Senate approves arming teachers, budget deal, Bright Futures, tax hikes and more

Arming teachers: The Florida Senate approves a school safety bill that will allow some teachers to be armed in classrooms at schools. The 22-17 vote gives districts the option of arming teachers, who would have to volunteer for the role, undergo a psychological evaluation and be trained by the county sheriff’s office. Last year’s bill prohibited classroom teachers from volunteering to be armed. But the Legislature reversed course after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission, which investigated the 2018 shooting at the school in which 17 people were killed, recommended changing the law. The bill also contains provisions that have board bipartisan support, such as better reporting of crimes in schools, a standardized risk assessment process for dangerous students, and new guidelines on school-based mental health. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Tallahassee Democrat. Tampa Bay Times. Sun Sentinel. Florida Politics. GateHouse. Florida Phoenix. Sunshine State News. Politico Florida. The Manatee County School Board votes 3-2 to oppose the expansion of the law to allow teachers to be armed. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Lee County School Board says even if the state approves the bill, the county will not arm its teachers. WFTX.

Budget agreement: Leaders in the Legislature say the Senate and House have reached a tentative agreement on the state budget. The key to the deal is the decision to move $33.68 billion in state revenue into the general revenue fund and direct most of it into education and health care. The overall budget would be about $90 billion, legislators say. PreK-12 schools would get $12.8 billion, higher education $4.54 billion and health and human services $10.17 billion. The amount for education is $7 million less than the Senate proposed in its budget, but $224 million higher than the House’s proposal. News Service of Florida.

Bright Futures impact: A legislative proposal to raise the qualification standards for Bright Futures scholarships for 2021 and beyond would have a significant impact on the number of minority students receiving them, according to data from both the Miami-Dade School District and the state Board of Governors. In Miami-Dade alone, 45 percent of students would become ineligible for the full-tuition award if a score of 1330 on the SAT becomes the requirement, as proposed. And 63 percent of the black students and 46 percent of the Hispanic students now receiving the scholarships wouldn’t make the new cut. The bill sponsor, Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, said the increase is necessary to maintain the integrity of the program. Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said, “As much as I support the principles of meritocracy, we need to examine impact if we care about equity.” Tampa Bay Times.

Raising taxes: Duval County School Board members have agreed to ask voters to approve a half-cent hike in the sales tax to raise the nearly $2 billion to replace, repair and renovate its aging schools. The request must be approved by the Jacksonville City Council before it can be placed on a ballot. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. St. Lucie County voters overwhelmingly approve a 1-mill property tax hike to boost teacher salaries and pay for school safety and educational programs. The district expects to collect an additional $22 million a year. TCPalm. Florida Politics.

After the shootings: Florida’s Supreme Court rules that Gov. Ron DeSantis had the constitutional authority to suspend Broward Sheriff Scott Israel for his department’s response to the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018. Israel still may appeal to the Florida Senate. Sun Sentinel. Politico Florida. Miami Herald. Therapists supported accused school shooter Nikolas Cruz’s use of violent video games, agreed to getting him a punching bag and didn’t object to him having an airsoft gun, a lawyer claims in documents filed in a hearing to determine if Henderson Behavioral Health should be included in lawsuits brought by families of the victims. Sun Sentinel. A documentary called After Parkland debuts at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. The film follows the last year in the lives of those affected by the school shooting. Sun SentinelStoneman Douglas students are getting a $150,000 prom with a live concert May 11 after getting the most votes in a national contest to win the “most insane prom,” which will be staged by the Hollister clothing line. Sun Sentinel

Student vaccination rates: Only 25 of the state’s 67 county school districts met the Florida Department of Health’s goals of vaccination rates for kindergarten students in the 2018-2019 school year, according to the department’s annual report. The 93.8 percent vaccination rate was down slightly from last year. and below the goal of 95 percent. But 7th-graders were vaccinated at a 96 percent rate, and met the 95 percent goal in 61 counties. Religious exemptions for kindergartners went up a half a percent, and temporary medical exemptions went down nearly half a percent. Vaccination rates were higher in public schools than private ones. Orlando Sentinel.

Contract negotiations: Broward County teachers and the school district reach a contract agreement that calls for salary supplements of $2,300 to $8,000 in each of the next four years, changes in teacher evaluations and a continuation of the district paying for employees’ health care. The deal calls for raises of 2.16 percent for this school year, retroactive to Jan. 1, with negotiations reopening after the Legislature sets a budget. The district is receiving extra money from a property tax hike approved last August by voters. Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald. A contract agreement between the Lee County School District and its teachers union is approved by the school board. Raises will range from 2.5 percent to 9 percent for teachers rated highly effective and effective. Fort Myers News-Press. The Brevard County teachers union argues before a special magistrate that the school district should dip into its reserves to pay for teacher raises. The district contends that would be fiscally irresponsible. The magistrate says his nonbinding recommendation will be delivered to the school board by May 21. Florida Today.

