Today's news -- March 7, 2017




Bill to cut back state testing gains bipartisan support *

Nearly a month ago, three key Florida lawmakers set forth their "Fewer Better Tests" legislation with backing from Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education. This week, a bipartisan coalition of state senators and House members will be boosting a separate, more far reaching measure (SB 964 / HB 1249). The Senate version is introduced by Commerce chairman Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat who also runs the state superintendents association. Joining him as co-sponsors are Community Affairs chairman and former Senate president Tom Lee, R-Brandon; Education committee vice chairwoman Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach; Children, Families and Elder Affairs chairman Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah; and Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando. PreK-12 Appropriations chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, also is supporting the bill. In the House, Monticello Republican Rep. Halsey Beshears has filed an identical version. The group has scheduled a news conference for noon Wednesday in Tallahassee to tout the proposal, which includes several items that the state's superintendents have requested. Among those, the bill would eliminate several high school end-of-course exams, and give school districts the option to offer paper-pencil state testing. The legislation also provides for an alternative, nationally recognized test to replace certain high school state tests, bars statewide language arts and math testing earlier than the last four weeks of school, and gets rid of value-added measures in teacher evaluations, among other things. The Senate bill has been assigned to three committees. The House version has not yet been forwarded.


State to examine if some charters underreport dropouts *

Florida’s Department of Education is expanding an inquiry into how schools classify students who leave without graduating, in response to a ProPublica report that the state may have thousands more dropouts than it acknowledges. Also in reaction to the ProPublica article, the school board chairman in Orlando is asking the district superintendent for a formal report regarding concerns that low-achieving students have been pressured to transfer from traditional to alternative high schools. It’s “one allegation we take very, very seriously,” chairman Bill Sublette said. “If that’s going on, that’s intolerable. ... That cannot happen.” Fifteen students at schools run by for-profit Accelerated Learning Solutions (ALS) in Orlando’s district said that, because of their academic performance, they had been denied admission to regular public high schools or told they had to transfer from them to alternative programs, according to our Feb. 21 article, which was co-published by USA Today. Some were pulled from class for surprise assemblies where ALS representatives gave a pitch to attend their schools. Several traditional schools improved their graduation rates by dispatching students unlikely to earn diplomas on time to ALS schools, the article reported. Enrollment in alternative schools in Orlando’s district, Orange County, has tripled in recent years, swelling to 3,900 in 2014. District officials say transfers for academic reasons are voluntary. ProPublica also found that these alternative schools could be significantly undercounting dropouts by coding students who leave as withdrawing to enter adult education, such as GED classes. State rules don’t label withdrawals for adult education as dropping out. ALS ran seven of the 10 high schools statewide with the most withdrawals to adult education in 2015, including the top five. Company officials couldn’t say where these students actually went — or if they took any GED classes. If all such withdrawals from ALS schools in Florida were counted as dropouts, the number of times that students quit statewide in 2015 would increase by at least 5 percent. Last week, Orange County’s school board voted unanimously to renew its contract with one ALS school, Sunshine High, which had the most withdrawals for adult education in the state in 2015. The state education department, which was already reviewing graduation-rate data, will broaden its examination in light of ProPublica’s findings, a department spokeswoman wrote in an email. The state board of education will consider the matter at its March 22 meeting. Linda Stewart, a Democratic state senator representing part of Orlando, expressed dismay in a recent interview about the apparent underreporting of dropouts. “This little play of numbers, it needs to be stopped,” Stewart said. “They need to play by the same rule book that everybody else plays by.” She said she would ask the state Department of Education to look into the questions concerning data collection and see if lawmakers could help with a “corrective measure.”


