State tells Hillsborough to shape up or else, scholarships bill, moment of silence and more

State warns Hillsborough: Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran has issued a warning to the Hillsborough County School Board: fix your financial crisis, or the state will. “Make no mistake about it,” Corcoran wrote in a letter Thursday to the school board and Superintendent Addison Davis. “If your board neither possesses the will nor the ability to develop an appropriate plan that will improve your fund balance to meet requirements outlined in statute, I will be forced to utilize the totality of the powers delegated to me by the Legislature and state constitution to take emergency action.” That action could be putting the district, the seventh-largest in the nation, into financial receivership, with a forensic audit conducted and a financial emergency board appointed. Corcoran said he wants a recovery plan from the district within 20 days. The district’s budget deficit of $100 million-plus prompted the layoffs of about 1,000 teachers in the past week, which led to calls for Davis to be fired. Today, the board has an emergency meeting to discuss Davis’ leadership. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. WFTS. WTSP. WTVT.

Scholarship bill: Senate and House leaders announced Thursday that they had reached an agreement on a bill to merge five state K-12 scholarship programs into three and expand eligibility for students to attend private schools. The Senate agreed to adopt the House bill, which would add 61,000 students to scholarship programs and cost the state about $200 million a year. It would merge the McKay and Gardiner scholarships for special-needs students with the Family Empowerment Scholarship for students of families with lower incomes, and boost the maximum income eligibility to receive a scholarship to 375 percent of the federal poverty level, or $99,375 a year for a family of four. The bill calls for priority to be given to families whose income does not exceed 185 percent of that benchmark, or $49,025 for that family of four. redefinED. Miami Herald.

Also in the Legislature: A moment of silence lasting up to two minutes will start every public school day if Gov. Ron DeSantis signs a bill that was approved Thursday by the Senate in a 32-6 vote. Last month, the House passed H.B. 529 by a vote of 94-24. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Florida Politics. Florida Phoenix. Senators have approved a proposal that would prohibit schools from infringing on parents’ rights to make decisions about the education and health-care for their children. Critics of the so-called “Parents’ Bill of Rights” say the provision that schools must notify parents about requested mental health services could reveal whether a child is gay or transgender before the child wants that disclosed. The House approved the bill earlier this month. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics. Capitol News Service. TCPalm. This year’s school safety bill was approved unanimously by the House on Thursday. It bolsters mental health services for students, requires schools to have plans to reconnect students with the parents after a school emergency and notify parents when certain crimes are committed at a school, and orders mental health crisis training for school safety officers. Associated Press. Florida Politics. A bill that would have required the Department of Transportation to set criteria to determine when walking conditions to schools are hazardous, then provide funds so districts could bus affected students, is stuck in the Senate and appears to be dead for this legislative session. Pensacola News Journal.

State delaying aid? U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor said the state has yet to release any of the $7 billion in federal aid earmarked for school districts. The aid is part of the American Rescue Plan Act, which was signed into law by President Joe Biden in March and calls for the money to be disbursed within 60 days. In an online town hall meeting this week Castor, a Democrat who represents the 11th District based in Tampa, said the state has “been slow walking the funds down to local school districts. They’ve (been) slow walking it to an extent that I had to write a letter to the governor to say release our funds. We need them in Hillsborough County.” Hillsborough is expected to receive about $500 million, which could help the district deal with its financial crisis. WUSF.

Around the state: Broward school board members meet Tuesday to discuss the indictments of Superintendent Robert Runcie and general counsel Barbara Myrick, Duval County schools collect nearly $7 million from the first month of collections from the half-cent higher sales tax approved by voters last year, the Volusia school board’s appeal of the state’s approval for a charter school has been denied by the Florida Supreme Court, and a court has also rejected a lawsuit brought by Brevard County teachers against the Health First hospital system that alleged overcharging. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: School board members will meet Tuesday to talk about their next steps after the district’s superintendent and general counsel were indicted this week. Superintendent Robert Runcie and general counsel Barbara Myrick could be fired at the meeting, but doing so would likely cost more than $220,000 for severance pay. Contracts for both specify that they can be fired without severance only if they’re convicted of a crime, or for immorality, misconduct in office, incompetency, gross insubordination or willful neglect of duty. Runcie was arrested Wednesday on a charge of perjury filed by a state grand jury investigating whether the district followed school-safety laws and properly managed funds for security, and to look for corruption and mismanagement in district operations. Myrick was also arrested and is accused of illegally releasing information about the grand jury’s proceedings. Both will be arraigned May 12 in Broward Circuit Court. Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald. WPLG. WSVN. WTVJ. The perjury charge against Runcie is rare and hard to prosecute, said legal experts. Miami Herald. Here’s a timeline of the grand jury’s investigation. Sun Sentinel. Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer announced Thursday that the trial for the man accused of killing 17 students and employees at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018 could begin with jury selection in September. Nikolas Cruz, now 22, faces the death penalty if convicted. Sun Sentinel. WPLG.

Palm Beach: About 14,000 high school seniors will graduate in 32 ceremonies between June 3 and 19, school officials said Thursday. All but four of the graduations will be at the South Florida Fairgrounds, and each graduate will receive two tickets for guests. Palm Beach Post. WPEC. Eleven community youth centers in Palm Beach and the Treasure Coast are getting free Internet to help students with remote learning for school and for after-school educational activities. Most of the centers already have paid Internet service, but now Comcast Corp. is waiving the charges and will install service in the others. Palm Beach Post. New York billionaires Stephen and Christine Schwarzman said they are donating $1.6 million to the Foods for Kids program, which will buy 1.5 million meals to be distributed on weekends and over holidays to needy students and their families for two years. Sun Sentinel.

