SB 48 moves closer to changing education choice programs, standardized testing timetables and more

Camille Knox

In the Legislature: An education bill designed to simplify the state’s education choice programs by merging five scholarships into two and adding a flexible spending option moved closer to passing after it cleared the Florida Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education. SB 48, which was approved with a 6-3 vote along party lines, transfers students receiving the FTC, or Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, to the FES, which is the Family Empowerment Scholarship, sunsetting the old FTC. Sponsored by Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, the bill was approved on Feb. 3 by the Senate Education Committee. The 158-page bill would also merge the McKay Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities and the Gardiner Scholarship Program, creating the McKay-Gardiner Scholarship Program. redefinED. Florida Politics. 

Around the state: Some students in South Florida haven’t shown up for school in the state’s largest counties, an elementary school in Putnam is staying open, a new high school in St. Lucie is opening soon, child abuse allegations are being investigated in Lee County, and teaching honors will soon be announced in Lake County. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade, Broward: Thousands of South Florida students have left the school system altogether, according to a lawmaker who estimated that about 90,000 of Florida’s public school students are “missing,” meaning they haven’t shown up in person or online for school. Of that number, about 20,000 are missing from Miami-Dade and Broward counties, the largest counties in the state. School funding is based partly on the number of students attending a school, so less students could lead to budget cuts. School officials say the majority of students being counted as missing have either left the county or country during the pandemic, attend private school, or are being home schooled. Miami Herald. 

Lee: Child abuse accusations are being investigated at a Lee County school after three students who have special needs were allegedly abused by a teacher and a staff member. The Florida Department of Children and Families is looking into whether there were additional victims. WINKAn Island Coast High School teacher who allegedly told students that slaves were not whipped by white people and that the “N” word means ignorant has been suspended with pay pending a reassignment to the district office. Viral TikTok videos taken during an Advanced Placement government course involving the incident are being investigated by the school district. Naples Daily News. 

St. Lucie County: A new high school is under construction in St. Lucie, featuring a state-of-the-art design in each classroom. Tradition Preparatory High School will initially only include freshmen and sophomores, but plans to expand each year after opening this fall.  WPTV.

Putnam: Melrose Elementary School will remain open after facing potential closure. An updated revitalization plan designed to save the school passed with a 3-2 vote from the school board. WUFT.

Testing timetable: The state of Florida wants all students from grade 3 and up to return to school in person this spring for standardized testing, even if their parents kept them home during the pandemic. State Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran signed an order requiring the tests this week. Officials in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties said the tests must be taken in person, with no remote option.  The South Florida Sun-Sentinel. 

Funding sought for massacre descendants: A Florida lawmaker is proposing that Ocoee massacre descendants be included in a scholarship program that currently benefits the youth of Rosewood, a predominately African American community destroyed by white mobs.  The plan entails paying up to $6,100 in tuition and registration fees for applicants who can prove they are the descendants of the African-American residents of Ocoee who were killed or run out of town in 1920. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law last year legislation that required schools to teach students about the racial violence that occurred in Ocoee.   AP. Orlando Sentinel.

Educational honors: Jacob Carriero of Mascotte Charter School learned he is a finalist for Lake County Rookie Teacher of the Year. Carriero, who teaches physical education for kindergarten through fifth grade students, is one of a handful of educators in the running for the honor, which is sponsored by the Education Foundation of Lake County. The other finalists are Amy Crofts, a pre-kindergarten teacher at Rimes Early Learning Center in Leesburg, and Theresa Spann, a culinary CTE (Career Technical Education) teacher at Umatilla High School. In addition, finalists for School Related Employee of the Year were announced. They include Samson Becker, a custodian at Groveland Elementary, Sandra Belinski, a bookkeeper at East Ridge Middle in Clermont, April Dempsey, a food service worker at Grassy Lake Elementary in Minneola, and Karly Nelson, a teacher’s assistant at Leesburg Elementary. This year’s Teacher of the Year winner and School Related Employee of the Year winner will be announced on March 10.  Daily Commercial. 

Children of farmworkers: Economic hardships coupled with the coronavirus pandemic has forced the children of migrant workers out of school and into the fields. WLRN.

Opinions on schools: Senate Bill 48 compromises truth and threatens public education. The bill reduces oversight of private organizations from annual reviews to every three years, provides for private, not public, education scholarships, and requires parents instead of educators to be evaluators of their child’s educational progress. The Rev. Ray Johnson, Ledger. Florida’s lower-income students will benefit from access to ESA’s (educational savings accounts). Doug Tuthill, redefinED School options should be tailored to meet a child’s life and academic needs. Gwen Samuel, redefinED. 

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