Tax initiative considered, grand jury rips Duval school police, Pasco data use changes urged and more
Teacher raises: The Florida Senate Education Committee has released its $22.6 billion budget plan that calls for an increase in spending of $762 million, with $500 million of it going toward teacher salary increases. That’s about $100 million less than Gov. Ron DeSantis requested to raise starting teacher salaries, and the Senate also would distribute the money differently than DeSantis wanted. DeSantis called for $600 million to boost starting teacher pay to $47,500 a year, while the Senate would distribute the money proportionally to districts, which would have to spend 80 percent of their share to move toward that starting teacher pay goal but could use the rest to boost pay for veteran teachers. The Senate’s budget also includes no money for any educator bonuses program; DeSantis had requested $300 million. Other items in the Senate budget include a spending increase of $181 per student, and increases of $42 million for Gardiner scholarships for special needs students, $42 million for school security and $25 million for mental health services. News Service of Florida. Gradebook. Politico Florida. redefinED. Florida Politics. Florida Phoenix.
Weapons at schools: Two bills are approved by a House subcommittee that would allow people to carry guns in churches that have schools and permit school board members with concealed carry permits to be armed at school board meetings. Both H.B. 1437 and H.B. 183 received bipartisan support in the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. “Every day that this (H.B. 1437) is not the law in Florida is an insult to people of faith who attend church,” said Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills. Okaloosa County Commissioner Graham Fountain spoke on behalf of H.B. 183. “Every day we get threats,” he said. “We have people stalking our staff, our commissioners . … This protects us.” News Service of Florida. Associated Press. WFSU.
Restricting restraints: A House subcommittee has approved a bill that could put restrictions on the use of restraints on students. H.B. 1231 would define the terms “restraint” and “seclusion” and establish when their use is permitted. School districts would have to create policies emphasizing positive behavior interventions and train employees in their use. Rep. Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale, the bill sponsor, said restraints have been used 80,000 times on students in recent years, and seclusion more than 20,000 times. “This is a traumatic experience for both the students and the parents,” he said. Gradebook.
Educator honored: Jesus Armas of Royal Palm Beach High School has been named the Palm Beach County School District’s principal of the year. The other finalists were Pamela Buckman of Pioneer Park Elementary, Michelle Fleming of Lake Park Elementary and Reggie Myers of Park Vista Community High. Palm Beach Post. WPEC.
Union challenge: Florida public employee union officials, including those in education, say that a House bill increasing the regulations for membership is all about “union-busting.” H.B. 1, which was filed by state Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, would require union members to sign a form every year if they want to remain a member. Right now, employees authorize the deduction for union dues just once, and may leave the union after giving 30-day notice. Florida Phoenix. WTSP.
Teacher complaints: Brevard County teachers say the addition of mental health instruction on such topics as substance abuse and child trafficking leaves them feeling undertrained and overwhelmed. “Every time we take away time teachers have to teach the standards that are required, that can be very stressful,” said union vice president Vanessa Skipper. “I think teachers support the idea of mental and emotional health education. But they recognize there are only so many hours in a day.” Florida Today. Hundreds of Polk County teachers tell the school board that they are overworked and underpaid, and implored board members to push the state to improve funding. WTVT.
Free SAT tests: All Volusia County high school juniors will take the SAT during the school day April 14, with the district picking up the $150,000 bill. The initiative is Superintendent Scott Fritz’s idea, and it includes paying for seniors to take the test next fall and 9th- and 10th-graders to take the pre-SAT. “I can’t think of anything better to invest in for our students,” said school board member Linda Cuthbert. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Retakes of the 2019 reading, writing and algebra Florida Statewide Assessment tests for Citrus County students are scheduled from Feb. 24 to March 13, district officials have announced. Citrus County Chronicle.
Holocaust education funding: The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a bill that allocates $10 million over five years for educating students about the Holocaust. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum will create and share curriculum materials on a centralized website. Jewish Journal.
Career planning: The Marion County School District’s new career planning guide program emphasizes the three E’s: enrollment, employment or enlistment. It’s been designed to guide students into thinking about their life beyond high school. About 85 percent of the district’s 2,809 seniors have identified their E, with 72 percent picking enrollment, 20 percent employment and 8 percent enlistment. Ocala Star-Banner.
Students chat with superintendent: Bay County school Superintendent Bill Husfelt has begun a series of community conversations with students at each of the district’s high schools in which they can voice concerns and ask questions. Bay High School went first on Tuesday, and students wanted to know how students and parents can get more involved in district decision-making and the status of facilities improvements such as the addition of a STEM building on campus. Panama City News Herald.
Smart watch problems: Smart watches worn by students are becoming a problem in Santa Rosa County classrooms, said Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick. “Smartwatches have really become an issue in the county where we’ve really had to say, ‘Parents, take a look at this,'” he said. “We need your help.” WEAR.
Compensation for college athletes: The House Workforce Development & Tourism Subcommittee has approved a bill that would allow Florida college athletes to receive compensation for use of their “name, image, likeness or persona.” H.B. 251 would also require schools to provide insurance, life-skills workshops, and continue scholarships to athletes for up to one academic year after their athletic eligibility has ended. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics.
Day-care worker fired: A day-care teacher at a Sanibel Island preschool has been fired for writing a message in marker on the abdomen of a 1-year-old boy. The message to the mother read, in part, “Mom, I’m out of diapers.” The mother said she may remove the child from the Children’s Education Center of the Islands, and the Florida Department of Children and Families and Early Learning Coalition of Southwest Florida are investigating. Fort Myers News-Press. WINK. WFTX.
Arrests at schools: An English teacher and a student at Fivay High School in Pasco County were arrested separately at the school Tuesday. Deputies say the teacher, who was not named, had a gun in her purse inside a filing cabinet. She told deputies she forgot she had it. The student falsely reported a threat against the school, deputies said. Gradebook. WFLA. WTSP.
Iguanas cause lockdown: Two Charlotte County schools were locked down for more than an hour Tuesday after someone reported seeing a man with a rifle near the adjacent campuses of Ainger Middle and Vineland Elementary in Rotonda West. When deputies found the man, they discovered he was a local animal trapper with a pellet gun who had been hired to remove iguanas from the area. He was given a trespass warning and released. Charlotte Sun. WFTS. WFTX.
Opinions on schools: We keep short-changing public education in this state financially and keep whining that the kids aren’t smart enough. Funny how that works. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. Don’t expect Espinoza, the U.S. Supreme Court case about tax credit scholarships in Montana, to be a major game changer. State legislatures still must create voucher programs and families must still choose schools for their children. All we can hope for is that the court will provide some clarity in how Blaine Amendments can or cannot be applied. Patrick R. Gibbons, redefinED. By forcing students to research discussion topics, develop and sharpen their own arguments, study the opposing angle and articulate their points publicly, Gov DeSantis’ civics and debate initiative should improve their critical thinking, help them become more socially interactive, learn more about our shared political culture and, hopefully, develop tougher hides as preparation for the bump and grind of the real world. Lakeland Ledger.
Student enrichment: A Palm Beach County teacher has received a $10,000 grant from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which she and 22 of her students are using to develop a test that can monitor a patient predisposed to sepsis and prompt intervention. Mary Fish teaches science in the Biotechnology Academy at Spanish River High School. Palm Beach Post. More than 800 students from traditional public high schools in Pinellas County marched across a bridge in Clearwater in a Unity Walk to honor those in the past who have fought for equality and human rights and to inspire others in future struggles. Gradebook.
Security in schools: The Polk County School District and Sheriff Grady Judd are working on a plan to have an armed “safety specialist” in all county elementary schools this fall. The district is finalizing a job description, but the specialists will fall between a sworn school resource officer and an armed school employee. As many as 90 will be hired, and the school district will pay for them. Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd says the pay will be “significantly less” than what resource officers and teachers make. Judd says the specialists’ job is to be a “visual deterrent to an active shooter, and be trained to suppress the active shooter threat” if necessary. Lakeland Ledger. WKMG. WFLA. Manatee and Sarasota school districts are struggling to find funding to comply with the state law to have an officer in every school by fall. Law enforcement authorities in both counties contend that since the school districts are getting some money from the state, they should be responsible for the full costs of school security. WWSB.
