Arming teachers: The Legislature’s proposed expansion of the school guardian program, which would allow school districts to arm willing teachers in schools, is approved by the House on a 65-47 vote and now goes to Gov. Ron DeSantis for his signature. The school safety bill, S.B. 7030, builds on last year’s school security measure by implementing recommendations made by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, which investigated the 2018 Parkland school shooting. Teachers who volunteer to carry guns in school districts that allow it will have to undergo police-style training, a psychiatric evaluation and drug screening. Other recommendations in the bill include improving data collection on school crimes, expanding mental-health services at schools, and sharing information among schools about students’ behavioral histories. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Sun Sentinel. GateHouse. Tampa Bay Times. Reuters. Florida Phoenix. Politico Florida. Tallahassee Democrat. Florida Politics.
Overtime for Legislature: The Legislature will extend beyond its scheduled completion date of Friday, with lawmakers taking a final vote on the approximately $91 billion state budget Saturday. The budget was agreed to late Tuesday night but not published until about 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. State law requires a 72-hour review period between the publishing and the final vote. Associated Press. News Service of Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Gov. Ron DeSantis praises the Legislature for addressing teacher compensation in the budget. He said the $285 million for educator bonuses and the additional $75 of discretionary spending per student should be a good first step in better compensation for teachers, but expects the Legislature to address the issue again in the 2020 session. Politico Florida. Here are some highlights from the state budget. Florida Phoenix.
Education bill details: The headline-grabbing element of this year’s big education bill, S.B. 7070, is the proposal to use tax dollars to create a new scholarship for Florida students. But there’s much more in the bill: significant revisions to the Best and Brightest educator bonuses program, help for teachers and aspiring teachers who haven’t been able to pass the certification exam, an expansion of the areas where charter Schools of Hope can open, and a redefinition of what a persistently low-performing school is. Florida Phoenix.
Updating other education bills: Other education bills are still in the legislative pipeline, though some have undergone changes. Here’s an update on bills about financial literacy, workforce education, Bright Futures scholarships, a state do-not-hire teachers list, school board term limits and tax-sharing with charter schools, and where they stand in the process. Gradebook. The Florida Senate is considering removing the requirement that school districts share revenue from voter-approved tax hikes with charter schools from the tax package. Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, says the Senate wants to restrict the bill “to the ideas of what a tax package has historically been.” News Service of Florida. The Senators vote to shorten the proposed warning language on lottery tickets, in the belief that it won’t deter people from playing and thereby cut into revenue the lottery sends to education. Florida Politics. A lawsuit brought by charter schools and parents against the Palm Beach County School Board means spending tax money for attorneys in a battle over the district’s refusal to share tax money with charters. WPTV.
School security: Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels and school Superintendent Addison Davis meet to prepare a plan to provide security at schools until the district’s police force is hired and ready to take over. No details of any agreement were released. Daniels said last week his department would no longer provide service after school hours, and that all such calls would be forwarded to the district department. But the district department only formed in March, has just three supervisors and wasn’t planning on hiring and training officers until summer. WJXT.
Superintendent’s evaluation: Hillsborough County School Board members say they expect Superintendent Jeff Eakins to improve student reading scores and discipline in schools, support teachers who are dealing with discipline problems and provide sound management as the district uses $1.3 billion in higher taxes to repair and replace schools. Their evaluations of Eakins were made public a day after Eakins’ self-evaluation, in which he scored his performance higher than board members did. Gradebook. With reading scores falling, the Hillsborough County School District wants to spend $500,000 for a Boston consulting firm to audit elementary school student performance, review “current literacy practices and programmatic strengths” and identify “areas for improvement at the district level.” School board members will vote Tuesday whether to approve the contract with the School Board will vote on a $500,000 contract with the Public Consulting Group. Gradebook.
Superintendent search: Indian River County School Board members say they plan to appoint an interim superintendent before the end of the school year. Current Superintendent Mark Rendell has resigned, effective May 24. The plan to replace Rendell, developed with the help of the Florida School Boards Association, is to find the interim and have her or him in place for up to a year as the board searches for the permanent replacement. Board members expect five or six interim candidates. TCPalm.
Computer fix: The Manatee County School Board is being asked to approve a $100,000 contract with the consulting firm Accenture to provide a fix for the district’s troubled business software system. The system, which was delivered a year late at more than twice the expected price, is causing “significant problems” for the district, says school board chair Scott Hopes. Bradenton Herald.
Teacher pay boosted: The Charlotte County School Board approves a deal between the school district and the teachers union that boosts starting teacher pay from $38,232 to $45,000, beginning in August. The deal did not specify how much of a raise veteran teachers will get, but board member Ian Vincent said they can expect a boost of about 6 percent. Charlotte Sun.
Hepatitis A exposure: Thousands of Hernando County students may have been exposed to hepatitis A after attending proms at the Silverthorn Country Club Restaurant in Spring Hill. Springstead, Central, Weeki Wachee and Nature Coast high schools all recently held their proms there. A worker at the restaurant has a confirmed case of the disease, according to health officials. WFLA. WTSP. WFTS.
