Florida schools roundup: Tax battle set, school choice, homeschooling and more

Opening addresses: The governor, speaker of the House and president of the Senate all outline their goals for the 2018 legislative session, which began Tuesday. Gov. Rick Scott makes a pitch for his $87.4 billion budget, which includes raising more money for K-12 spending by allowing rising property values to boost tax revenues. Tampa Bay TimesOrlando Sentinel. Sunshine State News. Palm Beach Post. Politico Florida. Associated Press. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, takes direct aim at Scott’s property tax plan, saying the House won’t allow taxes to go up directly or indirectly. “We have taken this moral high ground, and we will not give it up,” he says. Corcoran also vows to protect bullied students by offering them state scholarships to switch schools. Gradebook. Sunshine State News. WFSU. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Politico Florida. WLRN. Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, says he wants to expand Bright Futures scholarships for college students and K-12 school choice, address the opioid crisis and crack down on sexual harassment. Tampa Bay Times. Sunshine State News.

School choice bills: There are at least 10 school choice-related bills to watch as the Legislature begins its 60-day session. Among them are the scholarships for bullied students, an easing of state requirements for homeschooled children, expansion of a personalized learning program, and more access for special-needs students to use the state’s McKay Scholarships. redefinED.

Homeschool bill moving: The House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee unanimously approves a bill that would limit the authority local school districts exercise on homeschooled students, and increase those students’ access to dual enrollment and career education courses. The bill now heads to the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee. redefinED. Gradebook. Politico Florida.

Making up time: The Alachua County School District is adding seven minutes to every school day from Jan. 17 to the end of the school year to make up the two days lost when school was canceled Jan. 3 and 4 because of cold weather and the threat of snow and icy conditions. Gainesville Sun.

Child abuse training: All 6,000-plus fulltime Marion County school employees will undergo annual child abuse reporting training, Superintendent Heidi Maier orders. The decision comes just weeks after an elementary school principal was demoted for not properly handling an investigation into a child abuse allegation. Maier says the training will give all employees “a clear understanding of their role/responsibility regarding recognizing suspected child abuse and reporting requirements of the same.” Ocala Star-Banner.

Zoning decision delayed: The Manatee County School Board postpones a decision to choose one of three school boundary rezoning options to alleviate overcrowding and prepare for the opening of North River High School in 2019. The board cited complaints from parents who said they weren’t aware rezoning was even being considered. The board agreed to hold a public workshop on the issue in February. Bradenton Herald. The board did tentatively approve a decision to create a financial oversight committee to monitor the district’s budgeting. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School health clinics: The Bay County School District and PanCare of Florida are partnering to provide health clinics at Lucille Moore and Springfield elementary schools. Each school will get a a licensed practical nurse and technology that will allow remote access consultations with local pediatricians. Panama City News Herald.

Educators honored: Three teachers are named finalists for the Lake County School District’s teacher of the year. They are: Jason Lancy, an 8th-grade math teacher at Windy Hill Middle School; Faith Gilliland, a math teacher at East Ridge High School; and Dee Dee Bitter, a 4th-grade teacher at Seminole Springs Elementary.  The winner will be announced Feb. 10. Daily CommercialOrlando Sentinel. Alachua County School Board members April Griffin and Rob Hyatt are named school board members of the year by the Florida Music Education Association. Gainesville Sun.

Contract negotiations: About 400 Sarasota County teachers picket outside the school district headquarters to protest the pay raise offer made by the district. The union says the district’s offer shortchanges veteran teachers. One, Sarasota High School math teacher Mike Tierney, says he is paid $43,000 a year after 15 years while the contract proposal would pay entry-level teachers $45,000. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Graduation rates report: The Florida Department of Education’s annual report on graduation rates for the preceding year are usually released in December or early January. But the rates for the class of 2017 aren’t out yet, and department officials say they do not have a release date. Gradebook.

