We're dedicated to telling you stories about policy and public spending, and how they affect students in Florida schools. Our WUSF News reporters team up with our public media partners across Florida to bring you a more comprehensive look at learning.

To see coverage from our prior StateImpact Florida project, visit here.

USF Art Professor Theo Wujcik dies at 78

Mar 31, 2014

The cause was cancer, which had spread from Wujcik’s abdomen to his lungs and brain since last fall, said Stanton Storer, a friend and collector of Wujcik’s artwork. Characteristically, despite limitations imposed by surgery and chemotherapy, Wujcik filled the final months of his life with artistic productivity, completing a series of large-scale portraits of other artists for an exhibition in Dallas with the assistance of two former students, artists Peg Trezevant and Kirk Ke Wang. At a reception for the exhibition earlier this month, artists James Rosenquist and Ed Ruscha — Wujcik’s longtime friends and subjects of two of the portraits — joined Margaret Miller, director of the USF Contemporary Art Museum, in a conversation about Wujcik, who participated via Skype from a Tampa hospital.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Florida’s plans to add computerized grading of its new statewide writing test could eventually eliminate the need for a writing test, advocates for the technology said.

Essays on Florida’s new writing test will be scored by a human and a computer, but the computer score will only matter if the score is significantly different from that of the human reviewer. If that happens, bid documents indicate the essay will be scored by another human reviewer.

A bill significantly expanding Florida’s school voucher program is headed for the House floor, even though a similar proposal was withdrawn from the Senate, leading many to believe the issue was dead for this session. A Friday committee hearing revived a familiar—and heated—debate on education and religion.  

Republican supporters want to increase funding to the state’s corporate tax scholarship program, they say, for parents who feel public school has failed their children—parents like Tallahassee mother of five Alyson Hochstedler.

State university foundations could meet in secret under a bill passed by the Florida House.

The bill (HB 115) barely passed since it takes a two-thirds vote to create exemptions to the state's public records and open meetings laws. The vote was 83-33 with most Democrats voting no.

People who give money to university foundations can already keep their identities anonymous. But the bill passed by the House would allow foundation boards to meet in secret if they are discussing research proposals and funding for that research.

A former Florida A&M band member could become the first to be sentenced to jail time for his role in the hazing death of a drum major.

Jessie Baskin faces nine years when sentenced Friday for participating in the beating death of Robert Champion in November 2011 during a hazing ritual aboard a bus parked outside an Orlando hotel.

Sammy Mack / StateImpact Florida

It’s report card day at Miami Carol City Senior High, and sophomore Mack Godbee is reviewing his grades with his mentor, Natasha Santana-Viera.

The first quarter on Godbee’s report card is littered with Ds and Fs. This quarter, there are more Cs and Bs. He’s got an A in English.

“Congratulations on that,” says Santana-Viera. “When you need help, do you know where to go?”

“Straight to y’all,” says Godbee.

jeffrey james pacres / Flickr

A computer program will grade student essays on the writing portion of the standardized test set to replace the FCAT, according to bid documents released by the Florida Department of Education.

The essays will be scored by a human and a computer, but the computer score will only matter if the score is significantly different from that of the human reviewer. If that happens, the documents indicate the essay will be scored by another human reviewer.

Florida writing tests are currently graded by two human scorers and the state has never used computerized grading on the exam.

'Undocumented' Immigrant Tuition Bill Squeaks Through House

Mar 21, 2014

The House overwhelmingly approved a measure extending in-state tuition rates to some undocumented students Thursday, sending the charged legislation to the Senate, where it faces a less certain fate.

Explaining The Push For 'Pay It Forward' Tuition Plans

Mar 17, 2014
thisisbossi / Flickr

A Florida lawmaker has proposed allowing students to attend college tuition-free, and then repay the cost with a percentage of their salary after graduating.

The proposal has been nicknamed "Pay It Forward" tuition because students making their payments keep tuition free for future generations of college students. Students might pay their Alma mater between 2 percent and 6 percent of their annual salary for as long as 25 years, depending on the terms of the program.

Florida Matters: Choosing The Next FCAT

Mar 11, 2014
biologycorner / Flickr

Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart is expected to recommend a test to (mostly) replace the FCAT later this month.

A new test is needed because Florida is finishing the switch to new K-12 math, language arts and literacy standards this fall. The standards are largely based on Common Core standards fully adopted by 44 other states and the District of Columbia.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

This story is part of a series from The Hechinger Report and StateImpact Florida looking at how Florida schools are getting ready for Common Core standards. Read — and listen to — the first story here.

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More students could get scholarships to go to private school next year under a planned expansion of the state’s corporate tax scholarship program. But those students may also be subjected to state exams.

Florida State University’s provost will become the school’s interim president. Garnett Stokes takes the helm of Florida State as current university President Eric Barron departs for Penn state.

Barron was appointed Penn State University’s new university president last month. Florida State University Trustees named Stokes to the interim position as the school begins a national presidential search.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Sondra Hulette and her granddaughter joined dozens of anti-Common Core protestors as they circled a fountain outside the Orange County school district offices last month.

Inside the building, the State Board of Education was about to rename Common Core as "The Florida Standards." But outside, Hulette and others chanted "Stop Common Core!" "Keep education local!" and "Follow the money!"

Common Core are math and language arts standards adopted by Florida and 44 other states. They outline what students should know at the end of each grade.

Dalia Colón / WUSF

You may expect a lecture at cannabis college to sound like a scene from the stoner movie Half Baked.

Instead, it sounds like a lot of talk about light bulb wattage and ducting systems.

Major buzz kill.

Jackie Mader / The Hechinger Report

In Defuniak Springs in Florida’s panhandle, the third graders at West Defuniak Elementary are learning division.

Specifically, 72 divided by six. Their teacher, Casi Adkinson drew circles onto the board.

"I share my 72 into my six circles," Adkinson said. "Are we ready to do that together? Ready? 1,2,3,4,5..."

With the class counting along, Adkinson drew 72 marks, grouped into six separate circles.

"Ok, I shared my 72," she said. "What do I do next? Alaya?

"Oh! You count how many there are in the six circles," Alaya said.

The state board that oversees the university system is signing off on the hiring of new presidents for Florida Atlantic University and Florida A&M University.

The Florida Board of Governors on Thursday voted to confirm the hiring of John Kelly as FAU president and Elmira Mangum as FAMU president.

The vote to confirm Kelly and Mangum came after the board spent more than an hour with each new president.

The Florida Senate

Florida’s move toward Common Core standards in schools is sure to be discussed during the upcoming legislative session.

USF University Communications and Marketing

Good news for broke college students -- which, last time we checked, was every college student. The price of attending the University of South Florida could actually decrease a bit next year.

This morning, the USF Board of Trustees voted to freeze most student fees and lower others, 10 News reports.

This year Florida’s colleges are trying to get in on the state’s performance funding scheme for higher education.

The colleges want Florida lawmakers to award them additional funds based upon how well they do in terms of graduation rates and other metrics: similar to how universities now get extra dollars. Florida College System Chancellor Randy Hanna says what the colleges will be evaluated on is still under consideration:

More than a quarter of all Florida high school seniors are earning high enough scores on Advanced Placement tests to earn college credit, a report released Tuesday by the College Board shows.

Twenty seven percent of Florida students graduating in 2013 scored a 3 or higher on an AP test. That passage rate was the fifth highest in the nation and a big jump from the state's performance a decade before.

In 2003, just 15.3 percent of graduating seniors scored at that level on an AP exam.

Chris Guerrieri is a Jacksonville art teacher who also blogs about education.

Last month he sent us an email about Florida’s Common Core standards.

"My question was: How does Common Core affect poverty?" he asked.

More than half of all Florida students qualify for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program.

It's a short-hand way to gauge poverty. Florida's rate is about one-sixth higher than the national average.

A bill by Ocala Republican State Representative Dennis Baxley would stop schools from referring kids to the department of juvenile justice for minor offenses such as wearing t-shirts or accessories with guns on them.

Baxley says schools are overreacting when it comes to student discipline.

“Obviously, we don’t want firearms brought to school in a backpack, but we got into a lot of simulated behavior and overreacted—clothing issues, accessories. So this just tones down some of those cases and makes a common sense application.” 

What was supposed to be a simple hearing on a legislative clean-up bill Wednesday became the latest debate over Common Core learning standards in Florida.

Lake City Republican Representative Elizabeth Porter is carrying a House Education Committee bill that would delete old references and language from Florida’s statutes.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Last week Orlando hosted one of the oldest and largest education technology conferences in the country.

Technology is an important issue in Florida schools because lawmakers have required half of all classroom instruction is delivered digitally when classes begin in 2015.

We spoke to a few teachers presenting at and attending FETC to ask them when they first made the connection about using technology in the classroom.

Here's what they told us -- with some sights and sounds from FETC.

John O'Connor / Flickr

Florida schools could get more money to upgrade classrooms, purchase new computers, tablets and other technology and train teachers and staff how to use them.

But they’ll have to meet new goals set by the Florida Department of Education, submit annual technology plans and document how they’re spending the money.

That’s according to a bill supported by House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate Education committee chairman John Legg. The two Tampa Bay-area Republicans plan to introduce the bill today.

utnapistim / Flickr

The chairman of the Senate’s Education Committee said Gov. Rick Scott and lawmakers want to spend at least $40 million, and likely more, to upgrade school Internet capacity and add new computers, tablets and other digital tools.

Sen. John Legg, R-Port Richey, said education technology is a priority for Scott and both Republican and Democratic legislative leaders.

Legg said $40 million in Scott’s proposed budget — to be released in full tomorrow — is a starting point.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Monday called for spending more money on the state's public schools, although his latest request is less than half of what he pushed for in 2013.

Scott's pitch for more money also comes amid a tough re-election battle where his political opponents will try to remind voters that the Republican governor called for large cuts to education during his first year in office.

Tricia Norman, the mother of alleged bully victim, Rebecca Sedwick, is backing House and Senate legislation that would toughen penalties against bullying.

Rebecca Sedwick ended her life in November after alleged bullying from classmates.

If this legislation is passed, it will be known as Rebecca's Law.

Tricia Norman's attorney, Brett Morgan, says the state is now seeing bullying for what it really is.

Florida A&M University is selecting a Cornell University vice president to lead the school following a tumultuous period in the school history.

FAMU's Board of Trustees on Thursday selected Elmira Mangum for the job. But the vote came after FAMU's own alumni association and others pleaded with board members to consider interim president Larry Robinson for the job.