Budget ‘crisis’: Volusia County School Board members say the district is in “crisis mode” after the preliminary budget shows a deficit of $4.2 million. School officials blame a small increase in funding from the state, an underfunded state mandate on school security and proposed 1 percent teacher raises for the deficit. “I’m a little alarmed by it and very cautious about what we must do,” says board chairwoman Linda Cuthbert, who noted that decisions need to be made soon. “It’s certainly going to be a difficult budget cycle,” says Deb Muller, chief financial officer for the district. Daytona Beach News-Journal.
Testing cautions: National Assessment of Educational Progress testing results have positive news about Florida, and particularly several three large school districts. But they also show there’s work to be done, especially in 8th-grade math and in closing the achievement gap between racial and ethnic groups. redefinED. Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says her top goal is to close the academic achievement gap between students of different racial and economic backgrounds. She says part of the problem is chronic teacher absenteeism. “I can tell you … with our most vulnerable students that we have our teachers that are less motivated and less capable. We’ve got to make that shift and we’ve got to help them become better or help them find another profession,” Stewart said in a speaking appearance in Sarasota. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
Tax hike votes: Voters in Sarasota and Manatee counties approve an additional 1 mill on property taxes for schools, by a wide margin in Sarasota and a narrow one in Manatee. In Sarasota, the extra $55 million in each of the next four years will help pay for 30 extra minutes of classtime a day, higher teacher salaries and more art teachers and behavioral specialists. In Manatee, the extra $33 million a year for the next four years will be used to lengthen the school day by 30 minutes, pay teachers and other employees more, expand STEM and career programs and support charter schools. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Martin County School Board members are considering asking voters to approve a hike in property taxes to pay for teacher bonuses and construction projects. If approved, the measure could raise about $11.2 million a year for four years. TCPalm.
School security, finances: Putting a resource officer in every Pinellas County school by July 1 will cost $23.6 million, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri tells the county commission. The state’s contribution is $6.1 million, and the sheriff’s office and municipal police departments’ contribution is $1.6 million, leaving the school district to find $12.4 million to put 201 school resource officers in the 139 district schools and 18 charter schools. And, Gualtieri notes, there would be an additional $11.2 million needed for upfront costs such as cars, weapons, uniforms and computers. Neighboring Hillsborough County school officials say the district will get an additional $41 million from the state, but still is projecting a $16 million deficit because of new state requirements on school security, an expected 3,000 extra students and other expenses. Tampa Bay Times. Hillsborough County School Board member April Griffin talks about the district’s finances, and the new education and school safety bills. WMNF. The head of one of Florida’s largest charter school networks is asking the 13 districts where it has schools to provide resource officers on every campus by April 1. Gradebook. The Gulf Breeze City Council votes to fund the placement of part-time officers in all the city’s elementary schools through the end of the school year. WEAR.
Governor’s education budget: Gov. Rick Scott’s $87.4 billion budget proposal includes a request to increase per student spending by $200, to $7,497, boost the state’s voluntary pre-kindergarten program by $12 million, add $23 million for Bright Futures scholarships, and give $18 million to help teachers buy classroom supplies. Scott would pay for the increases by keeping property tax rates the same and allowing increasing property values to drive up revenue. The proposal now goes to the Legislature for consideration. News Service of Florida. Gradebook. Associated Press. Florida Politics. Orlando Sentinel. Politico Florida. Florida Times-Union.
H.B. 7069 challenge: Nine Florida schools boards contend that the new education law, H.B. 7069, violates the law by dealing with more than one subject, and are asking the state Supreme Court to void it. Two other lawsuits have been filed against the law by school districts, but this one focuses solely on the single-subject issue and is asking for immediate action. “Waiting for a trial-court determination and its subsequent appellate review will allow irreversible damage to the function of the public education system to occur throughout the state of Florida,” the lawsuit states. The nine school boards are from Alachua, Bay, Broward, Hamilton, Lee, Polk, St. Lucie, Volusia and Wakulla counties. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. The Collier County School Board votes to join at least 13 other districts in suing the state over the education bill because it requires public school districts to share property tax revenues with charter schools. Naples Daily News.
ESSA plans: Florida’s accountability plan for complying with the Every Student Succeeds Act is weak in the category of encouraging schools to focus on all students, not just low performers, according to an evaluation by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank. Florida was one of 13 states considered weak in this area. The state was given an evaluation of strong in the other two areas weighed: in the clarity of the ratings to parents, educators and the public, and in the fairness of the rating system for all schools, including ones with high levels of poverty. The 74.