New scholarship, educator bonuses, charter schools, budget deal and more

New scholarship: The legislative session’s major education bill, which creates a new scholarship program funded by tax money to send students to private schools, expands the areas where Schools of Hope charter schools could open and revises the eligibility requirements for the Best and Brightest educator bonuses program, is approved by the Florida House on a 76-39 vote. Among the other provisions of the bill is assistance for teachers and aspiring teachers who have had trouble passing the teacher certification exams. The Senate approved the bill last week, so it now goes to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is a strong proponent of school choice and is expected to sign it into law. Associated Press. News Service of Florida. GateHouse. Tallahassee Democrat. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Phoenix. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. redefinED. WFTS. WFSU.

State budget agreement: The Senate and House reach an agreement on the $90 billion state budget after compromises are made in several areas of education funding. The deal calls for an increase in per-student funding of $242, about $285 million to go into the Best and Brightest educator bonuses program, $180 million for school security and $75 million for mental health services in schools. It also sets aside $158.2 million for capital needs for charter schools, but none for traditional public schools. House budget chairman Travis Cummings, R-Orange Park, said those schools can raise taxes to help pay for construction and maintenance, although the House also has a proposal to force the districts to share that money with charters. The agreement also puts control of the Florida Virtual School under the State Board of Education temporarily, and authorizes a study of the district cost differential portion of the school funding formula with an Oct. 1 deadline to have a new plan. The legislative session, scheduled to end Friday, will spill into Saturday for a final vote on the budget, since state law requires a 72-hour “cooling off” period after the budget is published. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Politico Florida. Orlando Sentinel. GateHouse. Tampa Bay Times. Hundreds of Palm Beach County teachers protest the portion of H.B. 7123 that forces districts to share money collected from voter-approved tax hikes with charter schools. Palm Beach Post. WLRN.

Arming teachers: House Republicans repel more than 20 Democratic attempts to amend the school safety bill, preparing it for a floor vote as early as today. The bill would give school districts the option of arming teachers who volunteer for the duty and the training from the local sheriff’s office. Less controversial are provisions that require local sheriffs to handle the training, allow districts to contract with security companies for guards, require better reporting of crimes in schools to the state, and give the education commissioner the power to punish districts that don’t comply with safety requirements. Politico Florida. Florida Politics.

Promise plan changes: Broward County School Board members discuss what changes to make to the district’s controversial Promise program, which provides alternative discipline measures to going into the criminal justice system for students who commit misdemeanors. The program has been criticized for fostering a culture of leniency by giving students multiple second chances, though the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission decided its flaws played no role in the shooting deaths of 17 people at the school in 2018. Some board members say the changes should start with a new name for the program. Sun Sentinel.

Health counselors cleared: The mental health company that treated accused Parkland school shooter is not responsible for his actions and had no legal responsibility to warn anyone that he was violent, a Broward County circuit judge has ruled in dismissing lawsuits against Henderson Behavioral Health. Lawyers for the families of victims say they will appeal. Sun Sentinel.

Proposed tax hike: Duval County School Board members will meet next week to discuss and possibly vote on their resolution asking voters to increase the sales tax by a half-cent for the replacement, renovation and repair of the district’s aging schools. Monday, school officials will hold community meetings at Ribault and Raines high schools to discuss their futures. A district consultant has recommended they be replaced with new schools for grades 6-12. Florida Times-Union. WJXT.

Case against superintendent: An attorney for Gov. Ron DeSantis says in a court filing that suspended Okaloosa County superintendent Mary Beth Jackson knew about a child abuse allegation against a teacher and did nothing about it. The charge came from testimony by former assistant superintendent Stacie Smith, and was part of a bench memo presented to Florida Senate Special Master Dudley Goodlette outlining his case against Jackson. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Superintendent’s self-evaluation: Hillsborough school Superintendent Jeff Eakins’ gives himself “exemplary” marks in eight of the 11 categories in his self-evaluation and “accomplished” in the other three. Eakins points to improved test scores, a smaller learning gap between white students and minorities and declining tardiness due to revised school schedules as achievements in the past year. Eakins does acknowledge ongoing problems with students’ reading proficiency, but says improving that is a “top priority.” Gradebook.

