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Florida schools roundup: Voucher bill, Bright Futures, education funds and more

Voucher expansion: The House Education Committee approves a bill that would use the state’s general revenue to expand a state scholarship program for students to attend private schools. The Family Empowerment Scholarship would be open to about 28,000 students, twice as many as the Senate is proposing, and students from families of four with incomes up to $77,250 would be eligible. That threshold is about $10,000 higher than the Senate’s, and it would increase each year. By 2023, any family with an income of up to $96,572 would be eligible. Both chambers’ bills are aimed at reducing the 14,000-student waiting list for Florida Tax Credit Scholarships (FTC). Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the FTC program. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Orlando Sentinel. GateHouseFlorida Phoenix. redefinED. Gradebook. Politico Florida. WFSU.

Bright Futures: If history is a guide, the Senate’s proposed bill to raise test scores needed to qualify for Bright Futures scholarships is likely to disproportionately affect minority students. In 2010, Florida began bumping up the standards to qualify for Bright Futures. Between 2013-2014, when the new standards were fully in effect, and 2017-2018, the number of black students qualifying dropped by 53 percent, from 10,587 to 5,582. In that same time period, the number of white and Hispanic students qualifying fell 39 percent. Florida Phoenix.

Bill could cut education funds: A bill that would prohibit the use of personal electronic devices to play, store, redeem, sell, or purchase Florida Lottery tickets or games could cut the amount of money going to education by about $62 million, according to the state’s Revenue Estimating Conference. Portions of every lottery ticket sold are sent to the educational enhancement trust fund. Florida Daily.

School security: Monroe County Superintendent Mark Porter says he’s still opposed to arming teachers, but school board members say changes in the school guardian program have piqued their interest in hiring armed guards to supplement resource officers to guard schools. Key West Citizen. A second class of 11 armed guardians has finished training by the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office and join the 27 already assigned to guard schools. Seven of the 11 will go into traditional public schools, and four have been assigned to charter schools. Florida Today. The Charlotte County School Board approves spending $2.8 million for security fencing, gates and other safety equipment for six schools. Charlotte Sun.

Administrator departs: The Broward County School District’s administrator who supervised the controversial alternative discipline program called Promise is retiring. Michaelle “Mickey” Pope, chief of student support initiatives, said, “It feels like the right time for me to move on and pass the baton to some very capable people who can take the work to the next level.” Promise has become a symbol of a lenient discipline process that gives youthful offenders multiple chances to stay out of the criminal justice system. One of those students was the accused school shooter. Sun Sentinel.

Error may cost district: An error in filling out forms for Best and Brightest teacher bonuses could cost the Lee County School District $200,000. Someone forgot to check a box on the form for 224 teachers who were eligible to receive $1,200 bonuses. School officials say they’ll go ahead and pay the teachers and hope to be reimbursed by the Florida Department of Education. Fort Myers News-Press.

Teacher bonuses: Pasco County teachers who don’t have assigned classrooms will not be getting bonuses this year. Those teachers are not eligible for Best and Brightest bonuses from the state, but the district awarded them either $800 or $1,200, depending on their evaluations. “We just don’t have the available local funds to make them whole like we were able to do last year,” assistant superintendent Kevin Shibley explained in an email. Gradebook.

Contract negotiations: The Bay County School District and its teachers union reach a contract agreement that includes no raises but will pay teachers extra for giving up planning periods to teach classes. The district has had a shortage of substitutes since Hurricane Michael hit, and has asked teachers to help cover some classes. Panama City News Herald. A special magistrate will hear from Nassau County teachers and school officials about their contract dispute. Teachers, who have been working for a year without a contract, say they’ve been told there won’t be raises this year. WJAX.

Appointed superintendent: An Okaloosa County resident is calling on the school board to push for a change from elected superintendents to appointed ones. Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson was suspended by Gov. Ron DeSantis in January after two grand juries accused her of dereliction of duty, and a child abuse scandal. Supervisor of Elections Paul Lux says any change would have to be initiated by school board members. “If they want to change that, they have to put a referendum in front of the voters to make that change.” Northwest Florida Daily News.

Building repairs: Air-conditioning system work has already begun at 18 Hillsborough County schools with money from an extra half-cent in the sales tax that voters approved in November. The committee that is overseeing how the money is spent will get an update today on the projects and how much money is available. The tax is expected to bring in $1.5 billion over 10 years. Gradebook.

Principal apologizes: The principal who ordered a Charlotte County teacher to remove a Black History Month poster featuring controversial NFL player Colin Kaepernick has apologized to the teacher and students at Port Charlotte High School. Lou Long says he “missed the opportunity to be inclusive in the decision making process when I neglected to listen to the vantage points of (the teacher), her students, and my staff.” Charlotte Sun.

Climate change protests: Students from around the United States and the world plan to skip school today to protest the lack of action by government officials in addressing climate change. WLRN.

Education podcasts: State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, talks about the Democratic approach to fighting against the proposed expansion of school choice, a proposed requirement that schools offer a Bible course, security in schools and more. Gradebook.

School start times: The Indian River County School Board will consider another discussion about changing school start times. Two years ago, a district committee proposed that high school start times move from 7:10 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.; middle schools from 7:50 a.m. to 9:05 a.m.; and elementary schools from 8:45 a.m. to 7:50 a.m. The proposal was scrapped after parents complained. TCPalm.

Personnel moves: Steve Wright is named principal at the Tallahassee Classical School, which opens next fall. Tallahassee Democrat.

College bribery scandal: Mark Riddell, the IMG Academy college entrance exam director who’s accused of taking part in a national college admission bribery scandal, could face up to 40 years in prison and fines totaling $750,000. Riddell, 36, is charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. He’s alleged to have either taken ACT and SAT for students or corrected their tests in exchange for money. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Student arrested: A 16-year-old Cocoa High School student is arrested after allegedly assaulted a school custodian with a golf cart battery and trying to pull a woman from her car in the pickup line. Florida Today.

Accused student pleads out: A 17-year-old student accused of making a Snapchat threat against a Citrus County school pleads no contest to the charge. He was put on probation and ordered to do 100 hours of community service after agreeing to surrender his right to own guns and ammunition, and to get a high school diploma. Citrus County Chronicle.

Opinions on schools: Education officials across the state say a proposal to expand the homestead exemption for some senior citizens, if passed, will cost Florida public schools millions at a time when these schools can ill afford to take yet another fiscal hit. TCPalm. What’s the end game with the school voucher movement? Some fear it is to do away with public schools through total privatization for profit and control. We can’t let that happen. Paula Dockery, Orlando Sentinel. Given the amount of state money involved, given the number of kids essentially thrown to the wolves when their parents make unwise “choices” — and given that Florida is about to shift all this into overdrive — enhanced state oversight must march hand-in-hand with school choice. TCPalm. Even as the growth of charter schools has slowed nationally, the anti-charter propaganda campaign has emerged to spread misinformation about them. Emily Langhorne, Forbes. The Volusia County School Board should tweak the high school dress code by denying inappropriate styles and logos, but allowing students to express themselves more and lightening the load on teachers and administrators trying to enforce the code. Daytona Beach News-Journal. It’s time for the Florida Legislature to pass H.B. 7061 and give teachers and educational leaders a way to work around the general knowledge teacher certification test. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. Teaching the Bible in public schools could backfire on Christians. Lauren Ritchie, Orlando Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff