Florida education board approves schools for 'hope' money

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With 13 school districts challenging the constitutionality of Florida's new “schools of hope” law, the State Board of Education on Wednesday used the law to select 11 low-performing public schools to receive additional funding.

The schools will qualify for up to $2,000 in extra per-student funding over the next two years to carry out improvement plans that will include efforts such as tutoring, after-school programs, counseling and teacher development.



At the state board's meeting in Jacksonville, Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said the schools were part of a group of 59 schools that had sought the funding. Schools that did not make the initial cut will have a chance to reapply in the near future, Stewart said.

Miami-Dade County has five schools on the approved list, followed by Palm Beach County with three, Bay County with two and Seminole County with one.



Among the districts that did not make the initial selection were Polk County, with eight schools; Orange County, with six; and Duval County, with five schools.

Stewart said she and Public Schools Chancellor Hershel Lyons will work on “strengthening” the proposals of schools that submitted applications but did not make the cut.

She also said schools that did not apply for the extra funding can still submit applications in the next selection process.

Lawmakers this year set aside $140 million in the new “schools of hope” program, specifying that a portion of the funding would be used to provide extra funding for up to 25 low-performing traditional public schools. The rest of the funding would go to “hope operators,” who could set up charter schools within five miles of “persistently” low-performing public schools.

With the state Department of Education still working on rules for the new “hope operators” program, no charter school companies have sought approval under the new law.

In a lawsuit filed Monday in Leon County circuit court, 13 school districts challenged numerous provisions of the “schools of hope” law related to the charter schools. They argued the law is unconstitutional because it limits the power of local school boards to “control and supervise” all public schools in their districts.

Charter schools are public schools, though they are often operated by private entities.

Bay County was the only district that joined the lawsuit and received approval Wednesday for extra funding for two of its public schools under the “schools of hope” law.

The 59 public schools that sought the extra “schools of hope” funding were part of a larger group of 80 schools that received performance grades of two consecutive “Ds” or an “F” and had to submit turnaround plans to improve their standing. The turnaround plans were approved Wednesday by the Board of Education.

Under another provision in the new law, the state board also approved 643 “schools of excellence,” which because of high performance will have more autonomy. The designation will provide the school principals with more power over budget and personnel decisions. It will lift mandates for reading instruction time and it will give the schools more flexibility in dealing with class-size requirements.

The schools approved for additional funding under the “schools of hope” program were:

—- Miami-Dade County: Homestead Middle, Lorah Park Elementary, Miami Carol City Senior High, Toussaint L'Ouverture Elementary and West Homestead K-8.

—- Bay County: Lucille Moore Elementary and Springfield Elementary.

—- Palm Beach: Gove Elementary, Palm Beach Lakes High and West Riviera Elementary.

—- Seminole County: Idyllwilde Elementary.


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