Duval: Nearly $7 million was generated in a month for the school district from the extra half-cent sales tax approved by voters last November. The first installment of $6,689,011 arrived at the end of March, said Superintendent Diana Greene. The district had projected that the tax would collect between $6.6 million and $8 million a month over its 15-year life. The money will be used to repair and replace schools. Florida Times-Union. The school district has started a blog to answer questions from parents about state testing. Most center on the state’s recent order, which gives districts the authority to waive consequences from test scores for students when it comes to determining promotion and graduation. WJXT. Ten high schools have now canceled their proms due to a lack of interest. WJAX. WJXT. Christ the King Catholic School in Jacksonville has been named a Green Ribbon school by the U.S. Department of Education for its focus on the environment and sustainability. WJXT.

Brevard: A group of teachers’ class-action lawsuit filed this week against the Health First hospital system has been dismissed by a federal judge, who also ruled that teachers can amend the complaint and refile it before May 5. The teachers allege that Health First uses monopolistic practices to increase the cost of services, forcing them to overpay for health care. Health First said the claim is “baseless.” Florida Today.

Volusia: Florida’s Supreme Court has denied the school board’s appeal over the approval of an application for a charter school. The board rejected the application of the Florida East Coast Charter School, which appealed to the state’s Charter School Appeal Commission. The commission agreed with the charter school, and the state Board of Education overturned the board’s denial. Volusia’s school board appealed that decision with the 5th District Court of Appeal and lost, then took it the Supreme Court. News Service of Florida.

Manatee: School officials said Thursday that the district will not continue to offer its online learning program in the fall, and they expect about 2,000 students using it now to return to classrooms. While eLearning Manatee is ending, students who want to continue taking classes remotely can switch to Manatee Virtual. Bradenton Herald.

Sarasota: Shannon Fusco, who has been North Port High School’s assistant principal of curriculum, has been promoted to the principal’s job. She begins at the end of this school year, replacing Brandon Johnson, who was appointed executive director of the district’s elementary schools. Charlotte Sun.

Marion: A man pleaded no contest to shooting a student at Ocala Forest High School in 2018 and has been sentenced to 30 years in prison. Sky Bouche, a former student at the school who was then 19 years old, fired through a locked door and wounded a student, then surrendered. WKMG. High school seniors can get up to 10 tickets for guests at their graduations, depending on the size of the venue, school officials announced. They said the allotments will keep each ceremony at 50 percent or lower capacity. WKMG.

Santa Rosa: Pace High School’s Navy JROTC program has won the Navy Nationals Academic, Athletic and Drill Competition, beating out about 600 U.S. schools. The program is an elective with about 160 students enrolled. Fifty of them participate in the extracurricular drill team. Pensacola News Journal.

Walton: The school board has agreed to purchase land in the south part of the county as a potential site someday for a school. “We want to make sure we have a future as an educational agency, as a board here in the Walton County School District, and we know that Walton County is (one of) the fastest-growing (counties) in the state, and it was certainly innovative and forward thinking by our board to go ahead and purchase land there,” said Superintendent Russell Hughes. WJHG.

Jefferson: The district is expected to receive about $1.8 million from the federal coronavirus stimulus package. Superintendent Eydie Tricquet said she will work with Jefferson Somerset, the charter school company that operates the district, on ways the money can be used to support student learning. Jefferson County Journal.

Rising ranks of charter teachers: The number of charter school instructional employees in Florida has increased by 31 percent in the past six years and now stands at 18,236, according to data from the Department of Education. Of that total, 16,871 are teachers. About 330,000 Florida students attend charter schools. redefinED.

Colleges and universities: Hiram Powell, who is the dean of performing arts and communications at Bethune Cookman University, has been hired as interim president. He begins June 1, after Brent Chrite leaves to become president of Bentley University in Massachusetts. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Saint Leo University announced this week that on-campus, in-person classes will resume this fall. School officials said they are working on their safety protocols for campus events and setting up opportunities for students and staff to be vaccinated. WTVT. Here are the graduation plans for colleges and universities in Sarasota and Manatee counties. Bradenton Herald.

Opinions on schools: Richard Corcoran is Florida’s education commissioner. He is not a physician, not the state’s surgeon general and not an authority on public health. So it was good to see the pushback this month after Corcoran called on local school districts to end their mask mandates in the fall, claiming that they “do not impact the spread” of the coronavirus. This is a decision for local communities, and it should be based on science and local conditions, not posturing from Tallahassee. Tampa Bay Times. The Legislature’s policymakers and budget writers should embrace a regular comprehensive source of performance outcomes for the state’s diverse array of early learning providers – private child care, public schools, and/or non-public schools. Wesley Barnett, The Capitolist. It would be a huge mistake for the Hillsborough County School Board to make Superintendent Addison Davis a scapegoat for a financial crisis he’s trying to resolve but didn’t create. Tampa Bay Times. What’s the best way to celebrate a big school choice birthday? Give more educational opportunities to more students. And some states are marking one milestone by doing just that. Nearly 10 years ago to the day, the Arizona Legislature passed the nation’s first education savings account program. Matt Beienburg, Sun Valley (AZ.) Daily Independent.

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