Back-to-school tax holiday begins, district spending spree, course mandates and more

Jim Booth

Back-to-school tax holiday: The state’s annual back-to-school tax holiday began today and continues through 11:59 p.m. Tuesday. No sales or local option taxes will be collected on clothing, shoes and some accessories selling for less than $60, select school supplies under $15 per item, and computers and other electronics except cell phones that sell for less than $1,000. News Service of Florida. Florida Trend. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Today. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Key West Citizen. Florida Phoenix. WTVJ. WPLG. WTSP. WJAX. WUSF. WFLA. A study by the Tax Foundation suggests that sales tax holidays may be good political moves, but they’re poor tax policies. Center Square.

District spending spree: Bolstered by a $200 million-a-year increase in revenues from a voter-approved property tax increase, the Palm Beach County School District is moving ahead with ambitious spending plans to improve security at schools, give veteran teachers raises of up to $10,000, build a new middle school, expand mental health services to students by hiring counselors and psychologists, add free wifi to school buses, and more. Mike Burke, the district’s chief financial officer, is calling it a “landmark year” for the district, though he notes that the extra money will go away in four years if voters don’t renew the higher tax rate. Palm Beach Post.

Teaching mandates: Florida school districts are now required to include instruction about the Holocaust, African-American history, Florida history, how women and Hispanics have contributed to the United States, the branches of the U.S. government, principles of agriculture, the conservation of natural resources and showing kindness to animals. But it appears that no one from the state is watching to make sure the mandates are met. “No one is reporting, no one is inspecting. There is no accountability and no repercussions and consequences,” state Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Windermere, said about one of those mandates, African-American history. Florida Phoenix.

Sales tax hike vote: Duval County School Board chair Lori Hershey now says the school district is shooting for a December special election to boost the sales tax by a half-cent so the district can replace and repair decaying schools. The board wanted the measure on the Nov. 5 ballot, but the Jacksonville City Council, which says it must approve the measure and decide when it goes to voters, has delayed any action on the request and the elections supervisor says the window for the November vote has closed. WTLV.

Name-dropping: A Broward County teenager who has the same first and last name as the man who is accused of shooting 17 people to death at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018 has petitioned a court to change his name. Nikolas Marciel Cruz, 18, hates being mistaken for Nikolas Jacob Cruz, now 20, who’s awaiting trial. He plans to change his name to Nikolas Rene Moran. “Rene” means “rebirth,” and to Nikolas Marciel Cruz and his family, that’s what the name change represents. Sun Sentinel.

Security in schools: The Alachua County School District agrees to pay an additional $215,000-plus this year for the 20 resource officers that the Gainesville Police Department is sending to schools. Last year’s bill of $984,049 was increased to $1.2 million. WUFT. The first class of 47 officers in the Clay County School District’s police department is sworn in. The district decided in February to create its own police force, and the new officers have been training since they began work in early June. WJXT. WTLV. WJAX.

Collecting evidence: A Polk County School District proposal to destroy evidence in harassment or discrimination investigations will be reworked after members of the school board raised objections. Notes or recordings of witness statements, documentary evidence, or emails, texts or social media posts pertaining to an investigation would have been discarded under the proposal, and in cases involving students no written witness statements would be made. Lakeland Ledger.

School enrollment: Student enrollment growth in Leon County schools has slowed to almost nothing, according to Florida Department of Education data. The district reported an increase of just 18 fulltime equivalent students from the 2017-2018 school year to 2018-2019, a growth rate of only 0.05 percent. State enrollment was up 0.45 percent. Tallahassee Reports.

Computer-buying binge: The Marion County School District is planning to spend $5.5 million over the next three years to replace 14,317 aging school computers. More than 10,000 of them are Chromebooks assigned to students. Ocala Star-Banner.

