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Early education reform, a daily moment of silence in schools, fighting heat stroke, hair bias and more

Early education reform: A wide-ranging bill to reform early education in Florida won the unanimous approval of the Senate Education Committee on Monday. S.B. 1688, sponsored by Sen. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, would change the way preschool programs are evaluated. Scores from three-times-a-year tests, progress a child has made in pre-K and teachers’ evaluations of students would be used to compile A through F grades for preschool providers. High-performing programs would be eligible for extra funding, while programs that flunk would be given two years to make corrections before state funding is withdrawn. A new Division of Early Learning within the Florida Department of Education would oversee the preschool program, replacing the Office of Early Learning. Gov. Ron DeSantis made the push for reform after a report last year concluded that about 42 percent of the state’s 4-year-olds in a pre-K program were not ready for kindergarten. News Service of Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. The committee also approved a bill creating a scholarship fund to help students attend the state’s four historically black college and universities. Tallahassee Democrat.

Daily moment of silence: The Senate Education Committee has approved a bill that would require schools to begin their day with two minutes of silence for reflection. Schools have had the option to offer those minutes, but S.B. 946 would make it a requirement. The bill also would require teachers to “encourage parents to discuss the moment of silence with their children and make suggestions as to the best use of this time.” The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said, “This bill deals with what we all deal with, the tyranny of the urgent. We live frantic lives … I see it in my own grandchildren.” A companion bill filed in the House by Rep. Kimberly Daniels, D-Jacksonville, has yet to be heard by a committee. USA Today Network. Florida Politics.

Fighting heat stroke: A bill requiring schools to have equipment and protocols to deal with heat strokes for athletes was unanimously approved by the Senate Education Committee. Under S.B. 1696, schools would have to have a cooling area at practices and games for athletes to treat potential heat stroke, and an automated external defibrillator that coaches and volunteers would be trained to use. More than 460 student-athletes were treated for heat stroke during the 2017-2018 school year, and four Florida students have died since 2011 after being overcome by exertional heat stroke. Associated Press. WFSU. Capitol News Service.

Hair discrimination: Four Democratic U.S. representatives from Florida are among the House members pushing for a bill that would ban discrimination in schools and elsewhere based on hair styles and textures. The CROWN Act, as it is called, would add hairstyles and textures to race and national origin in being protected from discriminatory actions. Supporters say the bill, which specifically names hairstyles more commonly associated with African-Americans, would improve equity in schools and the workplace. Florida Phoenix.

Debate competition: Gov. DeSantis has announced a partnership between the state and the co-founder of Home Depot that will expand civics, speech and debate programs for Florida middle and high school students and create a national competition that he called “the first of its kind” in the country. The  Billi and Bernie Marcus Foundation has pledged $5 million over the next three years to the Florida Education Foundation for the initiative, and the state will set aside $375,000 for teacher training, resources and materials. “The goal is to make us a nationwide leader in training high school teachers in all Florida counties and to also show an example to other states as we begin to do a competitive speech and debate program at their schools,” DeSantis said. Miami Herald. Sun Sentinel. Palm Beach Post.

District’s department ripped: Broward County School Board members are demanding that the district make changes in its troubled maintenance department. The department has a huge backload of work, with thousands of orders that have gone unattended for years, and a review in September of its performance also disclosed questionable spending. Two months after the report, a retired custodial and grounds supervisor was arrested on bribery charges. “This is urgent. We have to act now,” said board member Rosalind Osgood. “I know you guys have a way of doing things, but it’s not working. Requests keep coming in; things keep happening. We have to be able to respond. There’s no other way around it.” Superintendent Robert Runcie said he would review board members’ concerns. “There’s far more work than we can possibly do, so it’s a matter of prioritizing and having some discipline around them because there are also emergencies that come up,” Runcie said. Sun Sentinel.

Board meeting crowd: Polk County teachers are expected to pack today’s school board meeting to lobby for higher pay and better working conditions. Teachers are asking the board to place a 1-mill referendum on the ballot to raise up to $50 million a year that could be used to improve salaries. Lakeland Ledger.

Medical marijuana in schools: Leon County School Board members are expected to vote today on a proposed policy that would allow students with prescriptions to receive medical marijuana treatment at schools. A parent or caregiver would have to bring the drug to school, administer it, and then take it off campus. Tallahassee Democrat.

