Refunds and price cuts for prepaid tuition buyers, teachers rally, Legislature starting today and more

Compiled by redefinED staff

Prepaid costs dropping: The costs for tuition at the state’s colleges and universities have been rising at a lower rate than expected, so the Florida Prepaid College Board has announced it’s cutting prices and issuing refunds to customers totaling $1.3 billion. About 224,000 families will benefit through refunds amounting to $500 million, for an average of about $4,700 each, or price reductions worth another $800 million. Gov. Ron DeSantis said the changes “will enhance Florida’s legacy as a nationwide leader in affordable post-secondary education” and help students avoid “debilitating debt.” The seven-member Florida Prepaid board voted last week to roll back prices after reviewing current and projected costs and the anticipated return on investment. Families will be notified by the board this month if they can expect to receive refunds or payment reductions. Tampa Bay Times. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. Sun Sentinel. Florida Times-Union. Florida Phoenix. WJXT. WUSF. Governor’s Office. WFTS. WUSF.

Legislature opening: The 60-day legislative session opens today in Tallahassee with decisions to be made on such educational issues as starting teacher pay, bonuses for educators, security in schools, per-student funding, school board term limits and more. First up is the state of the state message delivered by Gov. DeSantis at 11 a.m. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Associated Press. GateHouse. redefinED. Tallahassee Democrat. Florida Phoenix. Florida Politics. Spectrum News 13. WMBB.

Teachers rally: Thousands of teachers and other school workers from around the state, dressed in red, traveled to the Capitol on Monday to demand that money for raises be more than double the $900 million in teacher raises and bonuses that DeSantis requested from the Legislature. Teacher say the pay is just part of the problem. They’re also  disenchanted with excessive student testing and the lack of respect for their profession. “We are really not treated like professionals anymore,” said Lucia Baez, a language arts teacher at Miami Beach Senior High School. “We are more just like task managers in the classroom. It is really, really demoralizing for our profession, and we just want more.” Associated Press. GateHouse. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Capitol News ServiceTallahassee Democrat. Sun Sentinel. Orlando Sentinel. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Times-Union. WLRN. Florida Phoenix. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Orlando Weekly. Gainesville Sun. Florida Today. Lakeland Ledger. Naples Daily News. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WFSU. WJXT. WPTV. WFLA. WFTS. WTXL. More than 1,000 Polk County teachers were reassured by Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd that their jobs are not in danger because they attended the rally. Lakeland Ledger.

Dems want raises for all: Democrats in the Florida Senate introduce a bill that would increase pay for all school employees instead of just starting teachers, as proposed by DeSantis. School workers would get a 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment this year under S.B. 1854, plus an average annual raise of 4.5 percent for the next 10 years, starting this year. “Those figures get us using the same $900 million that the governor has put forward,” said Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville. “It’s pretty simple. Our plan rewards everyone and leaves no one out.” DeSantis’ plan would allocate about $900 million to boost starting teacher pay to $47,500 and provide bonuses based on improvement in school testing scores. But it doesn’t include money for veteran teachers or other school employees. House Democrats have introduced a slightly different bill, and Monday the Senate Education Committee passed a Republican version. Gradebook. News Service of Florida. Florida Phoenix. Florida Politics. GateHouse. WUFT.

Panic alarms bill advances: A Senate committee has approved two bills intended to improve security in schools. S.B. 70 would require all schools to have panic alarms accessible to teachers, administrators and other staff members that would automatically send signals to law enforcement agencies. The cost would be about $254 million. Also approved by the Senate Infrastructure and Security Committee was S.B. 788, which would require the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to develop a uniform procedure for dealing with active-shooter situations. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics.

School start times: Miami-Dade County school Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said at a town hall meeting Monday that he believes in the research concluding students benefit from later school start times, and he would like to implement later times in the district. But he also said he wouldn’t do it without community support. If the support is there, he said, elementary schools could start at 8 a.m., and middle and high schools could start at either 8:30 or 9:30 a.m. with the latest closing time at 4:30 p.m. The changes could begin as soon as next fall. WLRN. WTVJ.

