Friday, October 20, 2017


marieb hall at fgcu


To aid students in the Caribbean affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Florida Gulf Coast University is allowing students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to temporarily enroll at in-state tuition rates.

Starting with the spring semester, FGCU announced that it will waive out-of-state tuition rates for undergraduate and graduate students for up to three semesters from the affected islands.

“These are challenging times for millions of people striving to get back on their feet after their communities were shattered,” said FGCU President Mike Martin.  “With educational institutions unable to operate as usual, those trying to better their lives through learning could easily have their dreams derailed.  As partners in higher education, we believe it’s our duty to provide this avenue in the hope that it helps students stay on the path to success while their communities heal.”

Out-of-state FGCU students pay $838.73 as undergraduates, and $1,300.66 as graduate students. In-state students are paying $203.94 and $373.38, respectively. On a full-time course load of 12 credit hours, that represents a difference over approximately $7,600 for undergraduate students in a single semester.

FGCU is also waiving application fees next week for Florida students considering applying to the university. The typical application fee is $30, but applications sent between Oct. 22 and Oct. 28 using the promo code “FREEAPP2017” will be processed and considered at no charge.

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A lawsuit to challenge a sweeping education bill by Florida school districts, including Lee County, was filed in a Tallahassee court on Monday.

Lee is one of 13 school districts as part of the united lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of HB 7069, a broad piece of education legislation passed during a special session of the Florida Legislature in June, and signed into law shortly thereafter.

“I am proud of our District for doing the right thing by standing up for public education,” said Lee Superintendent Greg Adkins in a news release from the district send Monday evening. “The future of Florida’s economy and its workforce depend on our public education system. This law fails our teachers, our communities, but most importantly, it fails our children. We must do what is right to give them the education they deserve.”

Lee County Schools was one of the loudest critics of the bill before it was signed into law, arguing against several of the provisions within the bill.

In the complaint, the state districts are over several of the bill’s key features, many of them relating to charter schools. HB 7069’s champion, House Speaker Richard Corcoran(R-Land O’ Lakes), has advocated heavily for charters while in Tallahassee, and his wife owns a charter school.

“They are building $40 million Taj Mahals up and down the state, 67 counties the most expensive buildings they can build,” Corcoran said in June while in Fort Myers ahead of the bill’s signing. “We are saying focus on the beautiful minds not the beautiful buildings. It’s not important how the building looks. What’s important is having that money go directly to [students] and follow that student and allow that student to have a world class education.”

One of the major issues that districts are fighting is the requirement that school districts share capital property tax funds, money raised to pay for school buildings and infrastructure, with charter schools. The lawsuit also challenges the standardization of charter school contracts at the state level, the creation of “Schools of Hope,” which creates incentives for charters to open near low-performing public schools, and argues that the bill allows charters to operate as education agencies outside of the local district’s control.

“It allows charters to operate as public schools over which the local electorate that is funding them has no authority to change leadership or influence policy,” the district’s release says.

The primary argument that districts are making are that changes made by the bill take away local control from county school districts.

“The bottom line is that the Florida Legislature passed a bill that takes away local control which the people of Lee County have entrusted to us,” Board Chair Mary Fischer said. “Education is the economic driver of our community. We must take action to protect and defend it, so students have the ability to reach their highest personal potentials.”

Palm Beach County is also filing a lawsuit separate from the multi-district suit. Collier Schools met to discuss joining the suit in September, but decided against joining.

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the eagle statue in front of alico arena

News-Service-Florida-Logo-68x25BY | Lloyd Dunkelberger
The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, October 9, 2017……… An additional 44,000 Bright Futures students would have their scholarships expanded under a bill approved Monday by the Senate Education Committee.

The legislation (SB 4), sponsored by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, would increase scholarship coverage for “medallion scholars” in state universities from the current $77 per credit hour to $159, or roughly 75 percent of the cost of tuition and fees.

The expansion would also help students at state colleges, increasing the medallion scholars from $63 per credit hour to $80 for students seeking associate degrees and from $53 per credit hour to $92 for students taking upper division courses at the colleges.

The scholarship expansion, which will require an estimated $77 million in state funding, is part of a bill that revives most of the major provisions of higher-education legislation (SB 374) passed by the Legislature last spring but vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott.

