Florida schools roundup: Education bill, bonuses, Bright Futures and more

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Education bill moving: The sweeping education bill that would, among other things, eliminate the waiting list for Florida Tax Credit Scholarships, is approved by the Senate Education Committee on a 5-3 party-line vote. S.B. 7070 would create the Family Empowerment Scholarship program with money from the Florida Education Finance Program, though at least one prominent Republican says taking the money from general revenue funds could pose a problem. The bill also would restructure the Best and Brightest Teacher and Principal Scholarship program for educator bonuses, the teacher certification process, and provide money for social services at public schools. About 13,000 students are on the FTC waiting list. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit scholarship program. redefinED. Associated Press. News Service of Florida. Orlando Sentinel. Tampa Bay Times. Politico FloridaFlorida Politics. WFSU. WFTS. WPTV.

Best & Brightest bonuses: More than 11,000 Florida teachers will receive bonuses of $7,200 through the state’s Best and Brightest program, according to the Florida Department of Education. Those 11,286 teachers were rated as “highly effective” in their evaluations and posted ACT or SAT scores in the top 20 percent when they applied for college. About 81,000 other “highly effective” teachers will get $1,200 bonuses, 67,600 “effective” teachers will get $700 and 557 principals will get bonuses worth $4,000 or $5,000. Florida is spending $233 million on the bonuses, which will be paid by April 1. The Legislature is considering several proposals, including S.B. 7070, that would rework the bonuses program and eliminate the test score requirement. Orlando Sentinel.

Bright Futures standards: A bill that would upgrade the requirements for students to qualify for Bright Futures scholarships is approved by the Senate Education Committee. The bill would require SAT or ACT scores in the 89th percentile or higher for the top Academic scholarship, and in the 75th to 88th percentile for the Medallion scholarship. Gradebook. WFSU.

Alternative graduation paths: The House PreK-12 Innovation subcommittee unanimously approves a bill that would allow students to substitute some industry certifications for math requirements in order to graduate, to skip the algebra II requirement with an “equally rigorous course” and require middle school students to take a career planning course. Gradebook.

New Sunshine Deal: Florida Democrats unveil a spending priority plan they’re calling the “New Sunshine Deal” as a counter to the plan pitched by Republicans, who control the governor’s office and both houses in the Legislature. In education, the plan would turn the $423 million proposed by Gov. Ron DeSantis for a bonus program into salary increases for teachers and other staff in schools, and put money the Republicans are pushing for vouchers and charter schools back into public schools instead. GateHouse.

Student absenteeism down: The Palm Beach County School District’s decision to partner with Harvard University on a plan to cut student absenteeism is producing promising early results. Absentee rates are down about 3.2 percent since the district sent colorful informational fliers home with students that detail the downside of missing school. The district is one of eight in America working with Harvard to try to cut back chronic absenteeism rates, defined as missing 10 percent of the days in a school year. Sun Sentinel.

Educators honored: Debra Hartline, a reading teacher at Braden River High School, is named the Manatee County School District’s teacher of the year. Amanda Keeney, the cafeteria manager at Myakka City Elementary School, is chosen as the school support employee of the year. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Scholarships for Dreamers? U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a Democrat who represents western Miami-Dade County and the Florida Keys, suggests during a House Judiciary Committee meeting that Florida should consider giving state aid and scholarships to immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children. Mucarsel-Powell says Florida could benefit economically from assisting children in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, often referred to as Dreamers. Florida Politics.

School security: High Springs Community School in Alachua County is adding a gun-detecting K-9 to its security staff. Justice, a 2-year-old female brown lab mix, will be on campus with school resource officer Jason Taylor to sniff out gunpowder, oils or other metals, and serve as a therapy dog for anxious students. Gainesville Sun. St. Johns County school officials say they’re confident the security protocols they’ve set up in the past year at schools will pass muster with any changes made by Legislature. St. Augustine Record.

