Florida schools roundup: Verification, protests, Legislature, vouchers and more

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Bullying scholarship verification: The Florida Department of Education is advising school districts not to verify students’ bullying claims before deciding whether to award them Hope Scholarships to attend different public schools or private schools. Doing so would violate state law, the DOE told superintendents in a memo that also warned that “any district that is adding this requirement is in violation of statute and administrative rule and will be dealt with according to law.” The Pasco County School District, which had announced it was considering verifying incidents before offering the scholarship, has abandoned that idea. Gradebook.

Teachers protest: Teachers around the state rallied Monday for more financial support for schools from the Legislature. The “fund our future” events were organized by the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union. The union wants a boost in per-student spending of $743, or about 10 percent, to better fund schools and would allow higher pay to combat the shortage of teachers statewide. The 60-day legislative session begins today, and Gov. Ron DeSantis will deliver his State of the State message at 11 a.m. Orlando SentinelKeynoter. Florida Phoenix. Florida Politics. WKMG. WINK. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

School vouchers: Even as the Koch brothers launch an ad campaign to push for universal school vouchers, the founder of the nonprofit that helps administer several state scholarships says he’d like to see income limits remain in place for scholarship eligibility. John Kirtley, chairman of the board at Step Up For Students, which also hosts this blog, says he thinks vouchers, also called education savings accounts, are the next logical step in the school choice progression but contends there is a social aspect to consider. “ESAs could help low-income parents give their children the same advantages in this regard as better off families,” he says. Gradebook. More from the Tampa Bay Times’ Q&A with Kirtley. redefinED. Looking back at the last 20 years of educational reforms and the impact they’ve had on Florida schools. redefinED.

School security: The Broward County School District wants more officers guarding schools, and is willing to reconsider the way it accomplishes that. District officials say the options range from creating an internal police department to turning over the job to the Broward County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Gregory Tony says his preference would be having law enforcement personnel guard schools, but some board members think the district can’t afford that cost. Sun Sentinel. WLRN. Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels says his plan to put a sworn law enforcement officer in every school would cost $10.2 million over two years, which is slightly less than the school district projects it would spend to start its own police department. WJXT. WJAX. The Pasco County School District is launching an online survey to get ideas from the community on how to build a school culture of security and well-being. Gradebook.

Compensation funds: Several bills are proposed that would create $160 million in compensation funds for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting victims and their families. All three bills, S.B. 1678, S.B. 1680 and S.B. 1682, were filed by state Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation. News Service of Florida. Sun Sentinel.

Hurricane recovery: Finding more than $3 billion to help Panhandle school districts and communities recover from Hurricane Michael is expected to be a focus of the legislative session. “It’s going to guide our decision-making from a budget standpoint,” says Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Vote on Runcie is today: The Broward County School Board is expected to vote today on a motion to fire Superintendent Robert Runcie. The motion was proposed by first-year board member Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa was one of 17 people killed in the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. She says Runcie has “a history of poor leadership.” Sun SentinelMiami Herald. WTVJ. WPLG.

Teacher honored: Cynthia Barrington, a 2nd-grade teacher at Jefferson-Somerset K-12 in Monticello, is named the Jefferson County School District’s teacher of the year. Tallahassee Democrat.

Charter schools: A third charter school has filed suit against the Palm Beach County School District in a bid to get some of the $800 million from a voter-approved tax hike for teacher raises and school security. G-Star School of the Arts joins Palm Beach Maritime Academy and the Academy for Positive Learning in suing the district for discrimination. School officials say their decision not to share the money is “based upon statutory authority that allows districts to exclude charter schools from this particular type of voter-approved tax.” Palm Beach Post. The Lake County School Board defers a charter school’s request for a contract renewal. The Altoona School, a standalone elementary charter approved in 2004, will be given time to improve its academic performance, financial management and record-keeping before the board votes on the renewal. Daily Commercial.

Magnet process criticized: A software glitch that led to a delay in notifying families if their children were accepted into Alachua County School District magnet programs is just of the problems in the process, some parents say. Some say they received only one acceptance, even though they applied to several programs, claim they were unaware they were supposed to ranked their preferred schools, and say the online acceptance link isn’t working. Gainesville Sun.

School to stay open: A school for special-needs students in Duval County has reversed course and says it will now remain open. After meeting with parents, members of the board of Mainspring Academy said the school will remain open instead of closing its doors at the end of the school year as planned. School officials say they need to raise $150,000 by May, and $500,000 by the end of 2020, and boost student population by 25-30 percent in the next three years. WJXT.

New school concerns: Some St. Johns County residents say they are concerned that a developer is reportedly trying to move a proposed high school out of its planned 10,700-home subdivision. Moving the school out of the development area, called SilverLeaf,  would cause traffic problems for other subdivisions in the area, they say. St. Augustine Record.

School program: Volusia County school officials would like to expand the successful STEM Academy at Galaxy Middle School, and replicate it at other schools, but doesn’t have the funds or the space. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

YouTube access restored: The Palm Beach County School District restored access to YouTube on Monday after blocking it last week when reports of the “Momo Challenge” went viral. The challenge, which experts say is a hoax, allegedly urges children to hurt themselves or others. WPTV.

Meeting over poster: Charlotte County school officials held a closed-door meeting with members of the local NAACP over a principal’s decision to order a teacher to remove a door display for Black History Month. The display featured ex-NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who became controversial by kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem before games. After the meeting, school officials would say only that they had “a plan,” though some members of the NAACP say the district acknowledged it could have handled the situation differently. Charlotte Sun.

Requirements for subs: The Florida arrest of a 19-year-old substitute teacher on molestation charges prompts the question: What are district requirements to become a substitute? All districts say they do background checks, but otherwise the standards vary. Some will hire people with a GED, while others require a certain amount of college. WKMG. Four more young girls at Boggy Creek Elementary School accuse that substitute, Fnu Syedyaseen-Asher, of molesting them. Orlando Sentinel.

Opinions on schools: The question facing Broward County School Board members today is whether Superintendent Robert Runcie remains the best person to lead the school district and champion its 271,000 public school students in Tallahassee. In our view, given the community’s deepening divide over Runcie’s stewardship and the chilly reception awaiting him in the Capitol, he is not. Sun Sentinel. Investing in public schools instead of private school vouchers should be a priority legislators act on over the 60 days – but they probably won’t. Tampa Bay Times. The state’s Best & Brightest Program should be changed to reallocate the $422 million to provide a $2,344 salary increase for all of the 180,000 teachers in the state of Florida. This would go a long way to show all our teachers how much they are valued. Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna, Tallahassee Democrat. A one-size-fits-all approach that singles out school boards for term limits across the state is yet another step in the trend of lawmakers seeking greater influence over local governance. Citrus County Chronicle.

Student enrichment: Proceeds from a fund-raising campaign for a gay Jacksonville teen who was thrown out of his home will be used to start a charity to help other students in similar circumstances. About $165,000 was raised for Seth Owen to attend college. After his story went viral, he was offered a full scholarship to Georgetown University. Florida Times-Union. A team from Buchholz High School in Alachua County has earned a spot in the National Science Bowl for the fourth straight year. WCJB.