Another provision in the bill would make permanent the expansion of Bright Futures scholarships to cover full tuition and fees for “academic scholars,” the highest level of the program. That part of the program includes some 50,000 students, mostly at state universities.

The academic scholars expansion was included in this year’s state budget, although its future is in doubt without the passage of a bill that would place it into more-permanent law.

The “Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act” is also a top priority for Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

In a statement, Negron said students and their families “deserve financial security and peace of mind throughout their academic journey.”

“With these permanent changes in law, we can help alleviate some of those financial concerns,” he said.

The legislation also would expand need-based aid programs, including doubling the state match for the “first generation” in college scholarship program. Under the current 1-to-1 match for private donations, the program provided an average scholarship of $1,270 for 8,361 students in the 2016-17 academic year.

With the proposed 2-to-1 match, the aim is to extend the program for some of the 15,442 students who qualified for the grants but received no funding.

Other major provisions in the bill include a requirement that state universities develop block tuition plans by the fall of 2018. Under such plans, students would pay a flat rate per semester, rather than paying for classes on a per credit-hour basis. Block tuition is expected to provide a financial incentive for students to take more classes and graduate more quickly.

The legislation would require the state university system to use a four-year graduation rate as part of its performance-funding formula, instead of the current six-year measure.

Schools seeking a “pre-eminent” university status would have to have at least a 60 percent four-year graduation rate, although the metric would be phased in over the next year.

A key difference in the new bill from the prior legislation is that it does not contain many provisions related to the state college system.

Senate Education Chairwoman Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, said she will file a separate bill on the 28-school state college system in the next few weeks. Hukill said the legislation will contain a college system oversight board, similar to the Board of Governors’ supervision of the state universities.

Currently, the college system is under the state Board of Education, which also oversees the pre-kindergarten-through-high-school system.

© 2017 The News Service of Florida. All rights reserved. Posting or forwarding this material without permission is prohibited. You can view the Terms of Use on our website.


Longtime attorney for the Lee County School Board Keith Martin is calling it a career.

After 20 years on the job as the board’s legal counsel, Martin will be retiring this summer, he confirmed in an email this week.

“The timing of my retirement has been planned for a number of years,” Martin said. “The timing has no relation to the present Board or Superintendent, both of which are very supportive of my work.  It is simply time for another chapter in my life.”

While the school district has seen tremendous growth since he stepped onto the job – more than doubling its student population – Martin said that the complexity that school districts face in their operations based on state laws and directives have grown at nearly the same pace.

“The School Law book I carry with me everywhere has grown substantially heavier with the completion of each legislative session, without a corresponding increase in the size of my biceps,” Martin said. “The level of detail with which the legislature dictates the operation of public schools has become mind-boggling.”

This summer, Lee joined a lawsuit with approximately a dozen school districts to challenge HB 7069, a sweeping piece of education legislation which requires school districts to share capital funds with charter schools, and allows for incentives for charters to open near low-performing schools, among other things.

The districts in the suit argue that the bill violates state statutes that require legislation be single issue – HB 7069 was comprised of several outstanding bills during a special session over the summer – and that it takes away the autonomy of local districts.

In 2014, Lee County made national headlines when they became the first school district to opt-out of Common Core testing before reversing the decision a week later.

“Despite all of this change, the aim of the legal advice and services has not changed over the years.  As with every employee of the District, my aim is to do all I can to support the mission of ensuring each student achieves his or her highest personal potential,” Martin said. “When I have performed labor that preserves funding needed to support the vital work of our teachers in the classroom, or have provided guidance or services that enable teachers to be more effective in educating our students, that is a good day.”

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Trees are reflected in the water in the Buena Vista community in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017.


As large numbers of Puerto Rican residents displaced by Hurricane Maria resettle in Florida, many run into red tape when trying to enroll their children in a public school.

Governor Rick Scott took steps to simplify the process on Friday by directing the Florida Department of Education to waive rules and regulations that would hinder a student impacted by Maria from enrolling in a K-12 school. Scott said that because families fleeing the devastation of the storm often do not have access to the documentation normally required to enroll, it was important to temporarily waive the requirement.

