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House plan revives summer school

Lawmakers are worried about students failing the FCAT. School districts say they're already strapped.

Published April 9, 2003

TALLAHASSEE - Faced with the prospect of tens of thousands of students repeating third grade next year, the Florida House wants to require school districts to offer summer school to low-performing students.

The proposal would force districts to provide "intensive reading programs" to third-graders who fail the state's FCAT reading test. It also would require intensive summer remediation for 10th-, 11th- and 12th-graders who fail the FCAT graduation test.

The proposal has the support of Gov. Jeb Bush and Education Commissioner Jim Horne. But Senate President Jim King called it an "unfunded mandate," and pointed out that many districts have reduced or eliminated summer school because of budget constraints.

"I don't know how you mandate something that you have basically forced (districts) to eliminate," King said.

In recent years, budget tightening has forced school districts to eschew traditional summer school, where kids went for enrichment or to bring up a failing grade. Summer school has become shorter (10 or 12 days in the Tampa Bay area) and involves fewer and fewer children. Some districts have eliminated it entirely.

Administrators are instead using much of their limited funds - called Supplemental Academic Instruction money - to provide remediation throughout the school year. After-school programs, and even Saturday tutoring, have become more common.

But the House budget provides $100-million less for the supplemental funds. And educators question the wisdom of focusing remediation efforts on the summer.

"If they think that putting together a quick summer school program is going to bring those kids along after we've been working with them all year, that's questionable," said Pasco County Superintendent John Long.

"I guess they're telling us what to do and when to do it," said David Mosrie, director of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, who discussed the issue Tuesday with several superintendents. "If they place the emphasis on summer school, districts would have to cut out the programs we have in place now."

But the sponsor of the House proposal, an amendment to the House budget approved Tuesday, thinks districts aren't doing enough.

"It became abundantly clear that there are deficiencies in our educational system that relate to remediation of at-risk students," said Rep. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs. "We are not going to sweep this under the rug."

Judging by last year's test scores, as many as 50,000 third graders statewide could be retained this year. An estimated 12,000 high school seniors are in danger of failing to pass the graduation test.

- Times staff writers Steve Bousquet and Alisa Ulferts contributed to this report.

[Last modified April 9, 2003, 02:03:05]

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