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Bill creating new scholarship is signed, Gardiner funding, school taxes and more

Education bill signed: Gov. Ron DeSantis signs the Legislature’s education bill, S.B. 7070, into law. Most of the attention surrounding the bill has been directed at a provision creating a new scholarship, using public money, that will allow students to attend private schools. The Family Empowerment Scholarship is expected to draw a court challenge. A similarly funded scholarship was struck down by the Florida Supreme Court in 2006, with the justices ruling that giving tax dollars to students to attend private or parochial schools was a violation of the state constitution. Supporters of the bill anticipate a different outcome this time around, since three justices who ruled against vouchers then have since retired and been replaced by DeSantis appointees. Associated Press. GateHouse. redefinED. Politico Florida. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Politics. Florida Phoenix.

Gardiner Scholarship funding: The new state budget is adding $23 million to funding for Gardiner Scholarships, which go to students with severe special needs. The increase boosts total funding to $147.9 million and will eliminate the waiting list of nearly 2,000 students to bring the total in the program to more than 14,000. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the program. redefinED.

Tax hike for schools extended: Voters in Walton County have overwhelmingly approved the continuation of an extra half-mill in property taxes to help pay operating expenses for schools. More than 76 percent voted for the extension of the tax, which was first approved in 2003. It will be in effect four years. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Proposed sales tax hike: Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry says he opposes holding a special election on an extra half-cent in the sales tax for Duval County schools this November. The election would cost about a million dollars, and Curry said, “I do not support a special election for one referendum. I think it’s too costly.” He declined to comment on whether he supports the added tax, which would raise more than $1 billion over 15 years to help pay for the replacement, repair and renovation of the district’s aging schools. The city council will decide if and when the measure goes before voters. Florida Times-Union. Florida Politics. WJXT.

Consolidation reconsidered: A proposal that would have merged Duval County’s Raines High School and Northwestern Middle into a single junior-senior high school has been withdrawn. Superintendent Diana Greene said the state is requiring the district to put together a plan to improve the persistently low-performing Northwestern Middle, forcing her to kill the consolidation. She said the other proposed merger, of Ribault middle and high schools into a single school, is still under consideration. Florida Times-Union. WJXT.

K-12 spending: Funding for K-12 schools in the United States grew by 3.2 percent between the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years, at $13,639 per district, while spending increased by 2.4 percent to $10,8810 per student, according to a report released this week by the National Center for Education Statistics. Florida collected $10,128 per student and spent $8,871 per pupil. Education Week.

Arming teachers: Bay County school Superintendent Bill Husfelt says he supports arming teachers under the state’s expanded school guardian program. “We never know when someone’s going to try to hurt our children,” Husfelt said. “How many people do we need in a school to protect our children? How many can we afford?” Panama City News Herald. Several more Florida school districts say they won’t arm teachers in their schools, despite having the option to do so under the new law, while others have yet to address the issue. Spectrum News 13. WFTV. WCTV.

Principal loses license: A charter school principal in Manatee County has his educator’s license revoked for five years by the state for giving a job recommendation to a teacher who was under investigation for having inappropriate contact with students. Eddie Hundley, the principal at Lincoln Memorial Academy, also faces the loss of his job, according to the Florida Department of Education. The revocation decision isn’t final until the order is issued, probably within a month. Hundley then will have 30 days to appeal. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WWSB.

Potential new headquarters: Marion County school officials are considering buying the Ocala Star-Banner building from GateHouse Media and renovating it to become to the district’s new headquarters. Negotiations are in the early stages, and no financial figures have been disclosed. One potential snag: Newspaper officials want to lease back the printing operation at the site for three to nine years, while the district is looking at that space as a warehouse. If the space is not available, the district would have to build a 25,000-square-foot warehouse at a cost of about $3 million. Ocala Star-Banner.

Education podcasts: Education issues again got the bulk of the attention during the just-finished legislative session, with impassioned debates on such topics as publicly funded vouchers and arming teachers at schools. Here’s a review of the session, with a look ahead to what might be on the agenda for the 2020 session that runs from Jan. 14 to March 13. Gradebook. The president of the Brevard County teachers union talks about the impasse in contract negotiations with the school district. Florida Today.

Personnel moves: Daniel Zepp has been named president of St. Petersburg Catholic High School and will share direction of the school’s operations with principal Ross Bubolz. Gradebook.

Charter schools oversight: Florida gets a failing grade for its oversight of charter schools in a report issued this week by the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union. Of the 44 states graded, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, only six received passing grades. Florida’s grade was 45 out of 100. The charter schools were judged on public access, accountability and transparency, school board oversight and and quality. Florida Politics.

Street at school closing: A street that cuts through the campus of Sarasota High School is being permanently closed to vehicle and pedestrian traffic. The Sarasota City Commission tentatively agreed to turn over the right-of-way on School Avenue from Tami Sola Street to Hatton Street to the school district in order to better secure the school. The commission still must give final approval, but the handover is expected to happen this summer. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School bus stop visitor: Lee County students waiting for their bus at a stop in Golden Gate had a surprise visitor Thursday morning — a 9-foot alligator. Authorities safely removed it. Naples Daily News.

Teacher’s reprimand upheld: The St. Johns County School Board rules that a formal reprimand handed out to a Picolata Crossing Elementary School preschool teacher for yelling at a 4-year-old student was justified. The teacher had appealed the reprimand, prompting a hearing this week before the school board. St. Augustine Record.

Bus attendant arrested: A Polk County school bus attendant is arrested and accused of abusing children and adults with disabilities. Deputies say Juanita Tappin, 43, was charged with three counts of child abuse and three counts of abuse of a disabled adult. WTSP.

Students groped on way to school: Police in Orange County are investigating two reports that a man on a bicycle inappropriately touched two female students as they were walking to school this week. Orlando Sentinel.

Students arrested: A 13-year-old Palm Beach County student was arrested after police say they found a handgun in his backpack. The student at the Renaissance Charter School at Cypress in West Palm Beach said he took it from the locked glove compartment in his mother’s car, put it in his backpack and then forgot he had it. Palm Beach Post. Putnam County deputies say an 18-year-old Interlachen High School student was arrested after posting a photo of himself with a machine gun and the words “No school tomorrow?” on Snapchat. Florida Times-Union. WJXT.

Bullets found at school: Citrus County deputies are investigating the discovery of two bullets in a Crystal River High School classroom. Citrus County Chronicle.

Opinions on schools: Here are a few suggestions from an English teacher who understands kids and poverty and technology and learning and teaching: Stop buying programs. Give us time to make it work. Push early literacy, especially in communities that can’t afford books. Stop focusing on the test. Do some research on your own about reading. And please stop using technology in elementary grades to teach reading. Michelle Hamlyn, Tampa Bay Times. Florida’s new “parent empowerment” scholarship could irreparably harm public schools. Kathleen Oropeza, Orlando Sentinel. It’s worth noting that in a year when state lawmakers failed to fund a school music program that would have been 0.00033 percent of the state budget, two of the finalists for the state teacher of the year award teach music. Cue the sad trombone. Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post. Our schools can of course do their part to combat anti-Semitism. But they alone cannot end anti-Semitism. Jonathan Cohen, Gainesville Sun. Tallahassee’s Chiles High School remains among the best in the state for preparing its students for STEM careers, but the real success story is at Godby High School, where 87.5 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced-price meals. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: Pinellas County schools name their valedictorians and salutatorians for the class of 2019. Tampa Bay Times.

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BY NextSteps staff