Superintendent search: Just 21 people have applied to become the Flagler County School District’s next superintendent, about half the number who applied when the job was open in 2017. Only five are from Florida, only one works in the district, and only one of the applicants is a woman. Applications are being accepted for just four more days. Current Superintendent James Tager is stepping down at the end of June. Flagler Live.

Educator honored: Teresa Forbes has been named the preschool teacher of the year by the Early Learning Coalition of North Florida. She works at Brighton Day Academy in St. Augustine. St. Augustine Record.

Ranking charter schools: Florida ranks seventh in the country among 45 states in how its charter school laws align with the industry’s model law, according to the annual report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. The state received high marks from the group for not having a growth cap on the number of charter schools and providing “a fair amount of autonomy and accountability and robust appellate process for charter school applicants.” The report said the state has improved in providing more equitable funding for charters, but notes more work needs to be done. It also said improvements are needed in accountability for charter authorizers and fulltime virtual charters. Indiana was again judged to be the state with the best charter laws. National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

New school: A K-8 school in Marianna is on track to be completed in June, according to Jackson County School District Superintendent Larry Moore. WMBB.

Education podcasts: Author Diane Ravitch, who was assistant education secretary under Republican President George H. W. Bush and supported charter schools, vouchers and standardized testing as ways to improve public school education, explains why she’s changed her mind and why she calls Florida “a model of lawlessness and greed.” WLRN.

Students kept home: About 30 students from the Benjamin School in Palm Beach Gardens are being kept at home this week while tests are conducted to see if they were exposed to the coronavirus. The students were at the Yale Model United Nations in Connecticut last weekend, along with a student from China who became ill with the flu and is being tested for coronavirus. WPTV.

Court hearing canceled: A scheduled court hearing Monday in the Duval County School Board’s fight with the Jacksonville City Council to get a sales tax referendum placed on the ballot was canceled by the school board. The hearing was supposed to have addressed the dismissal of the teachers union from the lawsuit. “It may not be necessary for this suit by the union, or the separate suit by the parents, to proceed, depending on developments in the school board’s case,” said board attorney Scott Cairns. Florida Times-Union.

School security upgraded: Greater security has been present at Fivay High School in Pasco after two lunchtime fights led to six arrests last week. A security guard has been added to the main entrance, a second school resource officer has been added for the rest of the school year and a buzzer system has been installed between the main entrance and the rest of the school. Gradebook.

Opinions on schools: In 2002, the people of Florida overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment that promised to make high-quality pre-kindergarten available and free for all 4-year-olds in the state. Those two words, “high-quality,” appear twice in the amendment. And we still haven’t fulfilled that promise. David Lawrence Jr. and Madeleine Thakur, Miami Herald.  Harvard Business School’s Clayton Christensen, who died last week at the age of 67, laid the groundwork for our understanding of disruptive innovation in technology and business, a concept that should matter to people who want to improve our education system. Matthew Ladner, redefinED. Let’s not politicize the personal educational decisions parents make in pursuit of their children’s happiness. Andrew Campanella, redefined. The demand for Florida Tax Credit scholarships is outpacing supply, and more funding is needed from the Legislature to give students greater school options. Doug Tuthill, Miami Herald. (Note: Tuthill is president of Step Up For Students, which helps administer the FTC scholarships). The sight of the 19-member Jacksonville City Council getting involved in school board business was offensive to anyone who values the separation of powers established under Florida law. Florida Times-Union. Gov. DeSantis said the state’s new academic standards will “remove all vestiges” of the Common Core. But how dead is it, really? Andrew Ujifusa, Education Week.

Student enrichment: Miguel Secillano, a 10-year-old 5th-grader at Dr. N.H. Jones Elementary School in Ocala, recently traveled to India as one of about 100 students worldwide who received a 2020 Global Child Prodigy Award. His specialty is solving complex equations. Ocala Star-Banner. Molly Smith, a senior film student at Montverde Academy in Lake County, is one of just 15 U.S. students to be awarded a Cameron Impact Scholarship for having an impact on her community with her films. Daily Commercial. Sixteen Lake County middle and high schools have been chosen to participate in the annual Florida Youth Survey next month. Students will receive either the tobacco or substance abuse survey. Daily Commercial.


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BY NextSteps staff