Per-student spending: Florida spent $9,717 per K-12 student in fiscal year 2015, according to a report from the National Center on Education Statistics. That puts the state more than $3,000 below the national average of $12,903, and just 44th among the states. The 74.

School survey squashed: Pasco County School Superintendent Kurt Browning has killed a Mitchell High School fund-raiser that surveyed students about their sexual orientation, hair color, height and the age of people they like to hang out with. Some parents called the survey inappropriate, and Browning quickly had the questionnaires shredded. Tampa Bay Times.

Copying policy tabled: The Okaloosa County School Board postpones making a decision on a new policy to fulfill public records requests after a county resident questions the legality of the move. The policy would require school employees to charge for copies of requested public records. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Public commenting policy: The Citrus County School Board will reconsider a change made last month in the public comment portion of board meetings. Board member Thomas Kennedy objects to the elimination of a specific time for public comment at meetings. “I think it’s important that when the public does want to speak, that there’s a clear time when they can,” says Kennedy. Citrus County Chronicle.

Notable deaths: Students from the Seminole Ridge High School chorus serenaded longtime school chorus director Wes Rainer with holiday songs over the Christmas break as he lay on his death bed at Good Samaritan Hospital. Rainer, 63, died last weekend. He was the only chorus teacher the school had ever had, and wrote the music and lyrics for the alma mater. Palm Beach Post.

Work days: Leon County School Superintendent Rocky Hanna will devote Thursdays to working various jobs in the district. “Although I’ve been with our school system 30 years and know a lot, there’s a lot that I don’t know,” Hanna says. “And I think the more I can be engaged with those folks, and gain a better understanding of some of their issues, the better job I can do to try to address them.” WFSU.

Mountain bike league: Hillsborough County resident Ernie Reyes wants to start a sanctioned high school team series of mountain bike races. The National Interscholastic Cycling Association says there are 21 states competing in NICA-sanctioned high school races, and almost 15,000 NICA participants around the United States. Tampa Bay Times.

School treasurer’s plea: The former treasurer at Boca Raton High School pleads guilty to stealing $23,000 from the school safe. As part of the plea arrangement, Lisa Rivera, 48, agreed to repay the money and never again seek employment in the Palm Beach County School District. She will also serve six months of house arrest. Sun-Sentinel.

Students sprayed on bus: The heating system on a school bus malfunctions, and four students from Nolan Middle School were sprayed with chemicals. None of the students required hospitalization. Bradenton Herald.

Officials subpoenaed: About 15 Pinellas County educators have been subpoenaed to testify in the Ohio trial of Steven Kunkemoeller, who operated Red Ignition and School Warehouse and is accused marking up materials to sell to charter schools managed by Newpoint Education Partners. Gradebook.

Opinions on schools: It’s time for leaders in Tallahassee who profess to be committed to accountability in government programs, “world-class education” and fiscal responsibility to apply more oversight to scholarship schools — for students’, families’ and taxpayers’ sake. Orlando Sentinel. Gov. Rick Scott is like so many others in Tallahassee: focused on higher office and aligning his words and proposals to a potential campaign, not the state’s immediate needs. Sun-Sentinel. Had Gov. Rick Scott already declared his future political ambitions, if any, Tuesday’s State of the State address would have come under undue scrutiny for whether it was a disguised campaign speech for U.S. Senate. Instead, Scott broadly outlined Florida-specific issues that most folks concerned about the state’s future would line up to support. Naples Daily News. I share a favorite quote with 33rd president Harry Truman, baseball manager Earl Weaver and basketball coach John Wooden: “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” Leslee O’Dell, Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Student enrichment: Samantha Swafford, a 6th-grade teacher at Bartow Middle School, starts a boutique at school to provide needy children with clothing, shoes and personal hygiene items. Lakeland Ledger. Ulysses Bunten, a homeschooled student on Marco Island, scores a perfect 36 on the ACT college entrance exam. Only about 1 percent of the 2 million high school seniors who take the test get the highest possible score. Naples Daily News.

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