Universities opening in fall, religious exemptions for vaccinations hit peak, abuse concerns and more
Book-banning move: The Florida Citizens Alliance says it has identified about 100 textbooks and library books in state schools that are “pornographic,” preach religious “indoctrination,” push “unbalanced propaganda” relating to climate change and violate Florida laws. It wants them removed, and many fear that the group, which has influence with the governor and Legislature, could accomplish that through a pair of proposed bills that would restrict decisions on textbooks by local school officials. Critics of H.B. 855 and S.B. 1454 are organizing to fight back. Gradebook.
Spending on guardians: A review of state records indicates that sheriffs are receiving little oversight in how they spend the millions of dollars they’re getting through the state’s Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program to protect schools. In Brevard County, for instance, Sheriff Wayne Ivey has bought a $125,000 simulator to recreate active-shooter situations. Money has gone for training, salaries, weapons, ammunition, and for uniforms, background checks, insurance, warning signs, staples and more. Some counties with few students received more than much larger counties. Department of Education spokeswoman Cheryl Etters says, “Other than ensuring that each district’s budget appropriation meets the statutory requirements, the department is not involved in oversight.” Florida Today.
Educator bonuses: Gov. Ron DeSantis is proposing to almost double the amount of money the state spends on the Best and Brightest program to reward teachers and principals. The nearly $423 million would provide bonuses of at least $9,000 to about 45,000 teachers who are rated as “highly effective,” though 120,000 teachers who got bonuses last year wouldn’t under this plan, and up to $6,500 for principals who create “classroom environments to help students thrive.” And college entrance exam scores will no longer be considered when determining eligibility. DeSantis also wants to spent $10 million a year to pay the college tuition and forgive loans for prospective teachers who make a commitment to teach in Florida for five years, and create a “bad actors” list of failed charter schools so they can’t reopen somewhere in Florida. Reaction to the proposal is mixed. Associated Press. News Service of Florida. Orlando Sentinel. Tampa Bay Times. WBBH. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. WFOR. Lakeland Ledger. St. Augustine Record. WUSF. WCTV.
Common Core: Gov. DeSantis is calling for an end to the state’s use of Common Core standards, but they will remain in place at least through Jan. 1, 2020, Florida Department of Education officials announced. That’s when the department is expected to propose a new set of standards, which will then be presented to the Legislature for consideration. DOE officials say school districts should continue to follow state law and board rules regarding Common Core until further notice. WPTV. WTXL. WTSP.
K-12 funding concerns: Chief state economist Amy Baker tells House Appropriations Committee members that the three-year financial outlook for the state won’t cover expected budget growth in education and other critical areas. She suggests that the Legislature’s decisions on state spending and setting local property tax rates for K-12 education are the key for balancing spending, and is urging lawmakers to be cautious about spending projected surpluses. Gradebook.
School security law: Members of the Senate Education Committee say they expect to tweak the school safety act passed last spring, both to clarify the law and make it more manageable. Several speakers say they oppose any changes that would allow willing teachers to carry guns into schools, as recommended by the state panel that investigated the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last Feb. 14. Politico Florida. Gradebook. The director of the state’s Office of Safe Schools, Damien Kelly, urges more fencing and single points of entry and better security systems for schools during testimony before the committee. Florida Politics.
Test investigation requested: Two members of Florida school districts and the Florida Coalition of School Board Members are calling for an investigation of significant decreases in the number of students from Duval, Manatee and Polk counties who took the state’s civics end-of-course exams. Polk had 3,736 fewer 7th-grade students take the exam this year, Duval 2,910 and Manatee almost 1,000, and all three districts had significantly higher pass rates. Sarasota board member Bridget Ziegler, Duval board member Scott Shine want the state to hold up the release of school grades until the issue is investigated. Manatee County Superintendent Diana Greene says her district simply allowed 7th-graders who struggle with reading to delay taking the test until 8th grade, as the state permits districts to do. “Don’t try to act like we did something wrong,” says Greene. Duval school officials also deny any impropriety. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Florida Times-Union. Florida Politics. WJCT.
Weighting for grades: By state law, end-of-course exams must constitute 30 percent of a student’s final course grade. But different districts apply the law in different ways, and now Levy County Superintendent Jeff Edison is pressing state officials to specifically define what constitutes 30 percent of a student’s final course grade. “What we would like to be able to do is get the [lawmakers] to allow the Department of Education to have the rule-making authority to create a consistent definition of what 30 percent is,” says Edison. “Give us a uniform way of applying it. It doesn’t matter to us [what it is]. We just want it the same.” Gradebook.
School tax hikes: Palm Beach County school leaders are considering giving charter schools a portion of the $150 million a year that would be generated if voters approve a property tax hike in November. Language that specifically excluded charter schools has been removed from the proposal, which the school board will consider today. The decision to cut charters in was made after legal action was threatened if they were excluded. Palm Beach Post. The Hillsborough County School Board agrees to ask voters to increase the sales tax to raise money for capital expenses. The request now goes to the state, which has to perform a financial audit. Superintendent Jeff Eakins also said he was looking into asking voters for a property tax hike, which could be used for teacher salaries and programs. Tampa Bay Times. Lake County commissioners approve a special school safety tax, which will be on the Aug. 28 ballot. Money generated would help pay for resource officers in all schools. Orlando Sentinel.
Science textbooks approved: The Collier County School Board approves the use of new science textbooks that were challenged by evolution and climate change skeptics. The vote was 3-2, with Erika Donalds and Kelly Lichter voting against using the recommended textbooks. Four people had lodged complaints against 220 items in 18 textbooks, alleging that they treat evolution and climate change as fact rather than theory. The new books will cost the district $1.7 million and will be handed out to students in August. Naples Daily News.