The First 2018 Priority for America’s 14 Top School Districts: School Closures, New Leadership, Hurricane Recovery & More

Every day at The 74, EduClips offers a rapid roundup of the day’s top education headlines from America’s largest school districts, where more than 4 million students across eight states attend class every day. You can read previous installments right here — and be sure to sign up for the TopSheet Education Newsletter if you’d like to get more school and policy news delivered straight to your inbox.

Today, the first day of 2018, we offer a quick recap on where the top 14 districts stood at the end of 2017, and spotlight some of the key issues, debates, and storylines that will await these district leaders as they get back to work tomorrow.

Top Story

REAUTHORIZING AMERICA’S HIGHER EDUCATION ACT — In 1965, when Congress first passed the Higher Education Act, about 1 in 4 students was an adult. Today, nearly 40 percent of college students are 25 or older. The GOP-led bill that goes to the full House for a vote in 2018 encourages schools to offer faster, shorter credentials and credit for skills learned on the job. The House bill passed out of committee in mid-December. (Read at the Wall Street Journal)

From the 14 Biggest Districts

NEW YORK CITY SCHOOLS SEEK NEW LEADER — After four years running the nation’s largest school system under Mayor Bill de Blasio, Carmen Fariña will retire in the coming months. Her tenure, The New York Times said, “bears the marks of a steady march forward,” as seen in rising graduation rates and test scores, “but there was no sense of the transformational turning of a great ship.” Shortly before she revealed her departure in mid-December, New York City’s Education Department announced it was scaling back its Renewal program, announced by de Blasio in 2014 as an attempt to turn around chronically low-performing schools. The department said it intends to close or merge 14 schools in the program, while moving 21 schools that have shown academic progress out of the program. (Read at The New York Times)

NEARING THE FISCAL CLIFF IN LOS ANGELES — The editorial board of the Los Angeles Times recently warned: “Waiting for the next cliff isn’t a plan; it’s precisely the opposite.” But facing unsustainable pension and health care costs, the Los Angeles Unified School District “continues marching toward” the edge of the fiscal cliff, the Times said. Meanwhile, enrollment in the district is falling faster than predicted, shrinking revenues just as pension and healthcare costs are rising. (Read at the Los Angeles Times)

THE SUPERINTENDENT SEARCH BEGINS IN CHICAGO — The Chicago Public Schools will be searching for a new chief to replace former CEO Forrest Claypool, who resigned the day after the district inspector general accused him of lying and covering up an ethics violation. The Chicago Tribune’s editorial board said his successor will inherit a district in improved financial and academic shape, but also one facing “formidable challenges, including the necessary and long-past-due closing and consolidating of many schools.” (Read at the Chicago Tribune)

PUERTO RICO’S HURRICANE FALLOUT — When Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, the island closed all 1,113 of its public schools. As of early December, most had been reopened, but 38 were shuttered permanently due to storm damage. The island’s student enrollment is “fluid,” standing at 331,000, compared with 350,000 prior to Maria. More than 8,500 students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands flocked to public schools in Florida, aided in part by state waivers that eased their enrollment. (Read at The74Million.org)

IMPRESSIVE GRADES IN MIAMI-DADE — The Miami-Dade County Public schools will be feeling pressure to maintain gains earned this year, when no school earned an “F” on the state’s annual grading system for the first time since the state began taking such measurements in 1999. School grades are weighted most heavily toward students’ scores on standardized tests, with graduation rates and the number of students taking advanced courses also factored in. The Miami Herald noted that the achievement was “even more remarkable” because state legislators have “rejiggered and generally messed around, always making the [state] test more difficult.” (Read at the Miami Herald)

MOVING BEYOND A $60 MILLION DEFICIT IN LAS VEGAS — In early December, the Clark County School Board sealed its final budget, officially ending a tumultuous period of cuts stemming from a roughly $60 million deficit. Nonetheless, the 5–1 vote did not put an end to the district’s financial woes. Teachers continue to clamor for a new contract. The two sides are currently in arbitration. (Read at the Las Vegas Review-Journal)

