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Differences in eligibility for raises, pilot civics test, new standards, choice, top educators and more

Eligibility for raises: The difference between the Senate’s education budget and the House’s for the amount dedicated to teacher raises is significant: $650 million from the House and $500 million from the Senate. Another key difference is which teachers will be eligible for those proposed raises. The $92.8 billion Senate bill would allow districts to decide how to allocate the raises to classroom teachers or to all instructional personnel, including pre-kindergarten teachers, social workers, media specialists and more. The $91.3 billion House budget bill would prioritize K-12 classroom teachers, and would allow raises to noninstructional workers such as pre-K teachers, literacy coaches, guidance counselors and others only if districts have money left over after increasing minimum pay to a specified level. Gradebook.

Pilot civics exam: Gov. Ron DeSantis has been pushing for more rigorous civics education for Florida’s high school students. By this spring, a pilot 100-question, 100-minute civics test will be available for school districts to give to high school students. “Pilot exam results will not affect graduation requirements or school accountability,” K-12 Chancellor Jacob Oliva wrote in a memo to school superintendents. “The department will report on which districts and schools participate in the pilot, and on student participation and pass rates.” DeSantis eventually wants to require all high school students to take the test to meet the state’s 2017 college-level civic literacy requirement. Gradebook.

Academic standards: The proposed academic standards for English language arts and for math were posted Friday afternoon on the Florida Department of Education’s website. The standards, called B.E.S.T. (Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking), were developed over the past year by the DOE and will replace the Common Core standards. The changes include a reduction in the number of required tests. The Board of Education is expected to vote on the new standards Feb. 12. Florida Phoenix. Florida Department of Education.

Trump on school choice: In his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, President Trump is expected to renew his support for tax breaks for scholarships that K-12 students can use to attend private schools. “We believe that every parent should have educational freedom for their children,” Trump said in December. “For decades, countless children have been trapped in failing government schools.” Two bills (H.R. 1434 and S. 634) that would have created Education Freedom Scholarships and funded them through a $5 billion tax credit were proposed last year but have gone nowhere in Congress because Democrats, who control the U.S. House, oppose the use of public funds for private school tuition. USA Today. Politico. Where do the Democratic presidential candidates stand on education issues? Chalkbeat.

State scholarship support: Three more companies have announced that they will no longer donate money to a state scholarship program after the Orlando Sentinel alleged that some of the private schools receiving funds from the program discriminate against LGBTQ students (Note: Neither the Florida Department of Education nor Step Up For Students has any evidence supporting the Sentinel’s allegations.). Officials from Wyndham Destinations, ABC Fine Wines and Spirits and Cigar City Brewing have withdrawn support for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which allows corporations to direct money that would have paid in taxes to the scholarship program instead. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the scholarships. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Politics. WFSU. State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, spoke with Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and said he was told that the DOE was reviewing the issue, and was looking at policy changes that would end discrimination against LGBTQ students at schools receiving scholarships funds while preserving students’ First Amendment rights. WLRN.

Educators honored: Christine Palmer, an art teacher at Triangle Elementary School in Mount Dora, has been named the Lake County School District teacher of the year. Daily Commercial. Lori Price, a 1st-grade teacher at the Webster School in St. Augustine, has been named the St. Johns County School District teacher of the year. St. Augustine Record. Cheyenna Novotny, who teaches chemistry and other science subjects at West Florida High School of Advanced Technology in Pensacola, has been named the Escambia County School District teacher of the year. WEAR. Marion County School District teacher of the year Euan Hunter has traded one of his gifts, $10,000 toward a three-year car lease, to equip a lab at the Silver River Museum for the benefit of all county students. Ocala Star-Banner.

Academic officer put on leave: The Polk County School District’s chief academic officer has been placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation. District officials said Michael Akes was placed on leave for Jan. 14, but won’t say why. Lakeland Ledger.

Schools and solar power: A bill that would lift the cap on the amount school districts can spend per student on solar power installations has been approved by a subcommittee and is now being considered by the House Appropriations Committee. Legislators said the change would make it easier for districts to install solar panels and could save an average of $16,000 per school in energy costs. WTSP.

Superintendent search: Thirty-five people have submitted applications to be named superintendent of the Flagler County School District. One of the applicants is longtime school board member Colleen Conklin. She said she will remain on the board through the search process, and if she isn’t chosen as superintendent she will run for re-election. Her application means the four people she appointed to the superintendent citizens advisory committee will not be seated, according to board attorney Kristy Gavin. That decision is being contested. Flagler Live.

