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M.S. Butler

Reporter, StateImpact Florida

M.S. Butler joined WUSF in October, 2014 after becoming the first recipient of the Stephen Noble Intern Scholarship. A Tampa Bay area resident since 1999, he became a full-time student at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg in Fall, 2012. He has written articles for the school newspaper The Crow’s Nest covering topics ranging from seasonal flu shots to students carrying guns on campus.

He graduated in Spring 2015 with a degree in Mass Communications/Journalism.

Michael covered education as part of our StateImpact Florida partnership through the summer of 2015.

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Know the joke about how many college students it takes to screw in a light bulb?

Probably not, since it’s not a real joke. Nor is the decision some comedians are making to avoid college campuses where they say students today are too easily offended.

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Florida Sen. Bill Nelson is joining those who are calling for federal review of Pinellas County’s use of Title I funds for education.  

Graphic courtesy of Tampa Bay Times

The Tampa Bay Times just completed an investigation into a group of low-performing elementary schools in black neighborhoods of southern Pinellas County -- schools that they're calling "Failure Factories." WUSF's Robin Sussingham spoke with reporters Michael LaForgia and Cara Fitzpatrick... and asked what they discovered about those schools that made them want to dig deeper:

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The Tampa Police Department is under federal scrutiny for the number of times officers have pulled over black bicyclists. Here's the transcript of the story that aired on National Public Radio:


Photo courtesy Tampa Bay 2-1-1

Students who are considered homeless by Florida schools can be living in hotels, trailer parks, in campgrounds or doubled up with friends or relatives. And with as many as 71,000 or more homeless students in the state the challenges can extend beyond the kids and families to include the schools.

For most kids school is a place of achievement and learning, or just a place to socialize with friends. But for kids without stable living arrangements it can mean much more than that.

M.S. Butler

When it comes to children, the definition of homeless includes more children than you may think.

Under the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act children and youth who "lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence are considered homeless." That means children who are living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camp grounds -- or doubled-up with relatives or friends  --are homeless, as well as those who stay in shelters, on the street or in abandoned buildings.

M.S Butler

During a time when many Florida counties were cutting back on summer school due to a lack of money, Pinellas County started expanding theirs using a combination of federal and state funds. And attendance over the past three summers has more than doubled.

Across Florida, more than 288,000 students were enrolled in summer classes in 2014. Nearly 15,000 of them are now enrolled in Pinellas County schools. One of those is Campbell Park Elementary, where the Summer Bridge Program is now under way.

M.S Butler

The Barnes and Noble at Brandon Town Center hosted a read-a-thon of the Harper Lee classic "To Kill a Mockingbird," on Monday.

The 12-hour reading event was held to celebrate and build anticipation for the long-awaited release of "Go Set a Watchman," an earlier version of  the original Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

Ninth-grade Hillsborough County English Teacher and part-time book store employee Amanda Marriott could barely contain her enthusiasm for the release of the new novel.

M.S. Butler

Not every high school student wants to or even needs to go to college, but graduating students without a college degree may have a hard time gaining entry or experience at companies hiring for high paying, high skilled jobs. A local program is trying to bring that experience to graduating students.

M.S. Butler

The first time some students learn about finances is during a high school economics class. Others learn by trial and error, but one program in the Tampa Bay area already has a  history of helping  students get an early start on making sense of their finances.

Here in central Pinellas County, just like any community in America, it’s early morning and everyone is beginning to show up for work.

Buses are unloading and students are heading  to  businesses like Verizon, Duke Energy and CVS Pharmacy which are getting ready to open.

M.S. Butler

Refugees flee their homes out of fear, violence or persecution.

Like Manael Ibrahim.  She fled the war in Iraq in 2002 for safety in Jordan. But after being denied permanent asylum in Jordan she and her family came to the United States, and to Tampa.

"I never imagined that it can happen and I'd be a American, you know. It's really great," said Ibrahim.

Michael S. Butler / WUSF News

At Clearwater Marine Aquarium on Thursday mechanical engineers, aerospace engineers and movie stars teamed up, all to improve the life of a  California girl.

Dominique Courbin and Michael Gonzalez are part of the team from the University of Central Florida trying to beat the clock to get their latest project ready for 10-year-old Annika Emmert.

 Courbin is concentrating on getting everything just right.

St. Petersburg Police Department

St. Petersburg police are still trying to sort out how a local teen got a loaded handgun and ended up shooting a police officer and rattling the department.

St. Petersburg Police Office Michael Cordiviola is recovering at Bayfront Medical Center after being shot in the leg on Sunday. Two other officers at the scene, Matthew Enhoffer and Brian Lynch,  were not injured.

St. Petersburg Police Chief  Holloway said  the wounded officer’s training kicked in and he used a nearby garden hose as a tourniquet until medical help could arrive.

M.S Butler

Of the more than 600 charter schools in Florida. Some focus on the arts, some on sciences. Others are high schools that help students who are at risk for not finishing or dropping out completely.

At the crossroads of  busy four lane highway in Clearwater, students have to make their way through the noise and exhaust of heavy traffic to get to their high school classes.

M.S Butler

It's that time of year when thousands of students across the country get ready to graduate from public and private schools. But in St. Petersburg there's a unique group taking a walk across the stage after finishing four years at a local college.

It’s graduation week and there’s a buzz of anticipation in the air at Eckerd College. The ceremony is just about to begin and members of this class are too excited to sit or speak.

