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Pregame prayer debate continues, cadets can stay together, Bright Futures, top stories and more

Pregame prayer: Days after Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran demanded that the Florida High School Athletic Association review its policies on religious expression, FHSAA director George Tomyn said the organization will let the matter be resolved in the courts. The FHSAA denied a request by Cambridge Christian School of Tampa to broadcast a prayer before the 2015 state championship football game against Jacksonville’s University Christian School, saying such a prayer would be considered “government speech.” The school sued, claiming the denial was a violation of its First Amendment rights. A lower court dismissed the case, but an appeals court overturned the ruling in November and sent it back to the lower court. Since getting Tomyn’s reply, Corcoran has asked for a briefing on the lawsuit but insisted, “It is in the best interest of the association’s member schools and student athletes to promote free speech and to protect religious expression by our students.” News Service of Florida.

Keeping cadets together: The Marion County School Board plans to create a military-themed school choice program so that the 185 cadets displaced when the Marion Military Academy closed for financial reasons can continue their education together, if they choose. The new program for cadets in grades 9-12 will be at the Marion Technical Institute, and will be open to other district students. School board members asked Superintendent Heidi Maier to hire as many of MMA’s administrators and teachers as possible to help start the program. Nick Navetta, MMA’s chair of the board of directors, said he was pleased with the school board’s decision but will continue to look into the option of reopening MMA.  Ocala Star-Banner. WFTV.

Bright Futures growth: More than 118,000 Florida students will qualify for Bright Futures scholarships during the 2020-2021 school year, according to a report from the Legislature’s Office of Economic & Demographic Research. That’s an increase of 4,700 students, and will require the Legislature to allocate an extra $26 million for the program, raising the total spent on the scholarships to $652 million. That’s $269 million more than was spent during the 2017-2018 school year, according to the report. Florida Phoenix.

The year, and decade, in education: Stories and issues that defined education in the past decade. Chalkbeat. Education Week. Nineteen of the most widely discussed stories about U.S. schools and students from 2019. The 74. Top U.S. education stories from the year. Chalkbeat. Choice Media. Fourteen charts from 2019 that changed the way to look at America’s schools. The 74. Fifteen memorable interviews from the year. The 74. What forms will student testing take in the 2020s? T.H.E. Journal. Education laws that states are considering in 2020. Education Dive. The creation of the Family Empowerment Scholarship, which provides $140 million in state funding to send low- and middle-income Florida students to private schools, is listed by Gov. Ron DeSantis as one of his top accomplishments during his first year in office. Florida Phoenix. Florida Politics. Bay County school officials say they’ve slowly made improvements during 2019 in recovering from Hurricane Michael damage in 2018. Panama City News Herald.

Finding common ground: Hernando County School Board, county commission and Brooksville City Council members and Sheriff Al Nienhuis have a rare joint meeting to discuss common issues and how they might work together to try to solve them. Among the issues discussed were security in schools and adding vocation educational programs. The district already has programs for welding and heating and air conditioning services, and are considering adding programs for law enforcement, firefighting, barbering and aviation mechanics. A plan to open a standalone vocational school has been pitched to the local legislative delegation for consideration at the session that begins Jan. 14. Tampa Bay Times.

Homeschooling report: The number of homeschooled students in the United States dropped from 1.77 million in 2012 to 1.69 million in 2016, according to a report released this month by the National Center for Education Statistics. Florida had about 84,000 homeschooled students in the 2015-2016 school year, according to the state Department of Education. The number of white U.S. students learning at home dropped from 68 percent of the total in 2012 to 59 percent in 2016, while the share of Hispanics being homeschooled jumped from 15 percent to 26 percent of the total. The most frequently cited reason for choosing homeschooling is parents’ concern for the environment at schools. Days of Sunshine.

Early education apps: Working on educational applications can improve academic, cognitive and social-emotional skills of children under the age of 6, according to a study by researchers at Florida International University. Apps that provided the greatest benefit were ones focusing on early math skills, followed by language and literacy skills. Florida International University.

Notable deaths: Robert Jackson, a longtime teacher, high school football coach and administrator in Gadsden County schools, has died at the age of 72. He was named the county coach of the year 10 times and was inducted into the Gadsden County Hall of Fame in 2018. Tallahassee Democrat. Joe P. Ruthven, a businessman and the former Lakeland mayor who played a key role in helping the community through the integration of schools, has died at the age of 92. Lakeland Ledger.

Charges dropped: A charge of disturbing a school board assembly against a Manatee County activist has been dropped by the state attorney. Rodney Jones, the former president of the county NAACP, was arrested in October at a school board meeting after engaging in a shouting match with a board member. Bradenton Herald.

Student enrichment: Habitat Academy, a 15-minute TV show that documents students from the Leesburg High School Construction Academy’s work on a house for Habitat for Humanity in Leesburg, airs next week on Lake Sumter TV and YouTube. Daily Commercial. Students in the engineering program at Arnold High School in Panama City Beach can earn three industry certifications that can be used as college credits. Panama City News Herald. The chorus at Coral Reef Elementary School in Lake Worth sings Christmas carols with a Florida twist during a school performance that’s now on YouTube. Among them: Let it Rain, I’m Dreaming of a Cold Christmas, Ally the Buck Tooth Gator, Rockin Around the Sabal Palm and Gramma Got Run Over By a Gator. Palm Beach Post. Students at the Hebrew Academy Community School in Margate break the Guinness world record for the largest dreidel ever built. WSVN.

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BY NextSteps staff