‘Intellectual freedom’ bill heading to governor, chambers approve budgets, Bright Futures and more

‘Intellectual diversity’ bill passes: The bill that would require colleges and universities to conduct annual surveys of students and staff about their beliefs and viewpoints as a way to promote intellectual diversity was approved by the Senate on Wednesday and is now headed to Gov. Ron DeSantis. H.B. 233 would also prohibit colleges from “shielding” students and employees from any kind of speech or barring any speaker or group from speaking on campus, and would allow students to make recordings of classroom lectures. “The long-term goal is to provide some guidance to policy makes on how we can ensure our universities are marketplaces for ideas, as they are intended to be,” said Rep. Spencer Roach, R-North Fort Myers, who is the sponsor of the bill. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Politico Florida. Miami Herald. Florida Politics. Fresh Take Florida. Florida Phoenix.

Also in the Legislature: The Senate and House both gave initial approval to preliminary budgets on Wednesday. The Senate’s calls for spending $95 billion, including $22.1 billion for education, while the House wants to spend $97 billion, including $22.6 billion for education. The House will vote again today and if the budget is approved, representatives from each chamber will be appointed to a conference committee to begin negotiations on a final budget. Even though the state’s revenue picture has improved, senators have backed a more cautious spending approach, which Kelly Stargel, a Republican from Lakeland, said is a “worst-case scenario” that maintains per-student funding levels. Next up for senators are discussions about how to use the estimated $10.2 billion the state will receive in federal coronavirus relief aid. The House included its plans for the aid in its budget. Florida Politics. USA Today Florida Network. Capitol News Service. S.B. 86, which would switch Bright Futures scholarships funding from a fixed percentage of tuition and fees to whatever the Legislature appropriates every year, passed on a first reading and is now ready for a Senate vote. Florida Politics. Also going to the full Senate is a bill that would end the state pension plan for new workers, instead directing them into an investment plan. Tallahassee Democrat. Florida Politics. Is a bill that would end salaries for school board members sexist, since 64 percent of the school board members in the state are women? That’s a question that’s been raised as S.B. 1180 makes its way through the Legislature. Florida Phoenix.

Around the state: Palm Beach School Board members approve a plan to hold parents financially responsible for repairing or replacing laptops that have been loaned to their children by the district, two central Florida school districts decide not to offer their hybrid remote learning option next year, Lee County school officials say virtual learning will continue to be an important part of their future, Volusia district officials will hire 100 custodians to clean 15 schools for the next year as a pilot project, and a former Bay County School Board member comes out against a proposed property tax hike to benefit schools. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Maria T. Gonzalez, the chief auditor of the school district, is retiring this summer, and one board member is suggesting she should be succeeded by Iraida Mendez-Cartaya, the former intergovernmental affairs chief.  Mendez-Cartaya left the district in January after 31 years to become the chief of staff for county commissioner Rene Garcia. Miami Herald.

Palm Beach: School board members have unanimously given the district the go-ahead to hold parents financially responsible for repairs or replacements of laptops provided for their children by the district. The district has loaned about 160,000 devices and has spent about $810,000 for repairs in the past year. If parents can’t afford to pay or refuse to, their children could be required to do community service. WPEC.

Duval: A First Coast High School 9th-grade science teacher has been arrested and is accused of having a romantic relationship with a male student. Gretchin Hope Thompson, 27, was removed from the classroom earlier in the school year after school officials became aware of the allegations, said principal Justin Fluent. Florida Times-Union. WJAX. WJXT. WTLV.

Lee: District officials believe that while the Lee Virtual School enrollment will drop when the next school year begins, it will continue to play a more visible role in the county’s school options. The school went from 328 students to more than 14,600 almost overnight when the pandemic set in last year. It was back down to about 2,400 in March. “I think virtual education will never be the same,” said Al Shilling, the principal of the Lee Virtual School. Fort Myers News-Press. The district’s portable classrooms are in deplorable condition, leaving children learning in dangerous conditions, school board member Gwyn Gittens charged this week. She said some of the portables have been in use for 15 years. Last week Gittens called on Gov. DeSantis to investigate the school board for fraud, waste and abuse. WINK. The Cape Coral City Council has approved the construction of sidewalks near Oasis Elementary North Charter School. WFTX.

Osceola, Lake: Officials in the Osceola and Lake school districts have announced that they will not continue to offer their hybrid remote learning option when the next school year begins in August. Osceola Superintendent Debra Pace said students can attend classes in person or enroll in the Osceola Virtual School. Real-time online classes that follow students’ schedules, classes and teachers will no longer be available. About 26 percent of the district’s students are learning remotely. Lake school officials also said their version of online learning tied to students’ schools is being eliminated. School officials in Seminole, Brevard and Orange counties have yet to announce their plans. WFTV. WKMG. WOFL.