Construction delays: The Broward County School Board has canceled design contracts for renovations at five schools after the company it hired to do the work had fallen behind schedule. The company had been paid $415,000 of the $1.5 million total, and school officials say they will try to recover that money. The company, LIMCO Engineering out of Jamaica, has now lost seven of the eight contracts from the district. Sun Sentinel.

Students get a pass: St. Johns County students will get a grade of 100 percent for the final exams that were canceled because of computer problems, Superintendent Tim Forson said. “In this circumstance, fairness trumps the importance of that exam,” Forson told school board members at a workshop meeting Tuesday. St. Augustine Record. WJAX.

Charter schools: The firing of its management company and two subsequent lawsuits have clouded the future of the Plato Academy charter school company in the Tampa Bay area. Construction on schools in Pasco and Pinellas counties has stopped, and plans for two more schools in Pasco have been delayed or withdrawn. The company’s board will meet today in an emergency session to discuss the lawsuits. Tampa Bay Times. Dr. Kiran C. Patel High School opens in August in Hillsborough County for 9th- and 10th-graders and will specialize in project-based learning. Gradebook.

Help with reading: Second-graders from Hillsborough County’s Bailey Elementary School are getting one-on-one reading help from International Baccalaureate students at the high school next door, Strawberry Crest. District officials hope the personalized approach will pay off in improved reading. Gradebook.

Violence against teachers: Volusia County teachers union president Elizabeth Albert says the complaint a teacher filed against a 9-year-old student who punched her is not an isolated incident, and it’s a sign teachers are reaching the breaking point. She says there have been more than 100 incidents of violence against teachers in Volusia this school year.  “It happens all the time,” she said. A 2011 study by the American Psychological Association found that 44 percent of U.S. teachers have been physically attacked by students. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Superintendents’ jobs: A Florida Senate hearing of Mary Beth Jackson’s appeal of her suspension as Okaloosa County school superintendent is not expected to happen until after the Legislature’s scheduled adjournment May 3. Jackson was suspended in January by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who cited two critical grand jury reports of Jackson’s handling of child abuse allegations in schools. Politico Florida. The Indian River County School Board votes unanimously against renewing Superintendent Mark Rendell’s contract. Rendell’s contract ends June 30, 2020. He’s offered to leave May 24, but board members say that’s too soon. Attempts to negotiate a mutually agreed upon departure date have failed so far. TCPalm.

Cyberbullying alleged: Indian River County School Board member Tiffany Justice is accusing a school district employee of cyberbullying her on Twitter. Deputies have investigated Justice’s complaint for four months and traced what she called the “harassing and inappropriate” comments to a school employee, who says the posts are constitutionally protected opinions. The state attorney is reviewing the case to decide if charges will be filed. TCPalm.

Radio connections: The Polk County School Board agrees to buy radios for 690 school buses and tie them in to the county’s emergency system. The cost will be about $6 million. The decision was prompted by the death of a student who had a medical emergency on a bus and died before paramedics could arrive. Lakeland Ledger.

Settling a suit: The Sarasota County Commission agrees to a settlement with a church that had sued after it was denied a zoning exception to operate a Christian school out of its building. The county will pay Crosspointe Church’s legal fees and hold a new public hearing on the application for the Englewood Christian School. If the application is denied, the suit alleging religious discrimination would be reinstated. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School name: Sixty-five suggestions have been made to change the name of the Johnson-Wakeland School of International Baccalaureate in Manatee County. Most of the nominations honor Louise R. Johnson, a longtime educator, civil rights leader and the first black member of the Manatee County School Board. Nominations are still being taken, and the school board will decide May 14. Bradenton Herald.

School bus crash: An Escambia County school bus taking 33 students to Pine Meadows Elementary School on Tuesday morning was hit in the rear by another vehicle. One student was taken to the hospital with minor injuries, according to a Florida Highway Patrol report. Pensacola News Journal.

Student arrested: A student at Ruckel Middle School in Okaloosa County is arrested after a deputy reportedly finds a loaded gun in his backpack. The student was charged with carrying a concealed firearm and possession of a firearm on school property. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Opinions on schools: As if the Florida Virtual School couldn’t have a bigger mess on its hands after a year of scandal and resignations, interim CEO “Lady” Dhyana Ziegler claims she’s not only a knighted dame (something an expert says she isn’t), but also one of the “500 Greatest Geniuses of the 21st Century” (a designation from a bogus and bankrupt organization). Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. The Parkland school shooting was our 9/11. Finding closure will take time. Rachel Archambault, Sun Sentinel. Bullied students don’t have years to wait for their parents to be able to place them in safe learning environments. They need real choice, and they need it now. Florida, a leader in school choice, is giving it to them. Robert G. Holland, Heartland Institute. While the Legislature seems certain to approve the arming of some teachers, it’s left to the school districts to reject this approach. It’s one thing to require armed police officers or security guards on every school campus. It’s quite another to arm teachers who should be focused on teaching. Tampa Bay Times. The rising number of physical attacks on teachers in Sarasota County schools warrants an open-minded risk assessment by the school board. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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