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High-profile bills in limbo, budgets, bonuses, funding formula, scholarships, top teachers and more

Subcommittee’s work done? The chair of a key House education subcommittee says it’s unlikely to meet again, which dims the chances of passage for several high-profile bills. Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Lecanto, who chairs the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee, says no meetings are scheduled next week. “That doesn’t mean that we won’t meet again,” he said. “But we probably won’t.” Among the bills that may be left in limbo are H.B. 45, which would prohibit private schools from discriminating against LGBTQ or disabled students; H.B. 341, which would have required high schools to offer a course on the Bible and scriptures; H.B. 515, which would have allowed English learners to take state assessment tests in their native languages; and H.B. 781, which would have prohibited teachers from inflicting corporal punishment. Gradebook.

Budgets approved: Appropriations committees in the Florida Senate and House have approved their proposed budgets. The Senate budget is $92.8 billion, with $22.6 billion going to education. Among the highlights are a boost in education spending of $762 million, with $500 million going toward teacher raises. The Florida House’s budget is $91.4 billion, with $22.8 billion for education. Of that, $650 million is earmarked for raising pay for teachers. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics. Florida Phoenix.

Educator bonuses repeal: A bill repealing the state’s Best and Brightest educator bonuses program has been approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee and now moves on for a full Senate vote. Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed replacing the program with his own $300 million version as part of an overall package to improve teacher compensation. His plan would reward teachers and principals for students’ learning gains. But neither the Senate’s nor the House’s budgets include money for bonuses. Florida Politics.

School funding formula: The House Appropriations Committee has approved a bill that would change a key component of the state’s school funding formula. The district cost differential portion of the Florida Education Finance Program formula would be reworked to be based on a comparable wage index instead of a price-level index. The change will add funding for some districts and take some away for others. Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, who sponsored the bill, said the changes are based on a consultant’s study. News Service of Florida.

Scholarship program: A high-ranking member of the House Democratic caucus is urging corporations not to withhold donations from the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program despite recent allegations that some private schools receiving money from it may discriminate against LGBTQ students. State Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, said eroding corporate support would do more harm than good. “Ripping scholarship funding out from underneath thousands of economically vulnerable students whose only chance at a safe environment and solid education is not the answer. While we come together to create policies to ensure these conditions, I urge companies not to end their support for students in the short term.” Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the program. redefinED. Florida Politics. The controversy over school vouchers is causing splits along racial, gender identity and party lines. Politico Florida. House Appropriations Chairman Travis Cummings, R-Fleming Island, said that canceled donations to the FTC program have been “relatively small,” and he doesn’t find the situation “overly concerning.” News Service of Florida. Chris Stewart, the chief executive officer of Education Post, said in a podcast that politicians who are hostile to school choice must be held accountable. redefinED.

Educators honored: Kristen Musgrove, a 6th-grade math teacher at Hilliard Middle-Senior High School in Nassau County, is the only Florida teacher and just one of 40 in the United States to win a Milken Educator Award for teaching excellence. The award comes with a $25,000 cash prize. WJCT. WJAX. Faith Bench, a 7th-grade math teacher at Braden River Middle School, has been named the Manatee County School District’s teacher of the year. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Your Observer. Devon LaMonica, a science teacher at Fort Walton Beach High School, has been named the Okaloosa County School District’s teacher of the year. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Security in schools: Alachua County’s charter schools are struggling financially to meet the state’s school safety requirement of having an armed guard on campus. Most charters are using the guardian program instead of having a sworn law enforcement officer because it’s less expensive, but even that is causing financial distress. One school, Healthy Learning Academy, has spent more than half its general fund balance for a guardian’s training and salary, and installing metal doors, a fence and a gate. “It’s actually very expensive and it is very scary,” said Healthy Learning Academy principal Suzanne Borganelli. But, she added, “We were told that if we did not have this, they could close us down.” WUFT.

School lockdowns: Duval County School Board chair Warren Jones is proposing new safety zones be established around schools to cut down on crime and reduce the number of lockdowns. There have already been 71 lockdowns in schools since August, one more than the district had in the entire 2018-2019 school year. Twenty-six of the lockdowns were prompted by crimes near schools, two more than the last full school year. “We need to sound the alarm and make sure we put in place prevention and intervention methods along with policing,” Jones said. WJXT.

Sex in schools: Sexual activity between students at Santa Rosa County schools has exploded this year, said Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick, and administrators are scrambling to find ways to deal with it. Eighteen students have already been disciplined for sexual offenses this school year, compared to 23 all of the last school year. Wyrosdick said offenders range from 5th-graders to seniors, and the offenses range from sending or posting explicit photos on social media to inappropriate touching to intercourse. Pensacola News Journal.