NEW TEACHER CONTRACT, AND NEW PAY INCENTIVES, IN FORT LAUDERDALE — The Broward County School Board voted Dec. 19 to approve a new contract that includes a 2.5 percent pay raise for most teachers. Under the new contract, which had the approval of 91 percent of teachers, most teachers paid under the old tenure system will be eligible for raises ranging from 2.6 percent to 3.5 percent. Highly rated teachers on the new pay-for-performance system will get a 3.51 raise; effective teachers get 2.6 percent. (Read at the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel)

HOUSTON APPROVES REBUILDING FUNDS, RELAXES TESTING RULES, IN WAKE OF HARVEY — Four Houston elementary schools ravaged by Hurricane Harvey will be rebuilt under a $126 million plan approved in December. And fifth- and eighth-graders in affected areas who don’t pass state tests will not be forced to repeat the grade level this school year, Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath announced around the same time. However, he stopped short of waiving school and district ratings, an exemption sought by superintendents and educators in the federal disaster area. (Read at the Houston Chronicle)

CONTRACT IMPASSE IN TAMPA BAY — As the Christmas holiday approached, teachers and school officials had not been able to settle a months-long conflict over a pay package that affects over 20,000 employees, most of them teachers. The union wants about a third of its teachers to advance along a schedule that would raise their salaries by $4,000. The district says it cannot afford this step, which would add between $15 million and $17 million to yearly payroll costs, and instead offered a total bonus package of $1.8 million. (Read at the Tampa Bay Times)

AGING SCHOOL BUILDINGS, BACKLOGGED REPAIRS IN HAWAII — Although Hawaii has made progress in repairing older school buildings, the price tag for backlogged repairs grew by 5 percent over the past school year, according to a new report by the Hawaii Department of Education. The total cost for backlogged repairs and maintenance of Hawaii’s aging school buildings is now $293 million, much lower than it was a decade ago, when the total was more than twice that. Still, more than 1 out of 5 school buildings in Hawaii are over a century old. The average age of a Hawaii school is 61. (Read at Hawaii News Now)

AN INFLUX OF PUERTO RICAN STUDENTS, AND ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNERS, IN ORLANDO — The Orange County Public Schools accepted the most students from Puerto Rico and other islands damaged by this past year’s hurricanes. Orange County accepted 1,793 students, including 1,561 from Puerto Rico, representing a 0.8 percent increase in a district with more than 200,000 students. A total of more than 7,900 students affected by hurricanes enrolled in Florida public schools. In addition to capacity issues, one challenge facing Orlando schools is that most of the new students do not speak English as their primary language. (Read at Orlando Weekly)

A CHARTER LAW CHALLENGE IN PALM BEACH — A local circuit judge rejected the state’s request to dismiss a closely watched lawsuit brought by the Palm Beach County School Board that challenges a controversial state law that requires school boards to share with charter schools a portion of property tax revenues used for building projects. On Dec. 19, a circuit court judge refused the state’s motion for dismissal of the case. The Palm Beach County board says the new law violates the Florida constitution by infringing on the rights of local school boards. (Read at the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel)

FAIRFAX COUNTY TEACHER REMOVED OVER PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE DISCIPLINE — A teacher who allegedly disciplined a high school student for refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance will not be returning to the classroom, Fairfax County school administrators decided in December after an investigation. The student at Centreville High School said the teacher yelled for him to stand and then yanked him from his seat when he wouldn’t. Fairfax Superintendent Scott Brabrand said in a statement the episode demonstrated “unacceptable behavior by a classroom instructor.” (Read at The Washington Post)

NEW SCHOOL BOARD, NEW SCHOOL GOVERNANCE, IN PHILADELPHIA — The state-sanctioned School Reform Commission will disband after having governed the city’s public schools for 16 years, clearing the way for the appointment of a new school board. The move triggered both exultation and concern from local education observers. Members of the new board will face immediate challenges, including declining public school enrollment and significant structural deficits. (Read at The74Million.org)

Think Pieces

CIVILITY — The Age of Outrage: What the current political climate is doing to our country and our universities (Read at City Journal)

RESEARCH — 10 Charts That Changed the Way We Think About America’s Schools in 2017 (Read at The74million.org)

SEGREGATION — Opinion: Do Black Students Need White Peers? (Read at the Wall Street Journal)

Quote of the Day

“Waiting for the next cliff isn’t a plan; it’s precisely the opposite.”— The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board, on the school district’s dire financial forecast. (Read at The Los Angeles Times)

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