Billion cut from budget, funding for scholarships intact, masks, reopenings, graduations and more

DeSantis cuts, signs budget: Gov. Ron DeSantis has vetoed more than $1 billion from the $93.2 billion state budget passed earlier this year by the Legislature, in an effort to blunt the economic impact from the coronavirus pandemic. Staying in the now-$92.2 billion budget were $500 million for teacher raises, $8 million to put panic alarms in all schools, a $42 million increase for the Gardiner Scholarships for children with special needs, $7.6 million for the Reading Scholarship Account program, and $123 million for the state’s historically black colleges. Cuts included $41 million from the state guardian program that allowed some teachers and school employees to carry guns in schools, $2 million for the KIPP Charter School in Jacksonville, $1.375 million for an aviation program at Manatee Technical College, $800,000 for a summer learning program in Sarasota County, a $200,000 abstinence program in Collier County and millions from university programs. The new budget year begins Wednesday. News Service of FloridaAssociated Press. Gannett. redefinED. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. Politico Florida. WTXL. Florida Phoenix. Florida Politics. Gainesville Sun. WKMG.

The mask discussion: Determining whether students will be required to wear masks when they will return to schools will be a controversial decision for district officials. There are parents who said they won’t send their children to schools if masks aren’t required, and parents who said their kids won’t be attending if they have to wear masks. There are districts that seem to be leaning to making masks a requirement, and districts that aren’t. District officials also have potential legal issues to consider no matter which decision they make. “It’s (requiring masks) not a legally easy thing to do, even if it’s a just and right thing to do,” said Dennis Alfonso, attorney for the Hernando and Pasco county school boards. Tampa Bay Times. The Leon County School District, which is considering making the wearing of masks in schools mandatory, said it could give students periodic “mask breaks” during the day. Tallahassee Democrat.

Reopening schools: The Monroe County School District’s reopening plan options hinge on the severity of the coronavirus outbreak, which will be judged by the superintendent and the local office of the Florida Department of Health closer to the Aug. 7 start date. If the risk is minimal, the plan is to reopen schools to all students except those who have chosen to continue remote learning. Moderate risk would trigger a hybrid of in-person and staggered school schedules, and substantial risk would prompt completely online learning. WPLG. WFOR. Seventy-five percent of Pasco County parents favor a return to the classroom in the fall. The survey ends July 8. WTSP. Tampa Bay Times. Brevard County’s two colleges, Florida Institute of Technology and Eastern Florida State College, will require students to wear masks and will have limited in-person classes this fall. Florida Today. U.S. parents and students generally do not like remote learning, according to surveys, but increasingly it’s looking like it will be a significant part of the 2020-2021 school year. USA Today. The American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending that students return to schools in the fall as soon as they can do so safely. The AAP argues that children’s risk of contracting the coronavirus is low, and that the social isolation and learning loss from remote education is harmful to all students, especially low-income, minority and disabled students. NPR.

Graduation plans changed: Pasco County high school graduations have been moved from the USF Tampa’s basketball arena to the schools’ campuses. The changes were made after USF moved its graduation from the arena because of concerns over the potential spread of the coronavirus. Pasco’s graduations will be held July 17-31. Tampa Bay Times. WTVT. The Lee County School District also changed its graduation ceremony plans, to save $40,000. The original plan was to rent both the Suncoast Credit Union Arena at Florida SouthWestern State College and Hertz Arena at a cost of $104,780. Instead, all graduations will be held at the Hertz Arena on the weekends of July 17-19 and July 24-26. Fort Myers News-Press. WINK.

Aid for private schools: Congress should set aside 10 percent of the next round of federal coronavirus aid to help private school parents and students, a coalition of those schools and education choice proponents is requesting in a letter to Senate and House leaders. The letter specifically asks for indirect assistance from emergency tuition grants for low-income and middle-class families, and creation of a federal tax credit program for scholarship funds. One of the school choice groups signing the letter was Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog. redefinED.

More on the coronavirus: Enrollment in the Duval Virtual Instruction Academy has more than doubled this summer, district officials said. As of June 18, 199 students have submitted applications for the district’s virtual school. This time last year it was 94. The school’s total enrollment right now is 212. Florida Times-Union. Interest in virtual education is also up in central Florida. WESH. Meals on Wheels for Kids, which was created in March by the Tampa Bay Network to End Hunger, is delivering meals to children who can’t get to a school meal distribution site. Tampa Bay Times. Education leaders said going through with National Assessment of Educational Progress testing next year would make administrators appear “tone deaf” in the midst of the pandemic. Testing results are used by the NAEP to compile the “Nation’s Report Card.” Politico.

Contract negotiations: Miami-Dade County teachers have ratified a contract that will boost starting teacher pay from $41,000 to $47,500. Veteran teachers are getting small raises. A teacher with 16 years in the classroom, for example, gets $300 more to move to $47,800. Miami Herald.

Investigation ‘bias’? A Florida Department of Education review concludes that the outside investigation of former Sarasota County school superintendent Todd Bowden showed signs of bias. Bowden resigned in December after allegations that he mishandled an employee’s allegations of sexual harassment against another administrator. Randy Kosec Jr., the chief of the DOE’s Office of Professional Practices Services, said the investigators asked the alleged victim “leading questions, basically feeding her the answers. When they interviewed Bowden, however, the questions were closer to those of a prosecutor.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Superintendent search: The five finalists for the Sarasota County school superintendent’s job will be interviewed by school board members on Wednesday. Limited seating is available to the public because of the pandemic, but questions can be submitted through the district’s web page and the interviews will be broadcast on the district’s channel and YouTube. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Personnel moves: Kristina Kelch, a product of Charlotte County schools, has been named the principal at Kingsway Elementary School in Port Charlotte. Charlotte Sun.

Employees and the law: A 49-year-old Polk County teacher has been arrested and accused of having sexual contact with a 15-year-old student at a graduation party. Deputies said Leslie Bushart, a reading teacher at Lake Gibson Middle School, was at a graduation party for the victim’s older sister. Bushart has been charged with lewd battery. People.

Opinions on schools: “The purpose of education,” wrote author James Baldwin, “… is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions.” The time is long past for families to make their own decisions about where and how their children will be educated. Matthew Ladner, redefinED. Traditionally, education funding has been the first thing on the chopping block during recessions. By sticking with his commitment to teacher raises in the face of hard economic realities, Gov. DeSantis is demonstrating that improved education funding will not be limited only to sunny economic times. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The question is whether Florida high school students in the class of 2020 should proceed with in-person graduations in the face of COVID-19. The answer is simple, and it’s not multiple choice. No, they should not. Joe Henderson, Florida Politics.

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