Free pre-K: More than 100 Leon County children at lower-income schools will receive free all-day pre-K instruction and transportation under an expansion approved by the Leon County School Board. District spokesperson Chris Petley said the school board will fund the $200,000 expansion from Title I federal grant money or general revenues. Tallahassee Democrat.
Name change considered: Alexander Dreyfoos Jr. has wanted for years to change the name of the school named after him, Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach. The Palm Beach County School District has always declined. But now that he’s promised to make a $1 million donation, his request to call the school Dreyfoos School of the Arts and Sciences will be considered by the school board in June. Palm Beach Post.
Charter schools: The St. Lucie County School Board approves an application from Somerset Academy to open a vocational-technical charter school in August 2021 that would train students for careers in health care, manufacturing, construction trades and other jobs. TCPalm. Plans for a second Plato Academy in Pasco County have been scrapped. The school board had approved a five-year contract for the charter school in 2018. Plato has struggled since founder Steve Christopoulos died in 2018. Gradebook. Construction on Martin County’s third charter school is expected to begin next month in Stuart. Until the school is built, the Treasure Coast Classical Academy will open in August at a temporary site in Palm City. TCPalm.
Educators honored: Manatee County school Superintendent Cynthia Saunders wins the top state award from the League of United Latin American Citizens for expanding educational opportunities for Latino children. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Tracy McLaughlin, the principal at Discovery Oaks Elementary School in Clay County, is named the National Distinguished Principal for Florida by the Florida Association of Elementary School Principals. Clay Today.
Teacher ‘Jeopardy’: Matthew Bunch, a teacher at AcadeMir Charter School Middle in west Miami-Dade, describes his experience as one of 15 U.S. teachers chosen to compete in the Jeopardy! Teachers Tournament. His episode airs Tuesday. Miami Herald.
Bonuses for bus drivers: A shortage of school bus drivers prompts the St. Johns County School District to offer $1,000 signing bonuses to new drivers after they’ve been on the job 60 days. WJXT.
District under investigation: The Lee County School District is under federal investigation for an allegation that it is misusing public funds to benefit the Mount Hermon ministries in Fort Myers. It’s the second such complaint. The first, which alleged district maintenance trucks were doing work on the church’s property, was investigated and dismissed in 2018 by the Florida Department of Education. The second complaint was filed in April, and alleges the district is still making improvements to Mount Hermon properties. WFTX.
Charter school sued: A charter school company is being sued by parents of a 15-year-old girl who says she was sexually abused by a substitute teacher in 2018. Roman Jose Fondon Jr., 28, who substituted at Ben Gamla Charter High School in Broward County, was arrested in September 2018 and charged with multiple counts of sexual battery and lewd and lascivious acts on a minor. The charter company, Academica, says it hasn’t seen the suit and couldn’t comment. WTVJ.
Substitute fired: A Palm Beach County School District substitute teacher is fired after being arrested for allegedly taking photographs of women under bathroom stalls at Florida Atlantic University. Ché Corrado Cunningham, 26, is charged with video voyeurism. He had been a temporary, day-to-day, “pool” teacher for the district since 2016. Palm Beach Post.
Students arrested: A 17-year-old student at Boca Ciega High School in St. Petersburg is arrested after police say they found a loaded handgun in his backpack. He told police he had the gun for personal protection. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. A Pasco Middle School student is arrested after allegedly making threats to kill a classmate. WFLA.
Opinions on schools: Improving mental health services, strengthening families, ending access to assault-style rifles: these should be our focus as we strive to make schools safer. Not this fantasy of your kid’s math teacher saving the day by playing Clint Eastwood. Palm Beach Post. Approval of the new school voucher program is less about school choice and more about sabotaging public schools. Orlando Sentinel. Arming teachers and expanding school vouchers are two of the bad ideas out of the Legislature this year. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The Legislature’s approval of a bill that requires Florida districts to offer a financial literacy course would secure the legacy of the late Sen. Dorothy Hukill. William Thomas, Florida Politics. Legislators who voted to allow teachers to be armed in schools must be so proud of themselves because, as we know, guns are the answer to almost anything. Joe Henderson, Florida Politics. Florida has been spending billions of tax dollars for many years to facilitate private and faith-based school choice. And now critics are fretting about setting a precedent with the Family Empowerment Scholarship? Scott Kent, Ocala Star-Banner.
Student enrichment: About 75 Palm Beach County students and 50 from Broward will be honored by their districts this month for their “exemplary acts of character.” Sun Sentinel. One hundred and eighteen high school seniors in Manatee County are honored for their service to the community. Bradenton Herald. Brevard County honors its top scholars. Florida Today. Four students from Maclay High School in Leon County are selected to compete against 10 teams from around the world in a global investment competition. Tallahassee Democrat.