MRSA concerns prompt cleanings: Two more Palm Beach County schools have undergone deep cleanings after discovering several people with MRSA infections visited the campuses. John I. Leonard High in Greenacres and Roosevelt Elementary in West Palm Beach are the latest schools to be scrubbed and sanitized, bringing the total to five. “We want to be clear: MRSA has not been detected on any of our campuses,” said district chief of staff Ed Tierney. “We are doing this out of an abundance of caution.” Palm Beach Post. Sun Sentinel. WPTV.

Charter schools: Somerset Island Prep, a charter high school in Key West, will move to a new building in the fall and will offer a new, accelerated academic program that will allow some students to complete high school graduation requirements by their freshman year and then starting working toward an associate’s degree. Key West Citizen.

High school rankings: More about where Florida high schools stand in the annual rankings by U.S. News and World Report. Florida’s public high schools ranked sixth in the nation, based on the percentage of its schools that placed in the top 25 percent of the 17,000-plus schools the magazine evaluated. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Today. Brevard Times. Bradenton Herald. Gradebook. Naples Daily News.

Graduation fashion: Florida high school students who are enrolling in military service will be permitted to wear their uniforms to graduation after a bill is approved by the Legislature. S.B. 292 was filed after a 2018 incident at a Hillsborough County high school in which a student was forced to wear the cap and gown instead of her uniform. Gradebook.

Notable deaths: Sister Marie Schramko, the first principal at Cardinal Gibbons High School in Fort Lauderdale when it opened in 1961, has died at the age of 102. She was principal of the girls’ division, then assistant principal when the school went coed in 1972 and remained in that job until she retired in 2015 at the age of 98. Sun Sentinel.

Personnel moves: The Hernando County School District fills three new administrative positions: Gina Michalicka, executive director of academic services, is promoted to assistant superintendent of teaching and learning; deputy superintendent Heather Martinwill becomes assistant superintendent of business and support services; and Michael Maine, principal at Spring Hill Elementary, is the new senior recruiter. Gradebook.

School board elections: Ginger Bryant, who was first elected to the Citrus County School Board in 2000, says she is running for a sixth term in 2020. She will have an opponent for the District 2 seat: Crystal River High School chorus teacher Mark Garlock. Citrus County Chronicle.

Officer’s gun goes off: A school resource officer’s gun goes off accidentally in a Pasco County middle school. No one was injured. The deputy said the gun went off when he leaned against a wall in the cafeteria at Weightman Middle School in Wesley Chapel. The Sheriff’s Office is investigating. Gradebook. WFLA.

Ex-teacher sentenced: A former Alachua County teacher is sentenced to 10 years in prison after being convicted of child sex trafficking. Jeffrey Farrell Davis, 36, was an Oak View Middle School teacher from 2010 to 2015. In 2017 he was arrested and charged with child sex trafficking and using a minor to produce child pornography. Gainesville Sun.

Students disciplined for costumes: Two Pinellas County students are under investigation by the school district for dressing up as Mexicans at Seminole High School’s Extraterrestrial Day last week. A district spokesperson issued a statement that read, in part: “Cultural insensitivity is not tolerated at Seminole High School. Unfortunately, two students exercised poor judgement and wore an outfit that was offensive. … Pinellas County Schools will follow the Student Code of Conduct to address this issue.” WFLA.

Opinions on schools: The Legislature approved the death sentence for public education in Florida at 1:20 p.m. Tuesday. Then they cheered and hugged each other. Tampa Bay Times. Do state lawmakers want Florida’s kids to fail? They say they don’t. But actions speak louder than talking points, and the message is crystal clear: State leaders have gone to war against our neighborhood public schools. FEA president Fedrick Ingram, Florida Phoenix. For-profit charter schools have become competitors with traditional public schools and Tallahassee wants to rig the game even more in the profiteers’ favor. This is how a state tries to destroy public education. Randy Schultz, Sun Sentinel. Can the Martin County School District pay its teachers what they’re “worth”? School officials say no, and negotiations are at an impasse. Gil Smart, TCPalm.

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