier County Superintendent of Schools Kamela Patton said Collier County isn’t eligible. In fact, the district will lose a $4 million school improvement grant that helps Village Oaks and Pinecrest Elementary School now. The Florida Department of Education has watered down the criteria for designating “hope operators,” so any nonprofit charter school can now be approved by a school board, even if it has no experience serving lower-income students (Rule 6A-1.0998271). Alachua County’s targeted middle and high schools were given three options: close for the 2018-2019 school year, transition to a charter school, or an outside provider would run the school. “Hope operators” are exempt from state education laws and district policies. Florida’s oversight of the few existing “schools of hope” doesn’t inspire confidence. A KIPP (Knowledge is Power) Jacksonville school didn’t outperform district or state averages, but its contract was renewed. The lack of oversight and potential for wasted funds are alarming. Before the final vote, Sen. David Simmons promised the legislature would return to fix HB7069. If that promise had been kept, school districts wouldn’t have needed to sue. Anne Hartley, Naples

it is a racket to pay back big money donors, or in this case Corcoran's wife, who runs Charter Schools... No schools really improved, they just changed the school grading system...

I get tired of the calls for adequate funding of schools, especially when adequate teaching is not a priority. School funding should be "Merit Based" more money for those doing a good job and lest to those failing. The Government is funding just the opposite. The Educational Big Business, has figured out what all governmental units have, that the means to more funding is failure, not success. Until that is rectified taxpayers will be screwed.

The most important bill was 989 giving Florida residents the ability to challenge errors found in texts. FLDoEd grades on a curve and Florida is still in the bottom half of the country. So the students graduate but can't read or write or do simple math. ITS the CURRICULA stupid.

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