State board backs DeSantis education budget, solar power for schools, hurricane aid and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

Education board’s budget: The Florida Board of Education decided it liked Gov. Ron DeSantis’ budget so much that it approved it as and sent it to the Legislature for consideration when the legislative session begins Jan. 14. The $22.9 billion education budget includes $903 million to raise starting teacher pay to $47,500 and creates a new educator bonuses program that focuses rewards on those who work in low-income schools. The budget also calls for an increase in spending of $302 per student, and more money for mental health services and security in schools. “It’s important that we all give them (legislators) that clear message that this is the agenda, this is where we’re all at, and we all fight on the same page,” Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran told the board before the unanimous vote. Gradebook. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approves a $1.4 trillion spending deal that includes an extra $1.3 billion for education. The bill now goes to President Trump, who has said he would sign it today. Politico.

Solar power for schools: A bill filed for the next legislative session would make it easier for Florida schools to contract with companies to place solar power collection devices on campuses. “The contracted third party may sell the electricity generated from the renewable energy source device to the public educational customer through a power purchase agreement or similar financing arrangement,” the bill reads. “… Such financing arrangements are not retail sales of electricity and do not subject the contracted third party to regulation.” State Sen. Lori Berman, D-Boynton Beach, the bill’s sponsor, said, “Switching to solar would mean not only a low-cost, pollution-free and reliable system of sustainable energy but savings of tens of millions of public dollars annually that could be plowed back into our schools as investments for the future.” Florida Politics.

Aid for school recovery: Florida communities hit hard by Hurricane Michael in 2018 are getting some relief. Gov. Ron DeSantis has awarded about $20 million in state grants to Gadsden, Calhoun, Bay, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Liberty and Washington counties to help school districts and communities recover from storm damage. Some money will go to pay teacher salaries for districts that have lost students or missed extensive time, for instance, and about $2 million has been earmarked for  the Bay County School District to provide students with mental health services. DeSantis also said the U.S. Education Department has approved $63 million more in grants for Florida school districts. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. News Service of Florida. Panama City News Herald. WJHG. Florida Phoenix. Office of the Governor. WTXL. WEAR. WMBB.

Scholarship accountability: The Florida Department of Education’s review of schools participating in scholarship programs between November 2018 and October 2019 disclosed that only a few didn’t fully comply with state regulations. Representatives from the DOE’s Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice visited more than 200 of the state’s 2,117 private schools to check for problems. Four schools were suspended from the programs for not having a physical location, six were removed for fraudulent activity, and one school was removed for not returning McKay scholarship money it received by mistake. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the state’s scholarship programs. redefinED.

Municipal charter school: The Pompano Beach City Commission is asking the Broward County School District to allow it to open a K-8 charter school in the fall of 2021 that would be governed by the commission. If the request is approved, Pompano Beach would become the third city in Broward to open its own school. Cape Coral has one and Pembroke Pines has eight. “Our objective is to be an A-rated school the first time we get graded,” said Don Hooper, a Texas consultant working with city officials. Hooper said the school would have a “rigorous curriculum and small class sizes.” Sun Sentinel.

School shooting trial delayed: A Broward County circuit judge has agreed to delay the trial of accused Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz, saying the previously announced January start time was impractical. Judge Elizabeth Scherer didn’t set a specific date for the trial, but told attorneys it would be next summer. A hearing will be held March 23 to set a new date. Cruz faces the death penalty for the murders of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018. Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald. Associated Press.

Legal fees dispute: The Manatee County School District wants Lincoln Memorial Academy Inc. to pay $272,000 the districts spent for attorneys and audits while it investigated the charter school and eventually took control of it. The charter was terminated by the school board in July because of the school’s financial problems. The school’s appeal was denied, making it responsible for the district’s fees. An administrative law judge will decide early next year how much the school should pay. Bradenton Herald.

Third student death on road: Wednesday’s death of a 15-year-old Inlet Grove High School student who was hit by a school bus was the second fatality of a student walking to school on the busy road in the past four years and the third since 2006. Natasha Dwyer was walking to school when she stepped into the path of the bus on Haverhill Road. In 2015, 11-year-old Qua Yona Edwards was hit by a car and killed as she tried to cross Haverhill to get to her bus stop. And in 2006, another 11-year-old, Kodijah Tulloch, was struck and killed while crossing Haverhill on her way to a bus stop. All three deaths happened around 6:30 a.m. Palm Beach Post.

