Education budget and teacher raises in flux, college consolidation dead, turnaround rules and more

Budget discussions: An apparent agreement on the state’s education budget and teacher raises that was reached Saturday is now in question after the Senate made significant changes in a counteroffer on Sunday. The chambers had tentatively agreed on a budget that set aside $500 million for teacher raises, which was what the Senate originally proposed and was down from the $650 million the House wanted. But in the Senate’s counterproposal, money for teacher raises jumped to $600 million. “We’re still trying to meet the goal of the governor of trying to hit that minimum salary for our teachers,” said state Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, referencing Gov. Ron DeSantis’ call to raise starting teacher pay to $47,500. Other key issues to be decided: who is eligible for the raises, total education spending, and how much the base student allocation is increased. The Senate plan would bump the BSA by just $18.64, down from the $50 the House wants. Many school districts need that money to meet pension contribution obligations. Representatives from the chambers are expected to meet again today but still expect their differences to extend the session, which is scheduled to end Friday. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. News Service of Florida. Associated Press.

College consolidation: The proposal to consolidate New College and Florida Polytechnic University into the University of Florida has died after the House declined to act on it Friday. The bill, which was proposed by state Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, developed halfway through the session as a way to trim college costs, and cleared several committees before stalling. “This is the kind of conversation we need to have over a longer period of time; we shouldn’t be rushed,” said Rep. Margaret Good, D-Sarasota. House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, said the idea could be revisited next year, a sentiment that was echoed by Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. “That’s one of those ideas whose time is going to come. If the only thing we were able to do is bring to light that this needs to be reviewed year after year, that’s some success,” Oliva said. News Service of Florida. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Politics. WFSU.

School turnaround rules: Amendments are being proposed to a House bill that would give school districts more time to turn around struggling schools and put restrictions on the state’s authority to revoke a school’s plan. The bill would put low-performing schools into the turnaround program after earning a single D or F grade. An amendment offered by state Rep. Vance Aloupis, R-Miami, would require intervention after two years of D or F grades, and also give those schools a one-time waiver if they earn a C but fall back to a D or F within three years. That puts the bills more in agreement with education experts’ opinions that districts need time to make improvements and that schools sometimes take a step back. Gradebook. Florida Politics.

Panic alarms: The Florida Senate has unanimously approved a bill that would require all public and charter schools to install a single, app-based panic alarm system. The system would be called “Alyssa’s Alert” in honor of Alyssa Alhadeff, who was one of 17 people killed in the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Districts would be permitted to add other safety systems as well. The House version of the bill does not require the system to be app-based, but it must be certified by the Department of Homeland Security. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics. WTSP.

Scholarship expansion: The Florida House has approved changes in its bill to expand the enrollment cap for the Family Empowerment Scholarship and align some of its income eligibility provisions with the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship. About 126,000 economically disadvantaged students are enrolled in private K-12 schools under the two programs this year. The bill, which is nearly the same as the Senate version, S.B. 1220, is ready for a vote by the full House. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer both scholarship programs. redefinED. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics. Politico Florida. Orlando Sentinel.

Pregame prayers: The Florida House is expected to consider an education bill that has been expanded to give schools the option of having a 30-second prayer broadcast over a public address system before such events as football games. The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, is a response to a court fight between the state and a Christian school over the Florida High School Athletic Association’s refusal to allow the school to broadcast a prayer before the 2016 high school state championship football game. A district court ruled in favor of the state, but an appeals court overturned it and sent the case back to the lower court, where it is pending. The bill also includes the creation of a statewide “do-not-hire” list of former school employees who have been fired for sexual misconduct, and changes in dual-enrollment rules and teacher training. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida.

Back-to-school tax holiday: The House gave final approval on Friday to a tax-cut package bill that includes a back-to-school tax holiday Aug. 7-9 on clothing, school supplies and some computer equipment. The Senate has a standalone 10-day back-to-school tax holiday bill that is awaiting a final vote. Associated Press. Politico Florida. Florida Politics.

Coronavirus concerns: . The latest coronavirus headlines include the first deaths in Florida, more cases being diagnosed, leaders in the Senate and House saying they will find the $25 million Gov. DeSantis’ has requested to fight the coronavirus, a school closing in northwest Florida, the State Department urging Americans to stay off cruise ships, and more. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Politico Florida. Florida Phoenix. Florida Politics. Tampa Bay Times. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. Sun Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. USA Today Network. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Fort Myers News-Press. Daytona Beach News-Journal. TCPalm. New York Times. School districts around Florida continue to make plans on how they will fight the virus, including remote instruction if schools are closed. Tampa Bay Times. WJXT. WTVJ. WTXL. Education Week. Questions and answers about the coronavirus. Florida Department of Health. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Tampa Bay Times. If the coronavirus outbreak worsens in Florida, here are four ways school districts can prepare for and deal with increased staff and student absenteeism. Education Dive.

Fees for schools: The Hillsborough County Commission’s vote to more than double school impact fees could raise about $30 million a year for the district, which is expecting population growth to require the construction of 38 schools over the next 15 years. The total cost of that construction is estimated at $1.2 billion, and most of those schools would be built in the southern part of the county. Gradebook.

School bus safety: Fines for drivers who don’t stop for school buses that are picking up and dropping off students will double if Gov. DeSantis signs a bill sent to him Friday. Passing a school bus that has its red stop sign extended would cost drivers $200 instead of $100, and a second violation within five years could bring a fine and a drivers licenses suspension of six months to a year. The fine for passing the bus on the side where students get in or out would increase from $200 to $400, and a second offense could bring a fine and a license suspension of up to two years. Associated Press.

