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High school graduation rate up slightly, bill would boost teacher pay, early learning bills and more

High school graduation rate up: Florida’s high school graduation rate improved slightly during the 2018-2019 school year, to 86.9 percent from 86.1 percent in the 2017-2018 school year, according to the Florida Department of Education and Gov. Ron DeSantis. The rate has increased steadily since dipping to 58.8 percent in the 2005-2006 school year. Rates were up for white, black and Hispanic students, and for economically disadvantaged students and those with disabilities. The Lafayette County School District had the highest rate at 98.8 percent, and 13 other districts had rates above 90 percent. Pinellas and Orange tied for the highest rate among the 10 largest districts with 88.4 percent, and the Gadsden County district had the state’s lowest rate at 60.4 percent. Office of the GovernorPolitico Florida. Florida Phoenix. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. Orlando Sentinel. Miami Herald. Sun Sentinel. WLRN. Palm Beach Post. Tampa Bay Times. Patch. WFLA. WUSF. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. St. Augustine RecordSarasota Herald-Tribune. Bradenton Herald. Fort Myers News-Press. Florida Today. TCPalm. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Flagler Live. Palm Coast Observer. Gainesville Sun. WCJB. Pensacola News Journal.

Teacher pay hikes: A bill that would boost teacher salaries a specified amount this July and again in 2021 and 2022 has been filed in the Florida House. H.B. 1223, sponsored by Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami, would raise teacher salaries to $47,500 or by 5 percent, whichever is greater, on July 5. In 2021 pay would be bumped by 4 percent or to $49,400, whichever is greater, and in 2022 by 4 percent or to $51,376. School support employees would also get raises of 5 percent, 4 percent and 4 percent over the next three years. The bill addresses concerns of teachers and their unions with DeSantis’ plan to boost starting teacher pay to $47,500, but does not include increases for veteran teachers. Florida Politics.

Early learning bills: The state’s early learning programs would be placed under the direction of the Florida Department of Education under bills (H.B. 1013 and S.B. 1616) that have been filed in the House and Senate. The bills, sponsored by state Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, and state Sen. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, would create a Division of Early Learning to replace the Office of Early Learning and the school readiness program for state-subsidized child care. They would also create stricter accountability measures using a new standardized test given three times a year, and give the state Board of Education the authority to enforce compliance. A 2019 report concluded that 42 percent of the children enrolled in the state’s VPK program were not ready for kindergarten, prompting Gov. DeSantis to call for reforms. Politico Florida.

School impact fees: The Santa Rosa County Commission has approved a school impact fee on new housing. Developers will pay $5,000 for single-family houses, $4,000 for mobile homes and $2,750 for multi-family units when they apply for building permits. The money generated will be used to build schools to help keep up with the county’s population growth. Commissioners had been opposed to the fee, but reconsidered after voters turned down a half-cent sales tax increase in October. WEAR. Pensacola News Journal. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Tax hike gets support: Business leaders in Okaloosa County are backing a 10-year, half-cent increase in the sales tax to raise money for the school district. The group hopes to get the initiative on the Nov. 3 ballot. If it gets before voters and is approved, the tax hike would generate about $20 million a year for school repairs, construction and upgraded school buses. “The business community recognizes and values the importance of a good education to a strong economy,” said attorney Michelle Anchors, a member of the group. “This isn’t the school board coming to us. It’s us going to the public and saying we need you to lock elbows with us to give strong, secure facilities to our children.” Northwest Florida Daily News.

Teachers honored: Three finalists are named for the Lake County School District’s teacher of the year award. They are: Christine Palmer, an art teacher at Triangle Elementary; Doreen Elder, a math coach at Groveland Elementary; and Sarah Foster, a 5th-grade language arts teacher at Pine Ridge Elementary. The winner will be announced Jan. 30. Daily Commercial.

Students suing state: Eight Florida students between the ages of 12 and 21 are suing Gov. Ron DeSantis, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the Florida Cabinet and two state agencies for violating their constitutional rights by not developing a plan to fight climate change. “Sadly, our state government has long disregarded the stakes with feel-good political appointments. The time has come for real action,’’ said 21-year-old Delaney Reynolds, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that was filed in 2018 but amended to include the new governor and agriculture commissioner. Miami Herald. Politico Florida.

Education podcasts: The legislative session opens Tuesday, but Monday also figures to be a busy day with a teacher rally for educational funding being held on the steps of the Capitol and the Senate Education Committee taking up several significant issues. Two reporters discuss the busy schedule. Gradebook. Central Florida math teacher Jessica Granahan and UCF professor Lisa Dieker talk about teaching math and science. WMFE.

Anti-vaping message: Polk County students, Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd, Sheriff Grady Judd and Health Department Director Dr. Joy Jackson have produced a public service announcement to warn students about the dangers of vaping. Lakeland Ledger.

Florida students lagging: Florida students lagged significantly behind the 2015-2016 school year national average last spring in taking calculus, chemistry and physics classes, according to a report released by the National Center for Educational Statistics. Bridge to Tomorrow.

Superintendent search: A series of town halls will be held next week in Marion County so members of the community can express what qualities they want to see in the next school superintendent. County residents voted in 2018 to switch from an elected superintendent to an appointed one, and the school board is just beginning the search. Ocala Star-Banner. One of the eight semifinalists for the Hillsborough County school superintendent’s job has withdrawn his name from consideration. The withdrawal of Chris Farkas, a deputy superintendent in the district, leaves chief of schools Harrison Peters as the only internal candidate. Gradebook.

Personnel moves: The president of the Jupiter Christian School in Palm Beach County has resigned after a reported breach of employee policies. According to school officials, Dave Breslin violated the policy when he was alone with a student in a room that was not open for viewing. Jupiter police investigated and determined there was no improper contact with the student. WPTV.

School choice: School choice registration begins today in Collier County, Monday in Lee and in February in Charlotte. And Sarasota County schools will showcase their academic programs next Tuesday and Wednesday. WINK. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Students and the law: Four Polk County students were taken into custody after deputies found an unloaded gun at Lake Region High School in Eagle Lake. Arrested were a student who was seen pointing the gun at another student, two students who had possession of the gun, and a student who had a bullet in his backpack. Lakeland Ledger. WFTS. WTVT.

School bus crash: An Orange County school bus driver was injured when a car drove into the bus’ path near Winter Garden. The bus was carrying 21 students, but none was hurt. Charges are pending against the car’s driver. Orlando Sentinel. WFTV.

Opinions on schools: Real-world lessons for students can start with high-school internships. Melanie Diel, Orlando Sentinel.

Student enrichment: Free after-school meals are now available at Hawthorne Middle/High School, Alachua County school officials have announced. Gainesville Sun. The STEM program at Treadway Elementary School in Lake County has received an augmented reality sandbox, which uses a 3D camera, motion sensor and projector to help students model and learn about erosion, water flow and land contour lines. Daily Commercial. A Manatee County charter school, Visible Men Academy, is home to an early education program called Rise and Shine that helps students and their families get ready for school. Bradenton Herald.

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BY NextSteps staff