Notable deaths: Sarasota County philanthropists Charles and Margery Barancik, 91 and 83, respectively, were killed this week in a car crash. They seeded a foundation with $100 million in 2014, and gave away $50 million in every year since. One of the beneficiaries has been elementary education, with the foundation named after them giving money for additional reading programs, help with teacher recruitment and retention, early intervention and mental health services for students. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WFLA. WTSP.

Options for displaced students: A Marion County School District plan to disperse the 185 cadets displaced when the Marion Military Academy closed Monday has been met with resistance by some students and their parents. Superintendent Heidi Maier has told students they could go back to their zoned high schools, apply to another school through the district choice program or be home-schooled. Juniors and seniors were given an extra option to attend Marion Technical Institute. Ocala Star-Banner.

School absenteeism: Franklin County School Board members say absenteeism has become a problem in the elementary school, with 10 percent or more of all students out most days. “We have a serious attendance issue at school,” said Franklin County Schools Pk-12 principal Principal Michael Sneed. School board members are considering new policies that would require students to attend classes for a minimum number of days to be eligible to pass a course. Apalachicola Times.

Contract negotiations: Pasco County’s school-related employees have ratified a contract agreement with the district that provides them raises of 3.25 percent. About 98 percent of those who voted approved the contract, which was finalized in November. The raises should be in workers’ paychecks by spring. Gradebook.

Education podcast: The Hillsborough County School Board hasn’t hired a superintendent from outside the district since the 1960s. But that could change in 2020, when the board sifts through applications to find a replacement for the retiring Jeff Eakins. Gradebook.

Free flu shots ended: For the first time in three years, Miami-Dade County students will not be able to get free flu shots in schools. The district’s vendor, Healthy Schools LLC, told district officials Aug. 29 that it was no longer cost-effective to offer the shots and the program was being discontinued. District officials are looking for another vendor. Meanwhile, Miami Beach city officials will consider a proposal to have the city pay for the vaccinations for students who live in the city. Miami Herald.

Testing fraud alleged: Lee County School District officials are investigating an allegation of testing fraud at Island Coast High School in Cape Coral. The allegation of cheating by students taking computer-based taking credit-retrieval courses was made by Vicki Santini, a former teacher at the school who was reassigned to North Fort Myers Academy for the Arts.  Santini’s attorney, Benjamin Yormak, is accusing the district of ignoring the allegations and instead targeting Santini, calling her a whistleblower. Fort Myers News-Press.

Employees and the law: A substitute teacher in Manatee County has been removed from classrooms while the school district and law enforcement officials investigate an allegation that she shoved a student. The teacher, who was not named, was working at Robert E. Willis Elementary School. Bradenton Herald.

Students and the law: A loaded gun, ammunition and knives were discovered Thursday in a car at Sandalwood High School in Duval County. The car had been stolen. One person was in custody and police are looking for another. Florida Times-Union. WJAX. WJXT.

Fatal shooting at school: An adult education student was shot and killed Thursday night on the Lely High School property in Naples. Collier County deputies say the shooting appears to be the result of a domestic dispute. There’s no danger to the public, they say, but they’ll have an increased presence at the school today. Naples Daily News. WINK.

Opinions on schools: If Florida wants to move past crisis response to school shootings to preventative care and treatment for high-risk kids, then legislators need to prioritize mental health in next year’s budget. Orlando Sentinel. RedefinED’s myth of the year is the claim that Florida’s new family empowerment voucher was “unprecedented” because it’s “the first time” that a school voucher will be paid “straight from the state treasury.” It’s not, and the claim is that it’s some type of legislative abnormality is designed to be misleading. Jon East, redefinED. A minister insulted a transgender student publicly at a Flagler County School Board meeting, as the student sat in the audience, and neither the school board attorney nor the school board chair intervened on his behalf. The silence was inexcusable. Pierre Tristam, Flagler Live. While it would be excellent for kids to do special projects and learn a little constitutional history, I’m hoping enhanced civics courses will not neglect the basics. Like how to be a voter and fill in the little circles the way the directions say. Like what a court does. That the federal government is not the only game in town. That a legislature is different from Congress. Mark Lane, Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Student enrichment: The Village Baptist Church has paid off $16,600 in lunch debts owed by Destin Elementary and Destin Middle school students. And in Nassau County, the VFW paid off the lunch debts for two Hilliard schools. Northwest Florida Daily News. Nassau County Record. Fifty-six Santa Rosa County teachers have been awarded $56,000 in grants from the Santa Rosa Education Foundation. Gulf Breeze News. An educational platform developed by the Sarasota Military Academy charter school, called Operation Outbreak, has been named the world’s most innovative hybrid learning program by Wharton School and QS Quacquarelli Symonds. Patch.

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