Educators honored: Christine O’Hara, a math coach at Peace River Elementary, has been named the Charlotte County School District’s teacher of the year, and Neysa Juan Febus from Port Charlotte Middle was named the district’s support employee of the year. Charlotte Sun.

Superintendent search: Martin County School Board members approve a timeline to appoint a superintendent. They will finalize a job description by April 6, advertise the position and accept applications after May 1, hold community forums and conduct an online survey to see what qualities residents want to see in the candidates, pare the list, conduct interviews, then hire a superintendent who will be paid between $145,000 and $190,000 and start work either Nov. 10 or 17. Superintendent Laurie Gaylord’s second term expires in November. In 2018, voters decided to appoint superintendents instead of electing them. TCPalm.

Mental health services additions: The Bay County School District will use disaster relief money it received after Hurricane Michael in 2018 to hire a director of Student Wellness Programs and two clinicians at every school. Assistant superintendent Denise Kelley said more mental health-related positions could be added, based on student need and available funding. More than 3,000 students remain homeless and are still dealing with trauma, she said. Panama City News Herald. WJHG.

Army instructor requested: Marion County school officials have asked the U.S. Army to provide a third instructor for cadets who were displaced when the Marion Military Academy closed last month because of financial problems. If the Army approves the request, the instructor would work in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program based at Lake Weir High School. The new military-themed career choice academy is located at the Marion Technical Institute. Ocala Star-Banner.

PTO resuscitation: Beverly Shores Elementary School principal Cindy Christidis is working to restart the parent-teacher organization three years after it disbanded at the Leesburg school. Ten teachers have been recruited, and Christidis is trying to increase the number of parents interested to match that. She said parents have been reluctant to commit because of administrator turnover. “It’s difficult to build a relationship with someone if you don’t know they’ll be around,” Christidis said. Daily Commercial.

Sports officials get a raise: The Florida High School Athletic Association has approved higher pay for high school sports officials that averages 43.6 percent in 12 varsity sports and 55 percent or more for six sports. Many school administrators say the higher pay should help with the shortage of officials, but they worry about how districts will pay the additional costs. Florida Today.

Biking student hit by car: A student riding his bicycle to Jupiter Middle School was hit by a vehicle Monday morning, and taken to St. Mary’s Medical Center. Palm Beach Post. WPEC.

School workers and the law: A information technology specialist with the Lake County School District has been arrested and accused of having sexual relationships with two students. Deputies say Mario Gutierrez, 23, had some sexual activity with two South Lake High School students, one 16 years old and the other 15. Gutierrez has been charged with two counts of lewd or lascivious battery and one count of tampering with a victim. Deputies say the illegal behavior did not take place at the school. WOFL. WKMG. Quinton Peterson, a former teacher in Manatee County, goes on trial tomorrow for possession of child pornography. Peterson was a music teacher at the former Lincoln Memorial Middle School. Lincoln Memorial later became the Lincoln Memorial Academy charter school, and Peterson’s case was a factor in the district’s decision to revoke its charter. Bradenton Herald.

Substitute attacked: Miami-Dade County school officials are investigating an attack by a student on a substitute teacher at Miami Central Senior High School that was caught on video. The girl attacked the female teacher, who then placed the student in a headlock. WSVN.

Opinions on schools: If 2020 truly is going to the “year of the teacher,” as Gov. Ron DeSantis said in October, he should start by instructing his Education Department to stop threatening and start listening. Orlando Sentinel. The next Hillsborough County school superintendent should be candid about the district’s strengths and weaknesses, adept at working in the public eye and clear-headed about the expectations of the public schools and their impact on a growing metropolitan area. Tampa Bay Times. A private, religious school has the right to pray before a football game. Jesse Panuccio, Tampa Bay Times.

Student enrichment: Katie Carlson, a 15-year-old sophomore at the Stanton College Preparatory School in Jacksonville, was the second place finisher for her classical piano skills at the 2019 American Protege International Music Competition held at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Florida Times-Union.

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