Budget and teacher raises vote, teachers protest return to work, alternative learning, and more

Budget vote today: Legislators will file into the Capitol this morning, into a chamber closed to visitors because of the coronavirus pandemic, to cast votes on the state’s $93.2 billion budget. Some lawmakers wanted to vote remotely, but were told by legislative leaders that the constitution did not allow for that. The chamber will be sanitized earlier in the morning, and House members will be screened before entering the chamber. Voting is not mandatory, and some have indicated they won’t because of the risk, but those who do appear for the vote may submit written questions about the budget and a formal statement. The education portion of the budget is $22.7 billion, a $776 million increase from this year’s. It includes a per-student spending level of $7,839, an increase of a little over 2 percent, or about about $184, $500 million for teacher raises, $42 million to harden schools against intruders and a three-day back-to-school tax holiday Aug. 7-9, among other items. Once the budget is approved, this year’s legislative session will conclude. Gannett Capital Bureau. Florida Politics. News Service of Florida. Tampa Bay Times.

Teachers protest order to return: Teachers in some Florida districts are being ordered to return to work Monday to develop online lesson plans and be trained to make the transition to virtual instruction on March 30. Some of those teachers aren’t very happy about it, pointing out that Gov. Ron DeSantis just ordered schools to be closed at least until April 15, and that returning to work next week goes against CDC guidelines for minimizing contact and endangers their health. “We are stunned that the district has done this. Very shocked. It goes against everything we’ve been hearing,” said Wendy Doromal, president of the teachers union in Orange County. In Manatee County, teachers union president Pat Barber has requested a meeting with Superintendent Cynthia Saunders. “I am concerned about our folks that fall into the high-risk category,” Barber said. Seth Knolhoff, a teacher in St. Johns County, said, “That shoots in the foot the entire point of having a week of quarantine in the first place.” Orlando Sentinel. Sarasota Herald-TribuneSt. Augustine Record. Miami Herald. School districts continue to prepare to hold online classes for students, from creating a system to training teachers, and making sure students have laptops and home Internet access or providing students lessons to complete, or both. WMFE. Palm Beach Post. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP. WTVT. Florida Times-Union. WJAX. Bradenton Herald. WTXL. WJXT. WTLV. TCPalm. Pensacola News Journal. WEAR. WMBB. Fort Myers News-Press. WINK. Florida Today. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WKMG. WPEC. WPTV. WSVN. WPLG. Ocala Star-Banner. WKMG. WKRG. Citrus County Chronicle. Walton County School District. WJXT. WCJB. Florida Politics. Port St. Joe Star. Charlotte Sun. WFTV. WTXL. WJXT.

More on coronavirus: The U.S. Senate approved a coronavirus aid package providing sick leave to workers and offering free tests, and is moving ahead on another initiative that would send checks to millions of Americans. Associated Press. Gov. DeSantis said there’s no plans to close day-care centers. WPTV. Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran talks about the crisis, and what the state is doing to help teachers and students. WMFE. The education interruption could force school districts to make drastic choices about such things as student retention and attending summer school. USA Today. A private school in Lee County, Gospel Baptist Church and School, has elected to remain open. WINK. More districts and other organizations announce plans to continue feeding low-income students while schools are closed. Florida Department of Agriculture. Sun Sentinel. Creative Loafing. Florida Politics. Gainesville Sun. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. Panama City News Herald. Clay Today. WPLG. WUSF. WMBB. Questions and answers about the coronavirus, and a glossaryFlorida Department of HealthFlorida Department of Education. USA Today Florida Network. Parents share their stories about home-schooling during the coronavirus crisis. Miami Herald. As part of the schools’ closure extension announced this week, the Florida Department of Education has advised districts to make preparations to extend the school year to June 30 if necessary. WFLA. The Florida High School Athletic Association has decided to postpone all spring sports indefinitely. Sun Sentinel. FHSAA.

‘Power grab’ criticized: Several members of local school boards in Florida are bristling over what they perceive as a “shameless power grab” of their authority by Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran. As part of Gov. DeSantis’ announcement Tuesday extending the extension of K-12 schools closing, there was a sentence that read: “All district school board and state college board of trustees meetings through June 30, 2020, are postponed and may only be scheduled for emergency purposes only by the respective school district superintendent or college president.” Monroe County School Board member Sue Woltanski tweeted in response: “Stomping on the constitutional authority of school boards is a problem, to say the least.” Manatee County board member Charlie Kennedy accused Corcoran of using the crisis to usurp local board authority and wrote, “not gonna happen.” Polk County board member Billy Townsend added: “Yup, Richard Corcoran has illegally, unilaterally eliminated the public’s right to speak through its elected local school officials. Imagine if Gov. Ron DeSantis disbanded the (Legislature).” A DOE spokesperson defended Corcoran’s move, calling it necessary based on CDC guidelines. Florida Politics. Gradebook.

Best and Brightest suit settled: A federal judge has approved a $15.5 million settlement in a discrimination lawsuit against the state’s Best and Brightest educator bonuses program. The suit was filed by black, Hispanic and older teachers who were rated “highly effective” but didn’t receive bonuses from the state because they didn’t meet the SAT or ACT test score requirements for eligibility. Those requirements were later dropped, and a bill that kills the bonuses program is awaiting Gov. DeSantis’ signature. About 16,000 teachers are expected to get money from the settlement. News Service of Florida.

Two charter schools approved: St. Lucie County School Board members have approved the applications of two charter schools. Somerset Academy Bethany, a K-5 school that’s part of Somerset Academy Inc., is set to open in August. Renaissance Charter High School at St. Lucie will open in the fall of 2021. TCPalm.

Education podcasts: Step Up For Students president Doug Tuthill and Equality Florida chief executive officer Nadine Smith talk about their ongoing efforts to ensure every child has access to a safe and healthy learning environment. redefinED.

Employees and the law: A former private school teacher in Baker County has been arrested and accused of soliciting and engaging in lewd and sexual conduct with a 14-year-old student. Deputies said Michael Paul Rhoden, 32, had been involved for months with the United Christian Church and Academy student, and also exchanged explicit videos with her. WJXT. A Palm Beach County School District maintenance employee has been arrested and accused of possessing and sharing child pornography. Alec Tyler Jordon, 25, worked at schools throughout the district. Palm Beach Post. A former Leon County teacher was sentenced to 30 months in prison after he pleaded no contest to a solicitation charge. Casey O’Brien, a chemistry teacher at Chiles High School, had been accused of soliciting an underage student for sex through Snapchat. Tallahassee Democrat.

Opinions on schools: Creation of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship in 2001 energized parents, educators and an incredibly diverse mix of non-governmental entities to expand educational opportunities for the state’s most disadvantaged students, according to a new paper published by the R Street Institute. (Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the scholarships.) Ron Matus, redefinED. Schools in distressed communities can be places of chaos and dysfunction, but they are also a refuge from the chaos and dysfunction of students’ lives. When they’re closed, some students face a world as unstable as their lives. Larry Strauss, Northwest Florida Daily News.

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