School safety measures: Security upgrades at Destin Middle School include a single point of entry, video cameras, a buzzer system for entry, and bulletproof walls and windows. Next, said principal Grant Meyer, will be an 8-foot fence around the school. Northwest Florida Daily News. Bradford County school officials are rolling out their plan for mental health and substance abuse education for middle and high school students. WJXT.

District searching for graves: A search for graves under the old Curtis Fundamental/Palmetto Elementary School in Clearwater will be conducted next week by a company hired the Pinellas County School District and city officials. The land was traded to the school district in the mid-1950s, and some neighborhood residents don’t believe all the 300 or so graves of African-Americans were moved. WTSP.

Contagious disease concerns: Thirty students and three teachers from the private Benjamin School school in Palm Beach Gardens were not exposed to the coronavirus, according to testing results. The group was quarantined after returning from the Yale’s Model United Nations event a week ago. While there, a Chinese student became ill and there were concerns he had contracted the coronavirus. But it was just the flu, test showed. Palm Beach Post. Sun Sentinel. Citrus County school officials said a person who visits Crystal River Primary School has been diagnosed with hepatitis A, a contagious liver disease. Health officials said the risk of exposure is low, but parents were alerted last week. Citrus County Chronicle. Sarasota County school officials said a report that a student had the coronavirus was a hoax. They decided to place a robocall to parents debunking the rumor after it spread on social media. Charlotte Sun.

Sexual harassment trial: A federal judge has ruled that a sexual harassment lawsuit against the Sarasota County School Board can go to trial in May. Lyna Jimenez-Ruiz was an assistant executive director of the Suncoast Technical Institute in 2015 when she accused the executive director, Todd Bowden, of sexual harassment. Bowden later became district superintendent, and Jimenez-Ruiz was subsequently moved out of two jobs. She now works as a teacher trainer for the district, while Bowden resigned in November after being accused of failing to respond appropriately to sexual harassment allegations against the district’s chief operations officer. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Employees and the law: A Miami-Dade County School District teacher who retired in 2017 has been arrested and accused of having sex with a student for about three months in 2016. School police said Tom Miller Privett, now 70, initiated a relationship with the girl when she was a freshman in 2012 at Terra Environmental Research Institute Magnet School in Kendall, and it became sexual about four years later. Miami Herald. WPLG. The former principal at Cottondale High School in Marianna has been charged with having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old student. Ken Granger resigned in December and turned himself in to authorities last week. He also announced Friday that he was withdrawing from the race for the Jackson County supervisor of elections job. WMBB. Tallahassee Democrat. Panama City News Herald. WTXL.

Athletic director suspended: Josh Vandergrift, the athletic director at Moseley High School in Lynn Haven, has been suspended by the Bay County School District for refusing to comply with a records request from a TV station about the resignation of boys soccer coach Tommy Davis last week. WMBB.

Teaching license revoked: A former substitute teacher and head football coach at Atlantic High School in Port Orange has lost his teaching certificate from the state after accusations that texted sexual messages to 15-year-old female students and made racist comments to football players in 2017. Kendall Bradley was fired that December. He has denied the allegations. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Opinions on schools: It’s finally time to end state-sanctioned discrimination against gay kids. Florida’s legislative leaders just need to be convinced it’s the right thing to do. Orlando Sentinel. Republicans keep trumpeting student achievement gains in Florida. Given that, why do we need to overhaul the system by limiting school board members to eight years? The answer is, we don’t. Sun Sentinel. What right do any of us have to dictate education prerogatives to parents seeking the best path, not just one dictated by where they happen to live, so their children can succeed in life? Lakeland Ledger. If too many of Florida’s school districts remain a sleeping giant of choice, other actors will step up to fill the gap. This is the tension in the system that’s needed to spur improvement and innovation and stave off stagnation. Matthew Ladner, redefinED.

Student enrichment: About 200 students from Richard O. Jacobson Technical High in Seminole have built 40 bunk beds for kids across Pinellas County. Tampa Bay Times. Henry Bae, a junior at Eau Gallie High School, and Nathan Foo, a junior at West Shore Junior/Senior High, have been selected as Brevard County’s Sunshine State Scholars. Space Coast Daily. Four students at Dunbar Middle School in Fort Myers are among the top winners in a Florida Commission on the Status of Women essay contest on the importance of the right to vote and why everyone should exercise it. Fort Myers News-Press. More than $2,300 collected from parking fines in Tallahassee in December has been given to Astoria Park Elementary School for student supplies. Tallahassee Democrat.

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BY NextSteps staff