$1,000 bonuses proposed for teachers and principals, ransom demand, budgets, school aid, and more

Bonuses for educators: Every public school teacher and principal in the state would receive a bonus of $1,000 for their “heroic work” during the pandemic if legislators go along with a recommendation Gov. Ron DeSantis made Wednesday. About $216 million in federal coronavirus aid would be used to fund the bonuses for almost 180,000 fulltime teachers and more than 3,600 principals. DeSantis called the bonuses a reward for educators’ help in keeping schools open during the pandemic. “Having the doors open has been a huge, huge success,” said DeSantis, telling teachers “you have put students first over the course of the coronavirus pandemic.” Lawmakers should move quickly to approve the request, the governor said, “so that we can get these checks out as soon as possible.” News Service of Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WCTV. WPLG. Florida Politics. Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran joined DeSantis at the press conference in Pinellas County, and said that in August, the state would stop funding online programs created by districts for students who didn’t want to be in classrooms. That’s been about 30 percent of all students for the past year. Students can still learn remotely through options offered by the Florida Virtual School. Orlando Sentinel. WPTV. WPEC.

Budget discussions: Appropriation committees in the Senate and House approved their chambers’ proposed budgets on Wednesday. The Senate’s budget is $95 billion and includes $22.1 billion for K-12 education, while the House’s $97 billion proposal includes $22.6 billion for education. Among the differences beyond the $2 billion total, the House includes plans for the $10 billion the state is receiving in federal coronavirus aid and the Senate does not, and the chambers are about $69 million apart in what they propose spending on private college tuition grants. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Florida Politics. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

In the Legislature: The bill that would change funding for Bright Futures Scholarships from a set percentage of tuition and fees to whatever money the Legislature allocates every year was approved Wednesday by the Senate Appropriations Committee. The next stop is a full Senate vote. No companion bill has been introduced in the House. Florida Politics. WLRN. The Senate Health Policy Committee approved a bill Wednesday that would restrict most transgender females from playing on high school and college sports teams, despite growing concerns that moving ahead with the legislation could prompt sports groups like the NCAA to pull regional and national events out of the state. “I’m not going to be influenced by a financial threat,” said bill sponsor Kelli Stargel, a Republican senator from Lakeland. The bill now being considered in the House goes even further than the Senate bill by proposing to ban all transgender females from girls sports. News Service of Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Phoenix. Capitol News Service. Florida Politics. Senate and House committees approved bills (S.B. 750 and H.B. 337) that would put restrictions on impact fees that are collected on new construction to help schools, counties and cities accommodate growth. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Infrastructure aid for schools: President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion-plus infrastructure plan announced Wednesday includes $100 billion to build and repair schools, $12 billion to upgrade buildings and technology of community colleges, $100 billion to expand broadband, $45 billion to replace lead water pipes in schools and other buildings, and funding to buy electric school buses. Politico. The 74. Education Week.

State college enrollment down: Enrollment is down 6.1 percent in the Florida college system this school year, according to a report released Wednesday by state economists. Because of the pandemic, the economists said, enrollment fell from 316,276 in the 2019-2020 academic year to 296,925 in the latest estimates for this academic year. The Education Estimating Conference now projects 311,526 students will enroll for the 2021-2022 school year, and that only in 2022-2023 will enrollment recover to where it was last year. Politico Florida.

Around the state: Hackers are demanding the Broward school district pay them millions of dollars or they will release personal information about students and staff, Pinellas officials reverse an earlier decision and will allow seniors to have a Grad Nite at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Volusia’s school superintendent declares April 5-9 as LGBTQ+ Health Awareness Week after the school board declined to, and Lake County students 16 and up can get Pfizer vaccinations at their schools next week. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Hackers are demanding the school district pay millions of dollars to prevent personal information about students and teachers from being released online, according to a transcript the hackers have released. The transcript purports to show a two-week negotiation with the district. The hackers initially asked for $40 million, but dropped that demand to $10 million. “We have no intention of paying a ransom,” the school district said Wednesday in a statement. The group, called Conti, is behind about 300 ransomware attacks in the past five months, according to security experts. Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald. WSVN. Police arrested a man who had been following several girls as they walked to William Dandy Middle School in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday. Jarell Mackey, 25, has been charged with trespassing on school grounds, resisting arrest and on two outstanding warrants. WSVN. WTVJ.

