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Education bill, grading system out of pre-K bill, back-to-school tax holiday, sales tax hike and more

House education bill: The legislative session’s major education bill, H.B. 7079, was approved by the House Education Committee Tuesday and is on its way to a vote in the full House. Among other things, the bill aligns the state’s accountability system with the new academic standards; eliminates the 9th-grade English language arts and 10th-grade geometry exams; requires high school juniors to take the ACT or SAT at state expense and seniors to take a civics exam; and reduces the time districts have to improve persistently struggling schools before they are closed, turned into charters or handed over to outside operators. Florida Politics. WFSU.

Early education: The proposal to create an A-F grading system for the state’s pre-kindergarten programs has been removed from a House education package. Pre-K providers had warned that imposing the grades, as the state does for K-12 public schools, would result in schools pulling out of the state system. H.B. 1013 would place the state’s early learning programs under the direction of the Florida Department of Education and create stricter accountability measures using a new standardized test given three times a year. Gov. Ron DeSantis called for reforms last year after a report that 42 percent of the children enrolled in the state’s VPK program were not ready for kindergarten. Politico Florida.

Tax cuts package: The House Ways & Means Committee has approved a $150 million tax-cut package that includes a three-day back-to-school tax holiday in August. No sales taxes would be collected on clothing items that cost $60 or less, school supplies that are $15 or less, and on the first $1,000 of the cost of a personal computer. Taxpayers would save about $41.8 million, according to projections. The Senate’s version of the back-to-school tax break, S.B. 542, is now before the Senate Appropriations Committee. Once both are approved, a final version will be negotiated by representatives from both chambers. News Service of Florida.

Sales tax hike vote: The Jacksonville City Council will consider a Duval County School Board request next week to place a half-cent sales tax increase on the November ballot to raise $1.2 billion over 15 years for the district to repair and replace schools. Council members had resisted the request for months, saying they were concerned that charter schools would get little from the tax increase. That prompted the school board to file a lawsuit, and a circuit judge recently supported its argument that it had the right to have the tax issue put on the ballot and to hire outside counsel to sue the city council. A bill that is likely to pass the Legislature this year requiring districts to share funds from tax levies with charter schools on a per-student basis seems to have satisfied the council’s concerns, and the sides have negotiated an agreement that the lawsuit will be dropped if the tax measure is added to the ballot. Florida Times-Union. WJXT.

Tobacco incidents surging in schools: The number of Florida students disciplined for tobacco use at school has doubled twice in the past two school years, according to data from the Florida Department of Education. The number was about 4,000 in the 2016-2017 school year, doubled to more than 8,000 in 2017-2018 and to almost 18,000 in 2018-2019. School and district officials attribute the escalating numbers to vaping. WFTV.

School gets a name: The new technical high school in eastern Pasco County will be named the Kirkland Ranch Academy of Innovation, school board members have unanimously decided. More than 70 suggestions for names were made, but the board decided to name it for the land it sits on instead of singling out one person from the many nominated. The school is scheduled to open in the fall of 2021. Tampa Bay Times.

Vaccinations offered: With the flu still spreading, the Alachua County School District is offering free vaccinations for students from the Florida Department of Health. Parental consent forms are due this week, and the vaccinations will be given in schools before March 20. Gainesville Sun.

School enrollment: Enrollment in Marion County public schools is down slightly between the 40-day count in October and the 100-day count in January, according to district officials. K-12 enrollment is now 43,174, down 62 from the earlier count. More parents are using the open enrollment choice option, with the number of students attending the 11 lowest-performing elementary schools down 300 from the August projections, district officials said. Enrollment in the other 21 elementary schools is up 453 from those projections. Ocala Star-Banner.

School busing changes: Martin County students who live within 2 miles of their schools will no longer have the option of being bused to school, unless they live in a recognized hazardous walking area. School board members voted 3-2 to end the busing, which had been available to students who paid for it or were grandfathered in when it was initially cut back. TCPalm. WPTV.

Recruiting teachers: Gonzalo La Cava, the chief of human resources for the Palm Beach County School District, talks about what he and the district are doing to retain teachers and recruit new ones, including new programs and initiatives, and the ongoing problems the district has had in developing leadership. Education Week.

Board attorney interviews: Lee County School Board members are interviewing the top three candidates for the job of board attorney, but a hiring may not be imminent. “The board has not yet decided if they will hire someone or continue contracting with the current (outside) provider, so the interviews may or may not produce an offer and switch back to an in-house board attorney,” said district spokesman Rob Spicker. Fort Myers News-Press.

Lease for Boys and Girls Clubs: The Martin County School Board has agreed to lease a 3.5-acre slice of property behind the school district’s current administration center in East Stuart to the Boys and Girls Clubs for $1 a year for 50 years. The organization will raise money to build an indoor basketball gymnasium and three workforce labs on the property. TCPalm.