“As a result of the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria, families from Puerto Rico and elsewhere have relocated to Florida,” said Scott. “Entire communities were destroyed and we do not know how long it will take to restore schools and other essential infrastructure. Therefore, it is critical that these students and teachers have the opportunity to participate in our state’s outstanding public education system. We are pleased to remove barriers to enrollment and help these students and teachers return to the classroom.”

The governor had already announced earlier in the week that Florida Virtual School would be accepting 20,000 Puerto Rican K-12 students impacted by Maria. The students are able to take advantage of that program whether they are in Florida or still living in Puerto Rico, whose educational facilities are heavily damaged.

Despite the number of Puerto Rican students entering the state education system after Maria, Southwest Florida has seen little impact.

A spokesperson for Lee County Schools said Thursday that the district has seen no new students from Puerto Rico enrolling due to Hurricane Maria. Collier Schools spokesperson Greg Turchetta reported only one student in an email.

Those numbers could, of course, increase as those displaced by Maria move out of major airport or seaport hubs like Orlando or Miami where disaster relief centers have been set up to assist incoming Puerto Rican residents.

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marieb hall at fgcu

News-Service-Florida-Logo-68x25BY | Lloyd Dunkelberger
The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, October 3, 2017 ………. Florida universities may win additional state funding if more of their undergraduates can earn their degrees in four years.

That was the proposal discussed Tuesday by the Board of Governors’ Budget and Finance Committee, which held a workshop on performance standards at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers.

Nothing is settled but a majority of the committee members expressed interest in changing the current six-year graduation rate measure to a four-year metric.

“There’s no question that doing four years is better for the students,” said Ned Lautenbach, chairman of the BOG’s budget and finance panel. “If we can get more of these kids out of here in four years, it’s going to be less expensive and they get jobs faster. It all works in the right direction.”

Syd Kitson, another committee member, said it is important to create “a mindset” that most undergraduates should be looking to finish their degrees in four years.

“That’s the expectation going in,” Kitson said. “If we don’t have that as our metric, I don’t see how that mindset can be reinforced.”

The graduation rate was one of five performance-metric adjustments discussed by the BOG committee on Tuesday.

Lautenbach and Tom Kuntz, chairman of the BOG, emphasized that the performance measurement discussion will continue and it may be some time before a final decision is made, with the possibility that no changes will be made.

Lautenbach said since initiating the performance-funding model in 2014, the BOG has reviewed and discussed changes in the system every fall in a workshop.

“One of the things we must be cognizant about, though, is too many drastic changes at once would change the focus of the model and would impact the universities’ focus and the game plan for improving the metrics we have adopted,” Lautenbach said. “So we can’t change it a lot every year.”

Other performance measures discussed included adding a textbook cost to a standard that measures the “cost to the student,” basically tuition offset by scholarships or other aid, of earning a degree.

The committee also debated holding all of the universities to a standard that measures students who graduate without excess credit hours. Currently, the University of Florida, Florida State University and New College of Florida do not use the excess-hours metric.

The committee discussed adjustments to a performance measurement linked to the number of students at each school who have federal Pell grants, which is financial aid available to students from low-income families.

The standards are important to the universities because some $245 million in state performance funding was included in this year’s state budget. Top-performing schools get more money, while three schools at the bottom receive no additional state funding.

The performance standard debate will be influenced by the 2018 Legislature, which is also likely to consider legislation adjusting the metrics. Lawmakers approved a bill in the spring that would have created a four-year graduation standard, but the measure was vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott. A new bill (SB 4) has been filed that would require a four-year graduation rate measure.

The upcoming debate about a four-year graduation measure will focus on its impact on the individual schools.

In 2016, the four-year graduation rate averaged 45 percent across the system, ranging from 18 percent at Florida A&M University to 67 percent at UF, according to the BOG.

Only four schools — the University of South Florida, New College, UF and FSU — now exceed the BOG’s long-range goal of having at least a 50 percent four-year graduation rate.

But a change to a four-year measure would not necessarily adversely impact schools that fall short of the 50 percent goal.

Under the current six-year measure, with a goal of 70 percent, only five of the 11 schools seeking performance money earned points. Similarly, some schools could still earn points under a new four-year measure, even if they fall short of the 50 percent benchmark.