Middle school dilemma: Miami-Dade County middle schools are struggling with declining enrollment and mediocre grades from the state that threaten the district’s A grade. School officials are trying to address the problem with a $200,000 initiative at each of nine schools. Teachers will be teamed, fulltime “trust” counselors will be placed in each school, and new courses will be offered. Miami Herald.

Focus on struggling schools: Pasco County School Board chair Alison Crumbley is lobbying other members to increase their support for Hudson Elementary School, which got its second straight D grade from the state this summer and could enter the state turnaround program if it doesn’t improve. The other members agree Hudson needs help, but point out that other schools on the west side also need additional support. They did agree to talk more about it at a future workshop meeting. Gradebook.

Mental health tour: Hillsborough County School Board member Karen Perez is planning a tour of schools to find out what they’re offering in the way of mental health services, and whether it’s enough. She’ll also hold Q&A sessions at each school with parents. Gradebook.

Lanyards with a message: Lake County middle-schoolers will wear ID lanyards this year that include the phone number for a suicide-prevention hotline. The lanyards are a gift from Eustis homebuilder Joe Ziler, whose brother killed himself more than six years ago. Orlando Sentinel.

Education interviews: Duval County School Board chair Lori Hershey talks about the district’s grade from the state, the request for a sales tax hike to raise money for replacing and repairing schools, and security in schools. Florida NewsLine. New Pasco County 2nd-grade math and science teacher London Eaves talks about why she wants to teach, and what her expectations are. Gradebook.

School board elections: Lucia Baez, a teacher at Miami Beach Senior High School, says she’s running for the District 3 seat on the Miami-Dade County School Board. Martin Karp has held the seat for four terms, but isn’t running for re-election. Also in the race is Raquel Bild-Libbin. Florida Politics.

Scholarship fraud arrest: A Hialeah day-care center owner is arrested and accused of submitting fake applications for her students so she could collect scholarship money from Step Up For Students (SUFS). Florida Department of Law Enforcement officials said Lissette Orta, owner of the Kids Palace Day Care, submitted false documents to collect $130,249 from the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program in the 2016-2017 school year. SUFS, which hosts this blog, helps administer the scholarship program. Miami Herald.

Ex-teacher disciplined: A former Duval County 3rd-grade teacher who was accused of molesting a student in 2015 has agreed to the permanent revocation of his teaching license. Douglas Bailey, who taught at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, resigned after a district investigation and was later arrested, though the charges were dropped in 2017. Florida Times-Union.

Opinions on schools: New research is showing negative impacts on academic achievement of students using vouchers compared to their peers who stayed in public schools. Christopher Lubienski and Joel R. Malin, Miami Herald. The statement that students who use school choice programs suffer initial achievement losses that they never make up is a gross exaggeration. Patrick J. Wolf, redefinED. In 2008, when the newly appointed chairman of the Florida Board of Education, Andy Tuck, was on the Highlands County School Board, he had this to say about evolution: “I won’t support any evolution being taught as fact at all in any of our schools.” Do you think we should be worried? Brandon Haught, Florida Science. Finding the right K-12 school for your child is becoming similar to making a college decision, and it’s just as critical. Joanne Goubourn, Orlando Sentinel. The only way to get Brevard County teachers what they want without sacrificing education is by asking voters to raise their property taxes next year. Tim Walters, Florida Today. Florida’s shortage of math and science teachers is part of a larger crisis in the state’s K-12 teaching corps that is driven by low salaries, a statewide testing program that is seen by many as all stick and no carrot, and sometimes problematic local leadership. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. Hillsborough County’s Student Day at the Florida State Fair is a charming old-school Tampa tradition, but it’s a tradition that needs tweaking. Sue Carlton, Tampa Bay Times.

Student enrichment: More than 20,000 backpacks filled with school supplies will be passed out this weekend at the 2nd Annual Back to School Bash at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. WFLA. Free back-to-school vaccinations are being offered in Miami-Dade, Broward, Martin and Palm Beach counties. Sun Sentinel.

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