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Podcast by Tampa Bay Times

Podcast by Tampa Bay Times
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Podcast by Tampa Bay Times




Can Florida solve its science teacher shortage?

As Florida seeks to fill all its classrooms — a recent survey showed 2,200 vacancies halfway through the year — the need for science and math teachers continues to vex schools. Teachers in those subjects continue to top the state's annual list of critical needs, recently approved by the Florida Board of Education for 2019-20. Are there steps either the state or local school districts can take to find and keep enough teachers in the STEM fields? Talia Milgrom-Elcott, executive director of...


Funding, security top Florida education priority list in 2019

Entering 2019, Florida policy makers have focused on two key areas of concern with regard to public schooling — paying for it, and keeping students and staff safe — within the conservative framework of the newly elected administration and Legislature. With the state's finances "volatile" and the demand for increased security costly, resolving these issues might not be easy. Reporters Lawrence Mower and Jeff Solochek discuss the latest developments in Tallahassee on these hot topics.


Pam Stewart says goodbye. 'We are, in Florida, at an all-time high.'

Pam Stewart was counting down the days to her Jan. 8, 2019, retirement. Then suddenly she accepted an added year to her term as Florida education commissioner. Within weeks, she just as abruptly resigned, paving the way for incoming Gov. Ron DeSantis to get his hand-picked replacement, former House Speaker Richard Corcoran, into the seat. With the winter holidays and her final day in office approaching, Stewart figured she'd have some time to wind down and navigate toward life after...


What's in store for Florida education come 2019?

Florida has a new education commissioner and new governor to start 2019. They have begun exploring how they plan to tackle issues such as teacher pay, classroom spending and workforce development as they approach their first day on the job. Reporters Emily Mahoney and Jeff Solochek review the discussions that have been taking place leading up to the new administration, as well as the nervous reaction from some of the critics.


Teaching life, with Pasco Teacher of the Year Holly Mickler

The teaching profession has taken its hits lately, in Florida and across the nation, with morale sagging as lawmakers impose rules that many educators say make the job more of a chore than a craft. Many are heading for the exits, seeking employment where they feel more valued and respected. Yet many more can't see themselves doing anything other than helping prepare children for the world. Count Holly Mickler among them. Mickler, Pasco County's 2018-19 Teacher of the Year, says she often...


More than money: Pinellas County teacher contract negotiations

Across Florida and the nation, teachers have been demanding better pay for the work they do. The concerns surpass just pay, though, as educators see their work loads rise as working conditions deteriorate. It's those non-financial objectives that have the Pinellas County Classroom Teachers Association refusing to accept contract terms with their district, as the academic year nears the end of the first semester. PCTA president Mike Gandolfo talks with reporter Jeff Solochek about what his...


Security, teacher pay, technology and more: A wish list for the Florida legislative session

Florida lawmakers return to Tallahassee the week of Dec. 11 to begin committee meetings leading to their 2019 spring session. Education regularly tops the agenda. So we turned to school board members from across the state, representing districts large and small, to ask them what they'd like to see happen by the time the Legislature closes again in May. Hear their views, plus a little insight from Senate Education vice chairman Sen. Bill Montford.


Recounting Florida: The education election edition

A week after Election Day 2018, Florida remains knee deep in reviewing the results of some key state races. Not to be lost in the shuffle, though, are some significant outcomes in the Florida education world. Just over a quarter of school board incumbents statewide retired or lost their reelection bids, raising the question of whether that's enough to stop talk of imposing term limits on board members. Every district that asked voters to raise taxes on themselves to support school needs won...


When black students are over-disciplined: Hernando County schools seek solutions

It's been a disturbing truth across Florida and the nation: School districts have disproportionately disciplined black students. Hernando County school officials noted the data in their district, and decided to do something about it. They launched a pilot project on three campuses to improve educators' approach to student discipline, without simply ignoring situations, and so far have been satisfied enough with the results to expand the effort to three more schools. Hernando County education...


Why vouchers? A discussion on Florida's tax credit scholarship program.