Charter expansion denied: A plan to expand the Student Leadership Academy charter school in Venice is denied by the Sarasota County School Board. The charter middle school wanted to add a 9th grade, but the board unanimously denied the request. “To keep a high school child on a middle school campus is doing a disservice to the child,” said board vice chair Caroline Zucker. “I think they are (expanding) because they are having a hard time meeting their numbers.” The school has been asked to provide more information on its plans and curriculum for the 9th grade. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School plans: The Pasco County School Board approves the purchase of a 104-acre property in Wesley Chapel as a potential future site of a K-8 or high school. The price was about $2.1 million. Gradebook. The Montessori Learning Center in Fort Walton Beach is planning a new building to accommodate anticipated growth. The school, which has 62 students from pre-K to 2nd grade, wants to be able to take 100 students from pre-K to 6th grade. It’s adding a 3rd grade next fall.  Northwest Florida Daily News.

Push for bus changes: The parents of a Polk County student who stopped breathing on a school bus and died a year ago are still pushing the district to provide better training for drivers and aides, have a medically trained aide on every bus and have a communication system that connects school buses directly with 911 operators, law enforcement and paramedics. Lakeland Ledger.

Spelling bee winners: Simone Kaplan, a 13-year-old from St. Bonaventure Catholic School in Davie, wins the Broward County Spelling Bee for the third straight year to qualify for the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee May 26-31 in Maryland. Miami Herald. Erik Williams, 11, a 6th-grader at St. Johns Country Day School, earns a spot in the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee by winning the regional First Coast Spelling Bee. Clay Today.

Case closed against student: The case against an 11-year-old Polk County student who was arrested during a confrontation after he refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance at school has officially been closed, according to court records. The lawyer for the boy says he is pursuing a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Lakeland Ledger.

Personnel moves: Marjorie “Midge” Abston, the assistant principal at Seminole Springs Elementary School in Eustis, is promoted to lead the school after principal Leah Fischer steps down to handle personal matters. Daily Commercial.

Teacher’s license revoked: Florida has permanently revoked the license of a Highlands County teacher who was convicted of having sex with a 13-year-old student. Stacy Hooks, 41, who taught at Hill Gustat Middle School, was arrested in 2016 and is serving a 20-year prison sentence. WTSP.

Principal’s penalty: A former Palm Beach County principal agrees to a settlement with the state that prevents him from taking a principal’s job for two years. George Lockhart, who once ran Lake Worth High School, asked teachers to complete his son’s online assignments and pressured teachers to change some students’ grades. He was transferred to the district’s charter school office. Palm Beach Post.

Teacher arrested: The director of bands at South Broward High School is arrested and accused of rape. Ricardo Esquilin, 28, who has been at the school since 2017, is charged with sexual assault by a custodian-sexual battery on a victim between the ages of 12 and 18. Miami Herald.

Teacher fired: A Collier County teacher accused of molesting students has been fired. Hector Manley, 30, was a teacher at Parkside Elementary School. Naples Daily News.

Students arrested: An 18-year-old student at Miami Springs Senior High School is arrested and accused of raping a 15-year-old at the school. The girl told police she had consensual oral sex at least twice this school year, but the intercourse was forced. WPLG. Two students at University High School in Orlando are arrested for fighting, and a third is taken into custody after allegedly assaulting a law enforcement officer. WFTV.

Opinions on schools: In the wake of the Parkland shooting, state legislators want to make schools safer by arming Florida’s teachers, even though nobody knows how many are bad teachers and likely to misuse those guns in some way. Gee, what could possibly go wrong? Craig Pittman, Tampa Bay Times. Those who claim “Floridians have no idea if private schools are succeeding,” as one South Florida newspaper wrote recently, are ignoring 10 years of testing data to the contrary. They also neglect extraordinary new independent research that shows scholarship students are more likely to attend and graduate from college. Jon East, redefinED. A proposal by the governor to change the bonuses program for teachers is welcome news, but it’s just one step of many that are needed to address the teacher shortage and restore the profession to one that is respected and honored across the country. Kimberly Durham, Sun Sentinel.

Student enrichment: The philanthropic committee of the Islands of Cocoplum is collaborating with the Coral Gables Community Foundation to offer Coral Gables Senior High School students summer internships that could lead to fulltime employment. Miami Herald. The St. Joe Community Foundation funds the purchase of new Chromebooks and portable wifi hotspots to Bay County high schools to replace those lost in Hurricane Michael. Panama City News Herald. Verizon donates $100,000 to the Education Foundation of Gulf County to help schools affected by Hurricane Michael. Port St. Joe Star.