Personnel moves: Heather Jenkins, the chief financial officer for Manatee County School District, is resigning to become the senior director of finance for the Polk County School District. “My decision is solely based on the desire to be closer to my new family,” Jenkins wrote in her resignation letter. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Christina McPherson has been appointed as the principal of Key West High School. She replaces Amber Archer Acevedo, who is retiring at the end of this school year. Key West Citizen.

School board elections: Retired teacher Winston Chester has announced his candidacy for the District 4 seat on the Bay County School Board. Ryan Neves currently holds the seat but isn’t running for re-election. WMBB.

Notable deaths: John C. Turner, who was a teacher and the director of the marching band at Plant High School in Tampa from 1970 to 1983 and made Friday night football halftime shows a “must-see,” has died at the age of 76. Tampa Bay Times.

Firing recommended: Michael Akes, the chief academic officer for the Polk County School District, should be fired for “serious misconduct,” Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd has recommended to the school board. Akes is accused of making threatening and profane remarks to teachers union president Stephanie Yocum on a Jan. 10 phone call about teachers missing school to attend an education rally in Tallahassee Feb. 13. Akes denies he cursed or made threats during the call, though he acknowledged he did curse in a text he sent Yocum after the call ended. Byrd said she is suspending Akes without pay on Feb. 28 and recommending to the school board that he be fired March 17. Lakeland Ledger. WFLA.

Troubles for teachers: An administrative law judge has ruled that a Broward County art teacher inappropriately showed a video with sexually explicit images in 2018 to 15- and 16-year-old students in her Western High School creative photography classes. The judge called the images “disturbing” and ruled that teacher Brenda Fischer violated school and district policies requiring videos to be age-appropriate and approved by supervisors. Sun Sentinel. A teacher who works with students with special needs has been arrested and accused of abusing one of them. Volusia deputies said Holly Eicher, who works at Spirit Elementary School in Deltona, was charged with child abuse without great bodily harm after reportedly being seen kicking a 6-year-old male student. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WFTV. Alachua County school officials are investigating a report that an English teacher at Buchholz High School in Gainesville used a racial slur in class last week, and the teacher has been placed on leave pending the results. A student recorded 12 seconds of teacher Robert Cecil’s comments and posted them to Instagram. Cecil said he used the N-word to “demonstrate how it has shock appeal.” He apologized for the remarks, but said the video was edited to remove his disapproval of the word. WUFT. Gainesville Sun. WCJB. The baseball coach at Seminole High School in Sanford has been fired after a video appeared online in which he cursed and disclosed health information about a player. Kenne Brown, who will remain a teacher at the school, was filmed while the team was celebrating a state baseball championship in 2019. Orlando Sentinel. The state has permanently revoked the license of a former Volusia County teacher who was accused of inappropriate behavior with students in 2018. According to records, David C. Collins, who was an earth-space science teacher at Deltona High School, allowed female students to change clothes in his classroom, and had them sit in his lap and tickle him. He was fired in January 2019. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Admissions halted: Admissions to AMIkids, a Pinellas County alternative school for boys 11-15, have been frozen by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice after a 12-year-old was seriously injured recently when he was body-slammed to the ground by a school worker. Tampa Bay Times.

School bus crash: Three students were taken to a hospital for treatment after a Marion County school bus carrying 38 students ran into the back of another vehicle. The school bus driver, 76-year-old Stephen Nelson, is facing charges of careless driving. WKMG.

Opinions on schools: Civic engagement is crucial if the American experiment in self-government is going to succeed. Furthermore, civic engagement begins at an early age. Just as we teach kindergartners manners and promote community involvement during middle school and high school, teaching civic engagement is crucial to sustaining a productive democracy. Dennis Ross, Tampa Bay Times. For a state with the fourth-largest economy in the U.S., placing Florida students in portable classrooms that are unsafe and untested in violation of Florida’s own laws is simply wrong. Donald J. Mihalik, Orlando Sentinel. Florida needs some additional codified protections against the type of bureaucratic busybodyism that can lead to slanted classroom instruction designed to meet political ends. Lakeland Ledger. Sarasota County School Board members need a remedial class on listening. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Ending high-stakes standardized testing would improve education. Amanda Lacy-Shitama, Gainesville Sun.

Student enrichment: Lee County teachers have been partnering with Florida Gulf Coast University professors for training to collect and analyze water samples so they can pass along the skills to their students. WINK. About 120 Pinellas County students taste-tested 28 new cafeteria foods, and the dishes that get the best reviews will be added to school breakfasts and lunches next fall. Gradebook. WTVT.

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BY NextSteps staff