Per-student spending, sales tax hike votes, pre-K changes, civics review and more

School spending per student: The Florida Department of Education’s recent release of school-by-school per-student spending shows wide discrepancies between regions, counties and even among schools in the same district. The state average for per-student spending is about $9,500, which is 45th in the nation, but ranges from less than $2,000 per student at one school to more than $70,000 at another. Educational experts say the data could show “patterns of fiscal inequities among schools and students in the same district,” but caution that the numbers need to considered in context because there are so many factors involved. Florida Phoenix. Gradebook.

School sales tax vote: A judge has ruled that the Clay County Commission was within its legal rights to reject placing a sales tax hike request for the school district on the ballot this November. Circuit Judge Steven Whittington wrote that the commission’s preference for November 2020 for putting the question on the November 2020 ballot was “not unreasonable” or an “abuse of discretion.” He also wrote that the school board has the sole authority to levy the school tax, and the commission is obliged to get it onto a ballot. The decision is being reviewed by school and city leaders in Duval County, who are also at odds over a request to raise the sales tax to replace and repair schools. Florida Times-Union. Florida Politics. WJAX.

Pre-K learning gains: The Florida Board of Education will consider a rule this week that would add learning gains to test results when calculating kindergarten readiness. Gov. Ron DeSantis called for such a change this summer when the state reported that about 42 percent of pre-K students were judged to be unprepared for kindergarten. Other changes under consideration are a new funding formula for pre-K schools and a redesign of the educational program. Gradebook.

Civics standards review: The Florida Department of Education is now accepting suggestions for changes in textbooks and teaching materials for civics classes. The move was mandated by the Legislature after Gov. DeSantis called for a review of civics instruction when he ordered an end to Common Core academic standards. Once comments and suggestions are reviewed, the state will consult national civics experts before making changes to the curriculum and the end-of-course test. Orlando Sentinel.

Behind a busing failure: Leon County school officials counted on a new $700,000-plus bus routing system to keep to the schedules and track every student who got on and off. Instead, it failed last week in what those officials call a “colossal” manner, causing panic for many parents and costing the district transportation director his job and the company its contract. Here’s how it happened. Tallahassee Democrat.

Lobbying for capital funds: Marion County School Board members say they may press the Legislature to create a tax on cell phones to raise money for the capital needs of K-12 schools, college and universities. A tax on landline phone lines, cable TV and electricity  has been in place for almost 50 years to help fund new construction and maintenance at schools. But the amount raised has been shrinking because fewer people have landlines and cable TV service, and products using electricity have become more energy-efficient. Ocala Star-Banner.

Security in schools: Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie says he is recommending that the school board revoke the charter of one of the 29 charter schools that did not have a long-term plan for security when school started last week. That school, Championship Academy of Distinction K-8 in Davie, now has an armed guard, according to school officials, but the board will consider Runcie’s recommendation at Tuesday’s meeting. WPLG. WSVN. News Service of Florida. The Palm Beach County School District’s use of a private company to train school guards violates state law requiring training be done by sheriffs, says the chair of the state panel that investigated the 2018 shooting deaths of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County. Palm Beach Post. State Rep. Mike Gottlieb, D-Plantation, is pushing a bill for the 2020 legislative session that would require panic buttons in all public schools. Florida Politics.

Turnaround school changes: Five teachers and seven paraprofessionals are being removed from Evergreen Elementary School by its new outside operator. Jayne Ellspermann, whose company also operates Oakcrest Elementary, says the employees are being transferred because they’re “not happy” with the changes she’s making. Ocala Star-Banner. Polk County school officials say the district’s turnaround schools are losing good teachers who are being involuntarily transferred because of the state’s value-added model evaluation system. The result is that many classrooms are staffed by long-term substitutes. Lakeland Ledger.

Grading formula changes: The Volusia County School Board has agreed to make changes in the formula the district uses to determine final grades in algebra, geometry, biology, U.S. history and civics. Students who get a grade in a course in one semester and a grade higher in the second semester get the higher grade as the final grade. But it’s holding onto its longstanding practice that a student who receives a D in a course one semester and an F in the other fails the course. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Vaccinations exemptions: School districts around Florida continue to struggle with the increasing number of students claiming religious exemptions for required vaccinations. Exemptions have nearly tripled in the past decade, and 42 of the state’s 67 school districts don’t meet the recommended 95 percent vaccination threshold among kindergartners. Pensacola News Journal.

More return to school: About 345,000 students return to schools in Miami-Dade County today. Miami-Dade is the largest school district in the state and the fourth-largest in the United States. School officials say more than 40,000 students will ride buses to schools, and urge drivers to be cautious. Miami Herald. WTVJ.

Flooding closes schools: Flooding is closing all Dixie County schools and Cedar Key High School in Levy County today, according to officials in those districts. WCJB.