Hillsborough: A free clothing store for students in need is being started at Blake High School in Tampa. Two theater students, Kayla Crain and Sofia Jaramillo, were instrumental in launching the project. “One of the main reasons behind the Blake Boutique is that no student or family should ever be embarrassed for needing basic essentials that everybody needs,” said Crain. Donations of formal wear for events, business clothes for interviews and athletic wear for sports are welcome. WFTS.

Duval: A substitute teacher has been arrested and charged with child abuse after getting into a fight with an 8th-grader at Landmark Middle School in Jacksonville. District officials said the sub, whom they wouldn’t name, won’t be teaching in the district again. WJXT.

Pinellas: District officials have reversed an earlier decision and will allow high school seniors to have a Grad Nite party at Busch Gardens. After the district first said no to the event, parents appealed for the district to reconsider. So principals met and decided to make it work. “They really wanted to say yes,” said district spokeswoman Isabel Mascareñas. “In such a tough year, it was important to find a way for students to create memories of their senior year.” Pinellas will take over the park May 7 from 7 p.m. to midnight. Tampa Bay Times. A group of north-county residents are asking the school district for more time to raise $3 million so it can buy a 14-acre forest owned by the district to protect it from development. A year ago, the district agreed to the group’s request. But the pandemic has made fund-raising difficult, and the district is getting impatient. “It can’t go on forever,” said board chair Carol Cook. “How long do we continue to wait so they can raise the money?” A decision could be made by the board April 20. Tampa Bay Times.

Volusia: The school board declined to name April 5-9 as LGBTQ+ Health Awareness Week, so Superintendent Scott Fritz stepped in and did it himself. “We publicly support all these groups,” Fritz said. “We want to acknowledge their vulnerability while at the same time highlight their intrinsic value and contributions to our community.” Several school board members apologized for opposing the recognition. “That’s shame on us,” said Anita Burnette. “I hope that everybody knows that we do support everyone in our schools.” Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: A surge of coronavirus cases has been reported at Lakewood Ranch High School, which leaves school officials concerned with Easter and Memorial Day coming up. In the 10 weeks before spring break, the school had 13 cases. Since spring break ended, the school has reported 24 cases in eight school days. Bradenton Herald.

Lake: District students who are 16 or older can get Pfizer coronavirus vaccinations next week in their schools, the district announced Wednesday. Shots are also being offered to students who learn remotely or are home-schooled, and school employees. Orlando Sentinel. WKMG.

Bay: The school district has been informed that it will receive $24 million from the latest round of the federal coronavirus relief bills. About $5.2 million will go to charter schools, and the rest has to be spent by September 2023 on nonrecurring expenses such as programs to address learning losses and supplies to clean and sanitize facilities. Panama City News Herald.

Martin: Five county middle school students have been selected to receive the Copper Key Scholarship Promise of a free college education. The program was started by four nonprofits to help students who are referred to the foundation based on their character and potential. Program officials hope to select two students every year. WPTV.

Colleges and universities: Florida State and Florida A&M officials said they are encouraging students to get  vaccinated, but aren’t requiring it. Tallahassee Democrat. The University of South Florida is being sued by a student for not refunding her fees for on-campus services when the school switched to remote learning during the pandemic. Florida Politics. Pensacola State College officials said there’s a huge increase in the demand for pharmacy technicians and workers in other health fields because of the pandemic. Pensacola News Journal.

Around the nation: Pfizer said the vaccine it developed with BioNTech showed “100 percent efficacy and robust antibody responses” in a clinical trial of more than 2,200 children between the ages of 12 and 15. The company will submit the results to the FDA and hopes to begin vaccinations before the next school year begins. NPR. Associated Press. The number of cyberattacks on K-12 schools in the country increased by 18 percent from 2019 to 2020, according to a report from the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center. K-12 Dive. West Virginia and Kentucky have become the 27th and 28th states to start private school choice programs. redefinED.

Education podcasts: Fernando Zulueta, the founder and president of the charter school company Academica, talks about the philosophy behind the growth and success of the company, which provides services to 143 charter schools in Florida and 178 nationwide. redefinED.

Opinions on schools: Differentiated funding would give greater flexibility to scholarship-eligible families who need learning options not on the current menu. At the same time, it would give scholarship recipients happy with their current school no economic incentive to switch from vouchers to education savings accounts. William Mattox, redefinED.

You may also like