Florida schools roundup: Senate education plan, school shooting trial and more

Senate education plan: Florida Senate Republicans release their own plan to change the state’s education policies. Senators want to start a Family Empowerment Scholarship to reduce the 14,000-student list of low-income students waiting for a Florida Tax Credit Scholarship. Their proposal is similar to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposed Equal Opportunity Scholarship, but would be available only to students already in public schools. Senators also want to allow principals to reward high-impact teachers who don’t qualify for a bonus under the state’s bonuses plan, give teachers more time to pass the teacher certification exam, and expand a program that offers grants to schools in low-income communities so they can offer health care, social services and other aid to students. The proposals will be in a single bill that will be introduced the first week of the legislative session, which starts March 5. News Service of FloridaGradebook. Florida Phoenix. redefinED. Politico Florida. Tallahassee Democrat. WFSU.

School shooting trial: South Florida Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer says she wants to start the trial of the accused Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter in January. Nikolas Cruz, 20, is charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the mass shooting just over a year ago. If convicted, he faces the death penalty. Sun Sentinel. Associated Press. Miami Herald. WLRN.

Progress defended: After several Hillsborough County School Board members publicly questioned learning gains and leadership at the 50 low-performing “Achievement” schools, Superintendent Jeff Eakins felt compelled to respond. In a letter to board members, Eakins wrote that he has changed 41 of the 50 principals at the Achievement schools since the 2015-2016 school year, his first, and attached a chart detailing how much progress most of the 50 schools have made since then. Gradebook.

Education podcasts: When Gov. DeSantis proposed a new scholarship for students to attend private schools, he said, “If the taxpayer is paying, it’s public education.” But Rutgers University professor Bruce Baker, an expert in education finance, says it isn’t quite that simple. Gradebook.

Textbook purchases: Pasco County school officials say changes to the Common Core standards are perhaps years away, so they’ve decided to go ahead and buy new fine arts and world history textbooks. But instead of buying math books for K-8 students, the district will continue using a web-based program called Eureka Math. Gradebook.

Personnel moves: Donald Hoffman is named principal at Palm Beach Gardens High School. Hoffman, who has been the principal of nearby H.L. Watkins Middle School since 2012, replaces Larry Clawson, who took a job in school district administration. Palm Beach Post.

Spelling bee winners: Dhyana Mishra, a 14-year-old 8th-grader at Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy in Melbourne, wins the Brevard County Spelling Bee  for the third time. She moves on to the regional in Orlando on March 20. Florida Today. Raaghuv Nandur, a 14-year-old 8th-grader at Howard Middle School, wins the Marion County Spelling Bee to also advance to the regional competition in Orlando. Ocala Star-Banner.

Substitute shortage: The Bay County School District is offering incentives to build up its roster of substitute teachers that has dwindled since Hurricane Michael. The district likes to have a pool of 500 subs, but has fewer than 300 now. Panama City News Herald.

Eviction proceedings: The Palm Beach County School Board says it will sue a former district police officer to remove him and his family from a trailer he bought on the Dwight D. Eisenhower Elementary School campus in Palm Beach Gardens. The district intends to use the property the trailer is on to build a playground. The officer, Alex Lopez, has lived in the trailer since 2005, when he was one of the officers who patrolled the school during the day and watched over it at night. Lopez says he can’t afford to move. Palm Beach Post.

Opinions on schools: Educational leaders in Florida should not be afraid to expand choice to all children. The research is on their side. Thousands of families need their help. It will be a tough fight, but it’s a fight worth having. Robert Enlow and Mike McShane, Orlando Sentinel. A new Florida Supreme Court gives us a fresh opportunity to honestly and empirically explore how school choice fits within the state’s paramount duty to fund a system of free public schools. Patrick R. Gibbons, redefinED. More than 100 Florida mayors ask Gov. DeSantis to prioritize early childhood development as a wise investment in Florida’s future. Buddy Dyer, Francis Suarez, Bill Barnett and Lauren Poe, Orlando Sentinel. So, the majority of the Sarasota County School Board provided the superintendent with a contract that wasn’t negotiated, raises and benefits for which teachers don’t qualify, and political cover during upcoming negotiations with staff over what board chair Jane Goodwin says is a “bloated” union contract. That’s a strategy for stability? Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Requiring the votes of four of five Sarasota County School Board members to fire the superintendent is worrisome, because the action is an overt political way to protect the superintendent from viewpoints differing from the narrow majority, even if they’re held by a future board majority, duly elected. Charlotte Sun. Gov. DeSantis is on the right track to reform the incentive package recognizing top-notch teachers. But more needs to be done to give teachers a permanent pay increase. Gainesville Sun.

Student enrichment: Students in the Rutherford High School Construction Academy are building “buddy benches” for all Bay County elementary schools. Panama City News Herald.

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BY NextSteps staff