Tentative agreement reached on teacher pay increases in Calhoun (Russell Baggett quoted)


Clay teachers receive controversial state bonuses (Renna Lee Paiva quoted and FEA mentioned)


Lee school district unveils new teacher housing plan


Two-thirds of state's new teachers stick around, DOE says


Study middle school academic results, Senate panel says (FEA mentioned)


Senate panel passes school religious expression protections


Critics of “religious liberties” bill say it could lead to classroom discrimination


Questions unanswered about philanthropic innovations in education, review finds


Session time: Legislators return to work


Organize Florida previews 2017 legislative session


Scott to lay out priorities in speech to lawmakers


Advocates will respond to governor’s State of the State


Prepared text of remarks


Legislative leaders talk issues, personalities


GOP control in Tallahassee doesn’t always mean unity


Rally in Ocala set for today


Unconstitutional? Gainer-backed bill targets protesters


Corcoran appoints nine to Constitution Revision Commission


Equality Florida “extremely disappointed” after Stemberger’s appointment


Bill to restrict rights of cities, counties backed by House speaker


Controversial public records bill clears second Senate panel


Corcoran, Florida Lottery battle in court over contract


After clash with Scott, Hart resigns as Enterprise Florida's chief executive


House Rules Committee votes to kill most economic-development programs


Best picture winner “Moonlight” can't save state film program


Supreme Court hears arguments on restoring ex-felons' voting rights


Florida bill seeks to identify judges' bias in sentencing'-bias-in-sentencing


Lawmakers seek cash from ‘14 conservation amendment for beach projects


Trump’s Florida presidency: 241+ hours in Sunshine State


Our political economy is designed to create poverty and inequality


Trump budget reflects working-class resentment of the poor


Trump’s blinkered fiscal vision


How activists have already scored victories against Trump's policies


White House aides struggle to defend Trump wiretap claims


GOP refuses to back Trump's wiretap claim


White House rejects Comey’s assertion that wiretapping claim is false


Fact-checking Trump’s defenses of his wiretapping claim


Trump’s wiretapping claims puncture veneer of presidential civility


Sessions insists he was “correct” to say he had no communication with Russians


Sessions’ potential deputy faces a stern test on Russia inquiries


Republicans are becoming Russia’s accomplices


“Don’t be so desperate to rub up against Russia”


Kremlin-backed media turns on Trump


Trump erodes confidence in presidency


Trump plays Captain Queeg


Can Trump weather the storms of his own making?


Rubio says he has “no evidence” that Obama wiretapped Trump


House GOP reveals bill to repeal and replace Obama's healthcare law


Republicans' Obamacare repeal plan would cut taxes on the wealthy


The parts of Obamacare Republicans will keep, change or discard


Conservatives pan House Obamacare repeal bill


The GOP health bill doesn’t know what problem it’s trying to solve


Trumpcare is out: Who wins and loses in Florida?


Planned Parenthood rejects Trump proposal to stop abortion services


Trump’s revised travel ban excludes Iraqis


Analyzing Trump’s new travel ban


Don’t be fooled, Trump’s new Muslim ban is still illegal


Trump’s new travel ban is as arbitrary and senseless as the first


Trump’s new travel ban raises the same Silicon Valley objections


New travel ban garners same verdict in Mideast: a slap at Muslims


How Trump's new travel ban targets the whole world


Trump plan pays for immigration crackdown with cuts to coastal, air security


Who does Trump think he's helping with the travel ban? It sure isn't Americans


New politics of immigration seem certain to shrink international tourism to the U.S.


Trump’s claim that immigrants cost taxpayers “many billions of dollars a year”


Trump’s claim that “more than 300” refugees are subjects of investigations


U.S. frees visa-holding Afghan family it detained for four days


Expedited H-1B visa program suspended


Florida reaction to Trump's revised travel ban


Orlando impact of Trump's new travel ban something for hoteliers to monitor


Sons of illegal immigrants, brothers bring diversity to Volusia Sheriff’s Office


White supremacists step up recruiting on Florida campuses, group says


Frankel holds round table at local JCC on curbing anti-Semitic threats


A lesson Trump and the EPA should heed


Supreme Court won’t hear major case on transgender rights


Gavin Grimm will graduate without justice


Did the Supreme Court base a ruling on a myth?


Jury secrecy doesn’t apply if bias taints deliberations, justices rule


Nelson to meet today with Supreme Court pick Gorsuch


Trump’s gift to Americans: Making it easier to cheat on their taxes


Carson refers to slaves as “immigrants” in first remarks to HUD staff


Trump’s obsession with generals could send us straight into war


It’s the truth according to Trump. Believe it.


Can Trump outlast the White House press corps?


Spicer meets the press. No cameras allowed, again.


Trump University lawsuits may not be closed after all




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