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FSW banner


Florida SouthWestern State College professor Elizabeth Whitmer has been recognized by the American Health Information Management Association for her work in health information technology.

The American Health Information Management Association is a group that advocates for technical advancements and best practices in the field of health information which represents more than 103,000 health information professionals

“Professor Whitmer has used her vision and creativity to enhance her profession and improve student learning,” said Dr. Marie Collins, dean of FSW School of Health Professions. “We are quite proud of her accomplishments.”

The organization’s Innovation Triumph Award honors those that promote important advances in  areas like quality data, standards development, patient safety, systems development. Whitmer created a smartphone app for medical coding students called Root Operation App Rescue or “ROAR”. The app helps students reference medical coding language with more 70,000 seven-digit alphanumeric codes used in patient records for insurance agencies, Medicaid, Medicare, attorneys, workers comp and other billing agencies. Those codes contain important information about the patient’s illness or injury, its location on the body, and the procedures and treatments the doctor performed.

“This is a profession that not many people know about,” Whitmer said. “It’s quite fulfilling to know that I am giving back to my passion and helping more people become interested in medical coding. I am honored to receive this award.”

The app is currently being successfully used by students at Bryan University in Tempe in Arizona.

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fgcu sunrise


Graduates from Florida Gulf Coast University this winter will be walking across the stage in Alico Arena after all.

After previously announcing that the university was considering moving commencement ceremonies to the student union on campus in smaller ceremonies, FGCU said that the fall semester’s commencement ceremonies will be at Alico Arena on December 16.

The changes were being considered after the university extended the semester by one week in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, bringing logistical challenges to holding the ceremony as originally scheduled.

“As indicated all along we’ve been evaluating various options during the evolving aftermath of the hurricane, and our University Commencement Committee has indicated we will be able to hold the Commencement ceremonies in Alico Arena on December 16,” FGCU spokesperson Susan Evans said in an email Friday.

FGCU will have twin ceremonies, one at 9 a.m. for graduates in arts and sciences, and engineering, and another at 1 p.m. or business, education, and health and human services graduates.

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This Monday, May 2, 2016 photo provided by Crystal Ramirez shows student desks in Chandni Langford's 5th grade classroom, in Woodbury, N.J.

News-Service-Florida-Logo-68x25BY | Lloyd Dunkelberger
The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, September 27, 2017……… Although Florida is becoming a more racially diverse state, its public-school system is becoming more segregated, a new study from the LeRoy Collins Institute shows.

“Student enrollment trends in Florida over the past decades show growing racial isolation for Hispanic and black students on some measures, with signs of continuous segregation on others,” the study said.

Some 32 percent of Hispanic students and 35 percent of black students in Florida attend “intensely segregated” schools, defined as have a nonwhite student body of 90 percent or greater, according to the study.

One out of every five schools was intensely segregated in the 2014-2015 academic year, about double the 10.6 percent of the schools that fell into that category in 1994-1995.

The more heavily segregated schools had more poor students. In schools with at least a 50 percent nonwhite school body, low-income students represented 68 percent of the population. Low-income students represented 82.5 percent of the population in the schools with a 90 percent or greater nonwhite student body.

“Florida is the third-largest state in the country and has the most diverse student body in our state’s history, yet one-fifth of our public schools are intensely segregated,” said Carol Weissert, a Florida State University political scientist who leads the Collins Institute. “Similar segregation is evident for low-income students. All Floridians deserve equal access to a quality education, regardless of race or economic standing.”

Gary Orfield, co-director of The Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles who helped write the report, said the review of school data over the last two decades showed a “resegregation” of schools as well as a “demographic revolution.”

Since 1980, Hispanic students have increased from 8 percent of Florida students to about 31 percent in 2014, the report showed. White students declined from 68 percent to just under 41 percent, while black students remained about 22 percent during that period.

The study also showed that the number of students defined as low-income has been rising over the last two decades, increasing from 36 percent in 1994-1995 to nearly 59 percent in 2014-2015.

Calling the trend “double segregation,” the report showed typical black students were likely attending schools with 68 percent low-income students, and Hispanic students were in schools with a 65 percent low-income population, “while the typical white student and Asian student are in schools where less than half of the students are poor.”

“The schools concentrate students not only by race but also by poverty,” Orfield said in a video link to the conference, which was held Wednesday at Florida State.

