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New scholarship changes, Schools of Hope, school sales tax holiday, and more

New scholarship: The Senate Appropriations Committee approves an amended bill creating a new scholarship to private schools that would eliminate a 13,000-student waiting list for Florida Tax Credit Scholarships. Several amendments were added that change key details. The Family Empowerment Scholarship now would be open to families making up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level ($77,250 for a family of four), up from 260 percent, while continuing to prioritize students from lower-income families, and raises the student enrollment cap in the first year to 18,000 from 15,000. The changes move the Senate bill closer to the House’s more generous version. The scholarships would be funded through state taxes. redefinED. Florida Phoenix. Politico Florida.

Schools of Hope: The bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee also includes an expansion of the Schools of Hope program that has been pushed by the House but had been struggling in the Senate. The new Senate version redefines what a “persistently low-performing school” is, which would bump the number of areas eligible for Schools of Hope. It would also allow Hope schools to use taxpayer money for leases and start-up costs. Politico Florida. The national charter schools network KIPP is asking for $23 million over five years from the state’s Schools of Hope program to open five schools in the Liberty City area of Miami. Two new elementary schools, two middle schools and a high school would enroll about 2,800 students. WLRN. KIPP and another charter school company, IDEA, win federal grants totaling more than $200 million to help open charter schools in Florida and other states. Chalkbeat.

Back-to-school tax holiday: The Senate Appropriations Committee also passed a bill that suspends sales taxes for school supplies such as clothing, shoes, backpacks, laptops, notebooks, pencils and more. It would be held Aug. 2-4. Associated Press.

School security: Even as American schools have increased security measures in the past 20 years since the Columbine school shooting, and as two-third of parents fear their children are not safe in schools, data shows that student fights, bullying and other victimization have declined, according to the Indicators of School Crime and Safety report compiled by agencies within the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice. Education Week. Survivors of school shootings find that there is no time limit in recovering from the trauma. Associated Press.

Final exams canceled: St. Johns County school officials have canceled all district final exams because of numerous technical errors in the computer-based system. Superintendent Tim Forson says the cancellations won’t negatively affect students’ grades. WTLV. WJXT. St. Augustine Record.

Superintendent’s job: Gov. Ron DeSantis says if the Senate doesn’t make a decision on removing or reinstating suspended Okaloosa County school superintendent Mary Beth Jackson before its scheduled adjournment May 3, he’ll call for a special session. DeSantis suspended Jackson in January, citing two critical grand jury reports of her handling of child abuse allegations during the 2015-2016 school year. The Florida Supreme Court ruled this week that DeSantis had the authority to suspend Jackson, leaving the final decision with the Senate. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Contract negotiations: The Pasco County School District and its teachers union reached agreement on two final contract issues last weekend with the help of a mediator. Current rules will continue to be in place for teacher evaluations, and teachers who were transferred from low-performing schools because of projected value-added measure scores may return if their actual scores are effective and there’s an opening. And professional development is being limited to the first three planning days on the teacher work calendar, for no more than half a day each. Gradebook.

No school impact fee: For the ninth straight year, Marion County School Board members elect not to re-impose a school impact fee. Citing stagnant enrollment and birth rates, members decided to continue the moratorium on collecting fees, which was halted in 2011 during the recession and housing crisis. Ocala Star-Banner.

New student code: Proposed changes in the Charlotte County School District’s student code of conduct include the addition of sexual orientation, transgender status and gender identity to the categories of students protected by the statement of non-discrimination, and prohibiting JROTC and Drill Team members from taking their swords and guns on school buses. Charlotte Sun.

Education podcasts: Why isn’t the Hillsborough County School District seeing better reading results after spending millions of dollars on the lingering issue? A reporter who delved into the topic has some thoughts. Gradebook.

A/C staying on: Air-conditioning systems will not be turned off in Marion County schools this summer, school board members decide. They’re concerned shutting them off will lead to mold forming. Thermostats will be set at 85 degrees in unused buildings. Ocala Star-Banner.

Private school closes: A private school that had been under state and federal scrutiny has closed. The Barnabas Christian Academy had been evicted from its Port St. Lucie office in March. It tried to hang on as an international boarding school, but was being investigated by the Department of Homeland Security after a complaint from a foreign student who did not get a promised diploma. TCPalm.

Property sale: The Volusia County School Board is considering selling the old Pierson Elementary School and half of its property to the town for less than $100,000. The school would be restored and used as the town hall. The old school, which was built in 1926, was replaced by a new one that opened last August. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Food sharing: The Miami-Dade County School Board has approved a pilot food-sharing program at some district schools in the fall as a way to reduce food waste. In the model, students put unwanted food items on a table in the cafeteria, and other students may eat them. Anything left over at the end of the day is donated to nonprofit organizations. Miami Times.

School bus crash fatality: A 63-year-old Jacksonville woman was killed when she drove through a red light and slammed into the back of a Duval County school bus, then hit two other vehicles, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. None of the seven students on the bus, which was heading to Sabal Palm and Waterleaf elementary schools, was injured. Florida Times-Union. WJAX. WJXT.

Students arrested: An 18-year-old Florida Keys high school student is arrested after being discovered in a restroom at Coral Shores High School with an electronic cigarette that contained marijuana oil, according to Monroe County deputies. Keynoter. Two Highlands County middle school students are arrested after a teacher found their written plan to kidnap and kill several people, deputies say. The Avon Park Middle School students, both 14, face charges of criminal attempt to conspire a capital felony for premeditated homicide and criminal attempt to conspire a third-degree felony for kidnapping. WTSP.

Opinions on schools: It’s not clear if the bill that would force school districts to share money from voter-approved tax hikes with charter schools would invalidate referendums that have already been passed. But it would take money directly out of the pockets of the traditional public schools, which need it most — while making the playing field, already tilted heavily in favor of charters, even more uneven. TCPalm. School vouchers today are not expanding opportunities for all students; they exacerbate the racial and opportunity divide. Adora Obi Nweze, Sun Sentinel.

Student enrichment: A nonprofit started by Harsh Bagdy, a junior in the International Baccalaureate program at King High School in Tampa, collects used wheelchairs, walkers and canes or buys equipment at a discount to provide for people in need. Tampa Bay Times. Schools in Lee and Collier counties that participate in the Blue Zones Project are eliminating some plastic bottle use with hydration stations. Florida Weekly. A team of students from Wakulla High School will compete in the Odyssey of the Mind world finals competition in Michigan in May. Tallahassee Democrat. A team of students from Tavares Middle School will compete in the Vex IQ world robotics tournament in Kentucky in May. Daily Commercial.

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BY NextSteps staff