New charter, FCAT rules taking effect

Published: Monday, January 6, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 6, 2003 at 1:15 a.m.

According to one of several new education laws that take effect Tuesday, school boards in Florida will have little say in whether charter schools are allowed to open.

Another new rule will require that all third-grade students who cannot pass the reading portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test be retained.

And should indecision plague the distribution of school recognition funds that are awarded to schools that earn an A or improve a letter grade, that money will automatically go to the classroom teachers at those schools.

According to the new 1,800-page Florida School Code, which was rewritten by lawmakers last year, a newly created Charter School Appeals Commission will make recommendations to the State Board of Education regarding appeals from charter schools that have been denied to open or closed in districts.

Charter schools receive public money but are operated by private groups and are free of many regulations that cover other public schools.

The state's final ruling will be binding on local school districts, unless they appeal to the courts.

"They don't let the people who work with them every day have the final say, which I think is very unfortunate," Alachua County School Board member Jeannine Cawthon said. "The people in Tallahassee don't know what we do every day, and I'm sorry the final word will be in Tallahassee."

As for retaining students, those students who previously failed the reading part of the FCAT could be promoted after looking at factors known as "good cause" such as academic history, teacher input, previous retention and professional judgment.

The new School Code limits those "good cause" exemptions for third-graders to doing well on an alternate test or showing class work that clearly proves they are able to read despite a poor showing on the test.

Historically, School Advisory Councils and staffs at each school jointly decide how to use state recognition money, which can go to nonrecurring bonuses for faculty and staff, for nonrecurring expenditures for educational equipment or materials, or for temporary personnel to assist in maintaining or improving student performance.

The School Recognition Program Awards is the financial impetus behind Gov. Jeb Bush's A+ Plan for education accountability, which assigns grades to schools based on how students score on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

Last year, 21 schools in Alachua County brought in nearly $1.8 million in recognition money for their grades, most of them A's.

But since decisions over the rewards have propelled divisiveness at schools, legislators decided to require the money go to the classroom teachers employed by the school if no decision is made by Nov. 1.

Cathi Carr can be reached at 374-5086 or carrc@gvillesun. com.

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