Enrollment growth: Student enrollment was up 2,240 over last year’s first day of school in the St. Johns County School District — a growth rate of 6 percent. That kind of growth is putting pressure on the district to hire enough workers, from teachers to bus drivers, and finding spots in the schools for all the new students. “The growth is scary, I’ll be honest with you,” said Michelle Dillon, president of the St. Johns Education Association. St. Augustine Record.

Falsifying records: Hillsborough County Superintendent Jeff Eakins says the recent allegations of falsifying records and pushing struggling students into alternative schools to boost graduation rates at Spoto High School are not a reflection on other district schools. Gradebook.

Public comment concerns: At least four critics of the Manatee County School District have been ejected from school board meetings in the last three weeks, leading to questions about the constitutionality of the board’s guidelines on public comments. Among the lines drawing attention are the one that says, “public comment is not a forum to attack individual school system employees or board members.” The district’s takeover of the Lincoln Memorial Academy charter school has driven supporters of the school to speak critically of the board at meetings. Bradenton Herald.

Charter hopes to help save Y: A Sarasota County charter school is collaborating with the YMCA and the Save Our Y group to try to save two fitness centers that the YMCA has targeted for closure for financial reasons. No details of the plans were announced, but Thomas Chaffee, chair of the Dreamers Academy dual-language charter, says the school’s plan to buy land behind the YMCA’s Frank G. Berlin Campus is “the foundation around which everything is being structured.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

School consolidation: The Polk County School District is considering combining Frostproof Elementary and Ben Hill Griffin Elementary schools. A public meeting on the plan is set Thursday. Lakeland Ledger.

Contract approved: A contract agreement between the Osceola County School District and its employees has been approved by the school board. The deal calls for a 40-cent-an-hour pay raise and a $250 bonus to staffers with a satisfactory or higher evaluation. Osceola News-Gazette.

School walkout averted: A planned student walkout Friday at Lincoln Memorial Academy in Manatee County fizzled because of rainy weather and an alleged warning from interim principal Ronnie King that such a demonstration could lead to students being criminally prosecuted. Supporters of the financially troubled charter school say the district’s move to reassert control over the school is racially motivated. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Student suggests sidewalks: A Polk Transportation Planning Organization survey suggests that sidewalks are needed for the safety of students on 13 roadways within a mile of 10 public schools. The TPO is asking the school board to pass a resolution supporting more sidewalks. Lakeland Ledger.

Players rebel, coach quits: Maurice Belser had been the head football coach at Taylor County High School just seven weeks when the players rebelled over his coaching methods and treatment of players during summer workouts. The dispute came to a head Sunday night, and Beiser decided to quit. Tallahassee Democrat.

Teacher disciplined: A Lee County teacher is fined $750 by the state and ordered to take a college-level course on adolescent development after making condescending remarks to a 17-year-old North Fort Myers High School student in 2018. Delores Holland was transferred to another school. WINK.

Students charged: Two northeast Florida teenagers are arrested and accused of making threats against schools and students. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. WJAX. Two Martin County students are being charged with disrupting a school function after sending a text to another student urging him to contact the sheriff. TCPalm.

Opinions on schools: Broward County schools started the controversial Promise Program six years ago with the best of intentions — keeping kids out of the criminal justice system for such petty offenses as sassing teachers and blowing spitballs. But good intentions don’t guarantee good results, and the program’s time has passed. Sun Sentinel. We must not allow any legislation or political strategy to progress that restricts or eliminates our right to vote for who we want to represent us; a mayor-appointed school board would clearly take that right away from us. Isaiah Rumlin, Florida Times-Union. A half-cent sales tax to provide capital improvements in Duval County’s public schools should be shared with all students — including those who attend charter schools. Gary Chartrand and Jeanne Miller, Florida Times-Union. Students of Mainland High School, and their parents, deserve the full truth about the scandals at the school. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Drivers must stop ignoring the flashing red lights and the red-and-white stop sign that extends out from the sides of yellow school buses pausing to let kids on and off. Miami Herald. Policymakers should be transparent about the details of how the Florida Schools Safety Portal operates, accountable for evidence that it actually works, and that it will be fair to all students. Ora Tanner, Tampa Bay Times. Give teachers salary increases, not schemes. Justin Vogel, St. Augustine Record. We have to stop criminalizing children in the name of school security. Pierre Tristam, Flagler Live. Teaching in Brevard County is no longer an attractive option for young people. We must develop and support a plan to change that. Anthony Colucci, Florida Today. It’s time to spend more money on teaching black 3rd-graders in Alachua County how to read, instead of spending it on prisons, gang violence, rehab and crime. Jackie Davis, Gainesville Sun. The evolution of Arizona’s education savings accounts begins with Florida’s former Senate President John McKay. Matthew Ladner, redefinED.

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BY NextSteps staff