[dropcap]A[/dropcap] Seminole County elementary school was one of 11 in Florida to win a state grant this month that it will use to pay teacher bonuses, hire extra instructors and boost offerings at its D-rated campus.
The “schools of hope” grant won by Idyllwilde Elementary School in Sanford was offered for the first time this year as part of a controversial new education law, HB 7069, that has prompted lawsuits by some Florida school districts.
Idyllwilde will use its expected $1.6 million grant to give teachers bonuses — the amount must still be negotiated with the local teachers union,
and to carry out a new program to encourage parents to become more involved in the school and their children’s education, said Anna-Marie Cote, deputy superintendent of the Seminole school district.
The school also will hire extra “highly effective” teachers to help struggling students, provide more training for all its teachers, and staff the school with a mental health counselor, she said.
“We were thrilled. We knew we were in stiff competition,” Cote added.
Idyllwilde earned a D on this year’s school report card, just as it did in 2016, but the school’s academic performance improved, though not enough to give it a C. The hope, she said, is that the grant-funded programs will lead to more gains next year.
The Orange County school district sought the grant money — worth up to $2,000 per student — for six of its D-rated schools, but none won.
Orange is one of 13 school districts that joined together and filed a lawsuit Oct. 16 challenging the constitutionality of some provisions of HB 7069, which they argue usurps school boards’ power to run local schools.
But Orange officials, including Bill Sublette, chairman of the Orange County School Board, said they saw no connection between the grant announcement, made two days after the lawsuit was filed, and the legal fight.
The Bay County school district, which is part of the lawsuit, had two schools win grants, and the Palm Beach County school district, which has filed its own legal challenge to the law, had three winning schools.
Many local educators, even in districts not party to the lawsuit, had urged Gov. Rick Scott to veto 7069, arguing problematic parts of the sweeping bill outweighed the good sections, such as the new grants.
The measure was championed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, and Scott signed it in June in an Orlando ceremony.
The “schools of hope” grant is for schools just entering the state’s turnaround program because they earned a second D or a first F on Florida’s school report card.
The state can award up to 25 winners, and Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said districts with schools that didn’t win this month can revamp their applications and try again.
She has not set a timetable for when more grants would be awarded.
Fifty-seven schools applied for the grants, including two in Volusia County.
The Volusia schools didn’t win the money, either.
The Lake County school district did not apply.
Stewart said only 11 grants were awarded because the others did not convince department staff their plans would meet the grant’s goals of improving student performance.
“It is these 11, based on the review … that I feel confident in their ability to have success,” she said at a recent State Board of Education meeting where the grant winners were announced.
Scott Howat, a spokesman for Orange schools, said the district would resubmit applications for Catalina, Lake Weston, Lockhart, Rosemont and Tangelo Park elementary schools and Memorial Middle School.
It would have primarily used the money for recruitment and retention bonuses for teachers, he said, hoping to set up a pay scheme like that at Carver Middle School, where teachers are earning an extra $20,000 this school year.
Carver got an F on the 2016 state report card, but moved up to a C on the 2017 one, issued during the summer.
The lawsuit, filed in Leon County Circuit Court, focuses on several provisions of the law related to charter schools, which are schools run by private groups with approval from local school boards.
It argues the law unconstitutionally forces local school districts to share some property taxes with charter schools, which are sometimes run by private, for-profit firms, and allows “schools of hope” charter schools to open without oversight from local school boards, among other issues.