But this is not your normal graduating class

M.S Butler

Florida's Department of Children and Families said in 2014  there were at least 5,700 homeless people under the age of 18 in our state. Some of them teenagers living on their own. But there's one group that makes up a disproportionate amount of homeless teens in Florida and throughout the nation.

They've been called street kids, couch surfers or as St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said back in March: “There is a federal bureaucratic term for the young people who will be served here—unaccompanied youth. But they are in reality homeless.”

Aimee Blodgett / USF Communications and Marketing

When thousands of University of South Florida students walk across the stage to receive their diplomas this week, they will be helping to reduce environmental waste.

USF Student Government voted this year to use caps and gowns made from 100 percent recycled materials. Each set is made from about 23 plastic bottles.

With more than 6,300 students in the USF System graduating this week, that translates into the recycling of 150-thousand bottles.

Photo courtesy csb.gov

It's been nearly five years since the explosion and oil spill on the BP oil rig Deepwater Horizon. On Monday, a diverse group of environmentalists got together to talk about the lingering environmental effects.

Leaders from the Florida Wildlife Federation held a news conference at the Florida Aquarium to propose using potential BP settlement money for Gulf restoration projects. The speakers represented local fishermen, coastal residents and environmental experts from around the area.

M.S Butler

A Hillsborough County project to help teens is expanding across the bay with the help of some well known local dignitaries.
 

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, Tampa Bay Rays President Matt Silverman and others broke ground Tuesday on what will soon will be a residential facility for homeless teens in Pinellas County.

The project, funded through private donations, comes from the efforts of Start Right Now a program working to end homelessness for area teens.

 Vicki Sokolik  is the founder and executive director.

M.S Butler

A college education is generally considered a student's best shot at getting a good job these days, and it's often assumed most high schoolers are prepared to attend college.

But there's one group that has been quietly excluded from that process.

A program at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg  is giving these students college experience that while it's not a traditional degree, it's giving them a head start on their career goals.

A new legislative proposal by Florida Sen.  Jeff Brandes would place greater restrictions on how cities use red-light cameras.

The St. Petersburg Republican, who has been an outspoken critic of the use of the cameras, says they are being used to fill city and county coffers, not improve public safety.

“We’re bringing in 100 million dollars a year,  and we can’t look our constituents in the eye and tell them we’re making them any safer, ”he said. “And I think that - that deeply troubles me. It deeply, deeply troubles me,” he said.

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Everyone wants to improve the quality of education in America.

But there are no silver bullets to accomplish that.

Parental involvement, a more challenging curriculum and a longer school year are just some of the ideas regularly suggested for low graduation rates.

But in Midtown St. Petersburg, in one of the poorest and most educationally challenged areas of Pinellas County, a small, little known middle school is getting results that are raising some eyebrows.

Ellery Butler

During an event billed as a “Call to Assemble,” about 100 people gathered at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson Museum to voice their opposition to a January 22nd decision by the St. Petersburg Housing Authority to sell the property.

That decision brought condemnation from throughout the historic neighborhood and from city leaders who support the current location.

M. S. Butler

It still stands as the U.S. Coast Guard's worst peacetime disaster. And 35 years later survivors, family members and supporters still gather near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge each year to remember the sinking of the Blackthorn.

On Wednesday morning, a memorial service was held to remember the 23 crew members who lost their lives when the Blackthorn sank near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. The ship sank when it collided with a tanker, the Capricorn.

St Petersburg's only African-American history museum may be getting the boot. On Thursday, the St. Petersburg Housing Authority voted 4-3 to sell its property where the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African-American Museum currently sits.

City Councilman Karl Nurse said city attorneys will determine if  the housing authority has the ultimate say in what happens to the property. The museum has been on that site for 14 years as part of the Jordan Park housing project.

M. S. Butler

Gov. Rick Scott was in Tampa Wednesday to talk about  education, particularly his push to expand funding for  STEM programs - or science, technology, engineering and math.

Surrounded by the hum of machinery and the smell of smoldering solder, Gov. Scott touted his plan to expand funding for STEM education and to expand his four-year, $10,000 community college degree program.

But still on the minds of many was the firing of former head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

M. S. Butler

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn weighed in on the firing of Hillsborough County School Superintendent Mary Ellen Elia on Wednesday.

Following Gov. Rick Scott's press conference about his education plan, Mayor Buckhorn spoke with reporters and questioned the School Board's  4-3 decision on Tuesday to let Elia go and buy out the remainder of her contract.

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With same-sex marriage now the law in Florida, a lot of new husbands and wives will be able to join their spouse's state of Florida insurance plan.

Marriage qualifies as a life-changing event under the state's plan, so enrollees won't have to wait for the open enrollment period to add their spouses. But the window to do so is from now to March 6.

That's only about 60 days.

Mark Pudlow is a spokesman for The Florida Education Association. The union represents 140,000 Florida teachers.

M.S Butler

Pianos are popping up on street corners, sidewalks and other unexpected places in Pinellas County. This is all  part of the Pianos in Pinellas program an interactive project designed to encourage public music and art throughout the county.

So, for anyone who is a music lover this is an opportunity to discover new talent right next door.. Plus any opportunity to say "play it again" is always welcome.

Project Director Colin Bissett of the Clearwater Arts Alliance tells us how the program got started.

On Thursday, the St. Petersburg City Council rejected by a 5-3 vote Mayor Rick Kriseman's  proposed agreement with the Tampa Bay Rays that would have allowed the team to explore new stadium options in Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties.

Mayor Kriseman said the agreement was designed to keep the Rays in the bay area but several city council members were skeptical of the terms of the plan. Some would prefer to redevelop the team's current stadium.

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