School calendar: The Palm Beach County School Board is asking the committee that builds the academic calendar to have schools open the third week in August for the 2021-2022 school year and beyond. “There are a lot of valid reasons to start a little bit later,” said board member Karen Brill, specifically citing family vacations and camp issues. “Every year we say the calendar is set and we can’t change it. I want to charge the committee to meet knowing we’ll start the third week of August. We might have to give up something, but this would be the goal.” Sun Sentinel.

Superintendent search: The four finalists for the Flagler County school superintendent’s job offer different priorities for the job during interviews last week. The finalists are Vernon Orndorff, a superintendent in Texas and former Flagler official; Janet Womack, a former Alabama superintendent; Cathy Mittelstadt, deputy superintendent of operations for the St. Johns County School District; and Earl Johnson, the executive director of leadership and operations for the Flagler district. The school board will make its selection Tuesday, and that person will replace Jim Tager on June 1. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Personnel moves: Chundra Evans has been named the assistant superintendent of high school curriculum and instruction by Osceola County School District Superintendent Debra Pace. She replaces Laura Rhinehart, who is retiring May 31. Positively Osceola.

District seeks ‘exemplary’ status: The Marion County School District is developing a curriculum that integrates black history into every course in hopes of earning”exemplary status” designation from the Florida Commissioner of Education’s African American History Task Force. Only 10 of the state’s 67 districts now have that status: Broward, Duval, Gadsden, Hillsborough, Leon, Miami-Dade, Palm Peach, Pinellas, St. Lucie and Volusia. Ocala Star-Banner.

School board squabbles: Two Clay County School Board members attacked each other during a recent meeting. Janice Kerekes said chair Carol Studdard called her a name at a recent meeting, and questioned whether she was fit to serve on the board. Studdard then accused Kerekes and her son of mounting a campaign questioning her mental state. WJXT.

School cafeteria closed: The cafeteria at the NSU University School, a private school on the campus of Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, was closed after a student found a dead rodent in a trap behind the buffet table. “The area was immediately cleaned and, in an abundance of caution, we closed the upper school dining facility for deep cleaning,” said William Kopas, the head of the school. WPLG.

Security officer shoots worker: A Broward County school security officer has been arrested after he accidentally shot a maintenance worker in the eye when he was showing him a gun. The maintenance worker is in stable condition at a hospital. The officer, 55-year-old Julian Antonio Suarez, works for Kent Security at the the private K-12 Sagemont School in Weston. He’s been charged with possessing a firearm on school property. Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald.

Employees and the law: A Leon County teacher has been arrested and charged with engaging in lewd and lascivious behavior with a student. Police said Shannon Davis, 26, a 1st-grade teacher at the Florida A&M University Developmental Research School, has had an improper relationship since last April with a student between the ages of 12 and 16. Tallahassee Democrat. A Manatee County teacher has been arrested and accused of hitting a student. Maurice Herring, 43, was charged with child abuse without great bodily harm, and also was fired from the Manatee School for the Arts, a public charter middle and high school in Palmetto. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. A Duval County teacher has been arrested and accused of domestic violence. Joel Clark Davis, 55, is a physical education and health teacher and baseball coach at Atlantic Coast High School. WJXT. Florida Times-Union. A Flagler County teacher was placed on leave after being accused of using excessive force against and 8-year-old special education student at Wadsworth Elementary School. The sheriff’s office has filed a charge of simple battery against Robert Ripley, and the school district is investigating. Flagler Live.

Parents criticize districts: An Orange County 2nd-grader with developmental disabilities was threatened with expulsion after a squabble last month over where she could sit at lunchtime. The 9-year-old girl called two girls “stupid” and “poopie” and hit or scratched one of the girls. She was also accused of saying “she was going to kill us,” which led Bay Meadows Elementary School officials to tell her mother she was suspended for 10 days and could be expelled. A day later the mother was told the girl could return. She said the school overreacted to childish misbehavior and didn’t follow its own procedures. Sun Sentinel. Parents of a Volusia County student who was tripped by two other students in a TikTok “skull-breaker challenge” video said Seabreeze High School officials were slow to investigate and punish the students. They said the response was discrimination and would have been different if the offenders had been black like the victim. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Opinions on schools: With a week left in the regular session, the Legislature should approve bills that would provide more clarity about arresting kids at schools or involuntarily committing them. Tampa Bay Times. This legislative session’s plans offer no better a solution for teacher recruitment, retention and pay than those of the past 20 years. Brandi Faison, Tallahassee Democrat. Don’t taxpayers have a right to see what kind of education their investment is buying, and whether voucher students are learning at an acceptable rate? Orlando Sentinel. The Hillsborough County Commission’s decision to raise impact fees for new homes is good for the school district’s students and for tax fairness. Tampa Bay Times.

Student enrichment: Angel Walker, a 17-year-old Winter Haven High School student, is thriving in the Polk County Medical Academy and JROTC programs at the school despite being born with no arms. Lakeland Ledger. Raeleigh Yomtob, a 3rd-grader at the Villages Charter Elementary School, is one of five Florida students chosen by the Hometown USA Program to volunteer by visiting and entertaining at nursing homes, hospitals, charity events and more around the state. Daily Commercial.

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