John Due, a prominent civil rights attorney and activist, said the problem facing Florida schools is not just about racial balance.

“It’s about poverty. It’s about class,” he said. “I hope we begin to look at the real issues and dealing with class.”

Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat who also heads the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, said education leaders need to review the report’s data, which he called “alarming,” but they also must “dig deeper into how we got to where we are today.”

Students facing challenges like poverty, lack of health care or mental-health services “show up in public schools every morning,” said Montford, a former Leon County superintendent.

At the same time, Montford said “traditional” public schools are vying for financial support while the state is increasing other education options, including charter schools, virtual classrooms and the use of publicly funded vouchers and scholarships to send students to private schools.

“When it comes to education in Florida, we take the cheap route,” Montford said. “We need to step up and provide these services to these children.”

© 2017 The News Service of Florida. All rights reserved. Posting or forwarding this material without permission is prohibited. You can view the Terms of Use on our website.

collier school board logo


After hours of discussion and deliberation, Collier County Public Schools will not be joining Lee Schools and several other school districts around the state in a lawsuit to challenge a comprehensive education bill passed over the summer called HB 7069.

The controversial legislation, signed into law after a special session by the Florida Legislature, has faced fierce criticism over its constitutionality. Last week, Alachua, Pinellas, and Wakulla Counties joined in the suit, which now includes about a dozen school districts, challenging, among other things, “schools of hope,” which incentivizes charter schools to open near low-performing public schools, and sharing capital property tax funds with charters.

School board attorney Jon Fishbane said that a challenge against the legislation would be limited in what it could realistically argue. One of the key arguments, that the bill violated state statute by being not being single issue, he said could be easily answered.

“Florida law is clear in its deference to the Legislature and that would give the Legislature the opportunity to cure that,” Fishbane said. “They could call a special session and try to make each item more identifiable. I don’t think that’s going to go anywhere.”

Fishbane said the strongest leg that districts would have to stand on would likely be the schools of hope, provision.

Schools of hope kicks in when a school has earned a grade of a D or lower for three consecutive years. Collier has one school which is close to meeting that designation, Village Oaks Elementary, two years a D school, but the district is asking for a year’s reprieve on that because of all the missed class days from Hurricane Irma.

Board member Stephanie Lucarelli, and Chair Roy Terry supported the idea of the district striking out on its own for a suit, considering that some of the points the main suit is arguing, like capital funds for charters, board members agree with.

“It was a total breakdown of the legislative process, all that had to do was vote on each bill individually and they wouldn’t have all this talk about groups contesting their decision. I would honestly believe most of the bills in 7069 would’ve passed the legislature,” Terry said.

“Palm Beach is filing on its own. We should also file our own. In my opinion it would be more effective. This is a local control issue.”

But board member Erika Donalds, the board’s vice chair, feared that such a suit would be prohibitively expensive for the district.

“We’ve settled workers comp lawsuits because it would cost $50-60,000 to have a hearing,” Donalds said. “A lawsuit at the state level with multiple appeals on a constitutional issue, the number is definitely well into the six figures.”

Fishbane agreed with the assessment, warning that the cost would be well more than the proposed $25,000 – adding that the main lawsuit led by Broward is asking for each district to put up $5,000 up front.

Donalds recommended holding off on any action until the Broward suit goes forward, proposing they wait until the Broward suit files before making a decision.

“If they file something that you see that you agree with, you can always join later,” Donalds said. But otherwise you’re voting on something that you haven’t seen. I think it would be irresponsible to join today.”

That measure passed 4-1, with Lucarelli in dissent.

“Our children and our schools were used as a bargaining chip in the budgeting process so that individual legislators could get what they wanted, namely schools of hope, not what the bulk of the legislature though what was good for our state,” Lucarelli said. “Everyone, including operators of charter schools and their families, should be appalled by this.”

But Donalds countered that the lawsuit shouldn’t be on whether the board agrees with the legislation, and argued that the lack of a lawsuit doesn’t and shouldn’t imply consent from the board.

“I would not make the mistake of saying that by not suing, you are automatically endorsing everything that’s in the bill. We’re trying to make a responsible decision for our district. This is a decision of what’s best for us and our district.”

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