Florida's tax credit scholarship program, referred to as vouchers by many, is the nation's largest and growing such model. But does it meet the needs of the families it serves? Jason Bedrick, policy director for the national advocacy group EdChoice, co-wrote a report based on a survey of thousands of program participants. He discusses the findings and their implications with reporter Jeff Solochek in this week's Gradebook podcast.


Dealing with transgender students in Florida schools: Sarasota County's example

Schools in Florida and around the nation continue to grapple with how to treat transgender students. Which restrooms and locker rooms should they use? Which gender pronouns should school employees select to refer to the students? Do other students and their families have a right to know? The Sarasota County school district has debated the issues since 2016, when some students demanded their rights not be trampled upon. This week, the district superintendent quietly released a new policy...


Are 11th and 12th grades a waste of time? Thoughts about dual enrollment, early college

As a Florida state lawmaker, John Legg often spoke about how the final two years of high school were becoming less important to students who had already passed many of their graduation requirements and could benefit from better preparation for college. As a charter school operator, Legg put many of his ideas into play, creating an "early college" program, in conjunction with a community college, for his school's high school students. Now he's studying the roles of early college, dual...


Active shooter drills and class size: When Florida law confuses

It's a quarter of the way through Florida's school year, and some schools continue to grapple with implementation of two key requirements, one new and one old. Leaders remain uncertain of exactly how often to run active shooter drills, required by the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas School Safety Act. And they still face complaints and concerns over the student schedules and teacher assignments related to the 2002 class size amendment. In many instances, confusion over the requirements plays a...


Behind Hillsborough's quest for a school tax

Hillsborough County, the nation's eighth largest school district, is asking voters to increase local sales taxes in order to help pay for construction and maintenance projects, including much needed air conditioning repairs. But the district faces hurdles along the way, such as convincing the public it can be a good steward of tax dollars while avoiding outright campaigning, which isn't allowed by law. Reporters Jeff Solochek and Marlene Sokol discuss the referendum, why Hillsborough leaders...


DeSantis vs. Gillum and the future of Florida education

Florida's two major party candidates for governor have released their education platforms, and they couldn't have offered a more distinct choice. With the exception of wanting to expand career and technical education, and to pay teachers better, Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum disagree on almost everything. Even their ideas for boosting salaries differ dramatically. Reporters Emily Mahoney and Jeff Solochek dissect their talking points — such as Desantis' dedicating 80...


Amendment 8 is dead. What's left?

The Florida Supreme Court officially tossed education-related Amendment 8 off the Nov. 6 ballot, upholding a lower court ruling that found it misleading. But that's not the only proposal to change the constitution that voters face. Reporters Jeff Solochek and Emily Mahoney discuss the Amendment 8 ruling, and what's left on the ballot — including another measure that also could alter the way Florida's school districts operate.


When families lie about where they live, with Leon County schools superintendent Rocky Hanna

After the Florida Legislature changed its rules for school choice, the Leon County school district saw an uptick in families forging documents to register their children in preferred schools. Meanwhile, less popular schools sat under capacity, hurting the district's ability to justify new campuses in growing areas. The district took a hard line to root out the offenders and more evenly spread its student population, which also helped increase diversity. Superintendent Rocky Hanna talks with...


Taxing times for Hillsborough County schools

It's a taxing time for the Hillsborough County school district, the nation's eighth largest — and not just in the literal sense of the word. In addition to pursuing a local sales tax increase via voter referendum, itself a contentious issue, the district is poised to lose three of its superintendent's four leading defenders. As residents question the district's credibility, its leaders weigh carefully the next steps. Reporters Marlene Sokol and Jeff Solochek discuss the latest week's...


Can Florida's education quality be judged? (In court, that is)

Florida's long-running education equity lawsuit, filed by parents, aims to force more money into public schools. First, they have to convince the courts that the issue can be judged. So far, a trial and appellate court have ruled that the constitutional language governing public education is more aspirational than objective. The state Supreme Court will take up the debate in November. In today's podcast, plaintiff's lawyer Jodi Siegel talks with reporter Jeff Solochek about what's happening...