Florida schools roundup: Education plans, new standards, punishment and more

Jim Booth

Education proposals get a look: This week, legislators will begin to consider Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposals to rework the educator bonuses program, launch an Equal Opportunity Scholarship to erase a waiting list for state scholarships for low-income students, improve career and vocational education programs, and make adjustments to the Schools of Hope program and to graduation requirements. Since announcing his ideas, DeSantis has followed up with specifics on each. State Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, chairman of House PreK-12 Appropriations and vice chair of House Education, says legislators could approve, rewrite, or even kill the ideas. “The governor’s proposals certainly were bold. But just because he put it forth doesn’t mean it’s going to be something we automatically do.” Gradebook.

Search for standards: The Florida Department of Education is asking for input from educators, parents and others as it begins the process of rewriting Florida’s version of the Common Core standards. Gov. DeSantis has given Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran a year to set new standards of what Florida K-12 students should learn in math and language arts courses. The state will use the new standards to rework the Florida Standards Assessments tests, and school districts will use the standards to determine their curricula and textbooks. Orlando Sentinel. WFTS.

Punishment in schools: A bill is filed in the Legislature that would ban corporal punishment in Florida public schools. State Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami, wants to overturn current state law, which allows corporal punishment as approved by school board policy and within the guidelines from school principals. The session begins March 5. News Service of Florida.

After the storm: Legislators have filed bills requesting $2.5 billion to repair damage caused by Hurricane Michael, which hit near Mexico Beach in the Panhandle last October. Two of the bills, H.B. 3109 and H.B. 3111, ask for $54.9 million over the next two years for Bay County schools. Three Bay schools are being closed because a lack of housing led to declining enrollment. News Service of Florida.

Arming teachers: Hillsborough County School Board members are expected to approve a resolution today that rejects the idea of arming teachers. The resolution states: “Whereas Senate Bill 7030 will not make students, teachers and staff safer, the School Board of Hillborough County, Florida, opposes all proposals to arm the teachers employed by the School District of Hillsborough County.” Gradebook.

Superintendent search: The Escambia County School Board is considering hiring the Florida School Boards Association to help it search for a new superintendent. Current Superintendent Malcolm Thomas has set a retirement date of November 2020. The cost for the national search is expected to be in the range of $20,000 to $25,000, says board member Patty Hightower. Pensacola News Journal.

Ratings disparity: Even as students in St. Johns County post some of the highest test scores in the state and have among the highest graduation rates, the percentage of the district’s teachers who are rated as “highly effective” is below the state average. Just 52.9 percent of teachers received that evaluation in the 2017-2018 school year, according to state records. The average is 56.1 percent. Teachers point to such a disparity as evidence that the evaluation system needs to be reworked. St. Augustine Record.

Notable deaths: William H. Bashaw, the superintendent who helped with the transition from segregation to racially integrated schools in Manatee County, has died at the age of 91. He joined the district in 1962, was named superintendent in 1970 and retired in 1983. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Personnel moves: Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran promotes three holdovers from the Pam Stewart era to new jobs. Jacob Oliva, deputy K-12 chancellor since 2017, will be the new K-12 chancellor. Kathy Hebda, who had been chief of staff, will be the new colleges chancellor, and Suzanne Pridgeon, the assistant deputy commissioner of finance, is now the finance commissioner. Gradebook.

Education podcasts: Educators discuss Gov. DeSantis’ teacher bonuses proposal and the ongoing fight over science education in the state. WJCT.

Early education pilot: Sarasota County school officials think a three-year pilot pre-kindergarten program at Gocio Elementary School could serve as a model for the district. The $700,000 program, which includes about 90 students, is being financed by Sarasota philanthropists Joe and Mary Kay Henson. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Teacher/coach sentenced: James Harris, a former teacher and boys basketball coach at Mariner High School in Cape Coral, is sentenced to 11 years in prison after pleading guilty to sexual assault. Harris, 46, had sex with a female student in his classroom and his home in 2016. Fort Myers News-Press.

Teacher put on probation: A Miramar High School math teacher has been put on probation for a year and fined $750 by the Florida Department of Education for disparaging remarks he made about Haiti. Dagoberto Magana Velasquez was suspended during the 2015-2016 school year for those remarks. Miami New Times.

Opinions on schools: Gov. DeSantis’ remark that, “If the taxpayer is paying for education, it’s public education,’’ is absurd. It redefines the meaning of public education in Florida and the nation. It also flies in the face of the Florida Constitution. Tampa Bay Times. Let’s agree that charter schools and vouchers for private schools do offer choices to our kids. But if they’re going to be funded like public schools, they must be overseen like public schools. That hasn’t been the case. St. Augustine Record. Using the statewide grand jury is a novel approach to a specific problem involving the safety of Florida’s children. The governor gets points for trying to do something other than offering “thoughts and prayers.’’ Lucy Morgan, Florida Phoenix. We should all try asking teachers what they need before telling them what they should be doing. Nathan Crabbe, Gainesville Sun.

Student enrichment: Students in Gadsden County are getting reading help, free books and coding instruction in the summer through the Read With Me project that’s funded by the U.S. Department of Education. WTXL.

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