Volusia: Frustrated by complaints about dirty schools, district officials will hire 100 custodians for a one-year pilot program to clean 15 schools. The custodians will be supervised by principals. Outside contractors have cleaned schools since 2013, when the school board agreed to outsource the work. The pilot program will cost the district $740,000. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Sarasota: A nonprofit organization is raising money to stage an alternate dance for North Port High School students after the school district advised principals they could hold proms but dancing wasn’t allowed. “These kids have gone through so much,” said Justin Willis, the volunteer executive director for When All Else Fails Inc. “We can put them in packed classrooms and put a shield on a desk and pretend everything is OK but whenever it comes to prom, they say ‘This isn’t OK because you’re going to be too close.’ Well, what about when they’re playing basketball? What about when they’re playing football? What about when we’re playing baseball? Aren’t we in just as close contact as when we’re dancing for three minutes?” The event is May 22 at the Plantation Golf & Country Club in Venice. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Santa Rosa: Construction has begun on a K-8 school that will relieve overcrowding in the Pace area of the county. Up to 1,200 students will attend the school when it opens in August 2023, relieving the crunch at nearby SS Dixon Primary, which is at 93 percent capacity, SS Dixon Intermediate (89 percent) and Sims Middle (96 percent). Pensacola News Journal.

Bay: A former school board member has come out publicly against the proposed 1-mill property tax hike that’s on the April 20 ballot. If it’s approved, the tax hike’s revenues would be used to increase employee salaries and for mental health, school safety and pre-K programs. Ryan Neves, who chose not to run for re-election in 2020 after 12 years on the board, said a tax proposal for day-to-day expenses is a bad idea. Panama City News Herald.

Taylor: An outside law firm has issued a report urging the school district to improve its diversity. Lawyer Holly Dincman said that 20 percent of the county’s students are black, but just 5 percent of the school staff is. “What does that say? Well that says a pretty loud and clear message that you need to have improvement in diversity in and amongst your instructional and administrative staff,” she said. “If you are going to increase your minority labor pool, you are going to have to make some recruitment efforts outside the county and try to draw in qualified educators.” Superintendent Danny Glover said the district was participating in job fairs at FAMU and FSU to diversify its staff, and will use the report’s recommendations to create a manual that can be used to train employees so the hiring process can be equal and fair. WCTV.

Around the nation: A predicted “massive wave” of U.S. teacher resignations because of the pandemic never materialized, according to data from states and local districts, which show modest declines in turnover. Why? Stefanie Miller, a 2nd-grade teacher in Broward County who said she’s considered leaving teaching but hasn’t, offers a simple explanation: “I need my health insurance, especially as I’m recovering from COVID. And I need the paycheck. Trying to find a new job in the middle of the pandemic wouldn’t be easy either.” Chalkbeat. Millions of low-income parents who were supposed to receive billions of dollars in federal food aid for meals they didn’t get during the pandemic are still waiting. Politico. The U.S. Department of Education reports that 9 out of 10 students attended school every day during the pandemic, either in-person or remotely. That’s similar to the rate before the pandemic. NPR.

Education podcasts: Jennifer Strickland, a widowed mother from Pensacola, talks about why she chose a Catholic education for her 14-year-old son and her disappointment that state law prevented her from receiving a school choice scholarship for him because he had not spent the previous year in a district school. “It’s like you are almost coerced to keep your child in a public school,” she said. redefinED. The legislative session is half over. Reporters Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald and William March of the Tampa Bay Times talk about what’s been done so far and what’s ahead. WUSF.

Opinions on schools: Educational choice bills in several states are a swift rebuke to the teachers unions that have not only stood in the way of education access during the pandemic, but have been the primary obstacles to education choice for decades. Lindsey M. Burke, Heritage Foundation. While Florida uses the Baker Act at a higher rate than the other 24 states that gather such data, it also ranks last in mental-health funding and at the bottom for access to mental healthcare. Didn’t we think decades of neglect and underfunding, coupled with an increase in depression and anxiety would lead to more Baker Acts? Miami Herald. The Alachua County School District can’t afford to simply build new schools to deal with growth and unbalanced enrollment. Gainesville Sun. I’d like to reflect, not so quietly, that the society as a whole would be far better served if the Florida Legislature’s public displays of pretending to serve Jesus would be expanded to include following His teachings about taking better care of the poor and the sick. Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post.

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