Board supports hair policy: Palm Beach County School Board members are supporting a policy banning any type of discrimination against students based on their hair styles. Administrators have been asked to amend the district’s anti-discrimination policy to include race-based hair styles, and hair of all hues and lengths. “It seems to be coming up more often,” said board member Debra Robinson. “This policy will proclaim to the world our belief system.” Board member Marcia Andrews agreed, saying, “It needs to be etched in stone.” Palm Beach Post. Sun Sentinel.

Oversight committee questions: Nearly eight months after a committee began meeting to provide oversight on the Martin County School District’s spending of money generated by a voter-approved property tax hike, district officials are still running the meetings. That’s a violation of school board policy, and some committee members are complaining about that leadership and say they are not able to get financial records from the districts that they need to do their jobs. District officials have acknowledged the problems, but attribute them to inexperience with setting up and dealing with oversight committees. They said the fixes will be made at the next committee meeting Feb. 24. TCPalm.

Testing improvements: Practice tests show that students at Evergreen Elementary School and other Marion County elementary schools are making significant progress in learning gains, according to district officials. Evergreen, which has gotten school grades of D or F for years and is in the state’s turnaround program, will be handed over to a charter school company if it can’t improve to a C or better this year. Principal Ashley Kemp said of the 104 students who will be used to calculate learning gains at Evergreen, 65 have improved two grade levels. The story is similar at 10 other struggling schools, district officials said. Ocala Star-Banner.

Weather closing schools: Severe weather is forecast for north Florida today, and several school districts have announced schedule changes. Schools in Bay, Jackson, Holmes, Liberty, Calhoun and Gulf counties are closed today. Wakulla County high schools and middle schools will close at 12:15 p.m. and the elementary schools at 1:15, and all after-school activities in Leon County have been canceled. WTXLWCTV. Tallahassee Democrat. Northwest Florida Daily News. WMBB. WJHG.

Relocations for renovations: Students at Northwest Elementary and Hudson Middle schools in Pasco County will be relocated for the 2020-2021 school year while renovations are made to their schools. Northwest students will be reassigned to Hudson Elementary, and Hudson Middle students will be attending Crews Lake Middle. The renovations are expected to be completed by the fall of 2021. Tampa Bay Times.

Contract negotiations: Negotiations have resumed between the Polk County teachers union and district officials, and are expected to continue next week. Union officials have accepted the district’s contention that there is no money available for raises, so they’re focusing on getting more planning time for teachers and more autonomy on lesson plans. Lakeland Ledger.

Purchasing policy review: St. Lucie County school officials are reviewing the district’s purchasing procedures after learning that the Treasure Coast High School cheerleading coach bought team uniforms and other gear from her own company. That coach, Patsi Meltzer, was both a district employee and a district-approved vendor, which violates district policy that says employees cannot do business with the district. A review of the district’s 10,000 vendors has been launched. TCPalm.

Leadership change: Addison Davis is the first Hillsborough County school superintendent hired from outside the district in 50 years. He’s facing a much more diverse student body than he’s had the past four years in Clay County, as well as charter schools luring students by the thousands and too many students reading below grade level. “The expectation is to teach like your hair’s on fire, every minute, every day,” he said. Tampa Bay Times.

Personnel moves: Valorie Baker has been named the headmaster at the private K-12 St. Johns Country Day School in Orange Park. She had been the head of middle school for the past two years at the Webb School in Knoxville, Tenn. Clay Today.

Spelling bee winner: Erik Williams, a 7th-grader at the St. Johns Country Day School, has won the Clay County School District Spelling Bee for the third straight year. He advances to the regional spelling bee later this month in Jacksonville. Clay Today.

A principal’s firing: An investigator for the Palm Beach County School District testified Wednesday that the firing of a principal for comments he made about the Holocaust was “problematic.” Robert Pinkos told an administrative judge that he recused himself from investigating the comments of former Spanish River High School principal William Latson after district administrators told him he couldn’t look into those comments or the way the controversy was handled by those administrators. Latson is trying to have the school board’s decision to fire him reversed. The administrative hearing is expected to continue next month. Palm Beach Post.

School maintenance concerns: The Clay County School District is falling behind in making school repairs because it’s having trouble recruiting and retaining workers, according to Philip Hans, director of maintenance for the district. He says the pay scale needs to be improved. “I can’t keep somebody that has seniority that’s been in the trade for 15 to 20 years,” Hans said. “They come in here and work until a job opening on the outside comes up and then they leave.” Clay Today.

Choice enrollment: Open enrollment began this week in the Lake County School District and continues through April 30. A second enrollment period begins in June for all Florida residents. If schools get more applications than they have open seats, a computerized lottery will be used to choose students for those openings.  Daily Commercial.

Mascot name change: The new Gateway High School’s mascot is changing from Golden Eagles to simply Eagles. District officials say the change was made to avoid any confusion with the Naples High School mascot. The new Lee County school is expected to open in August 2021. Fort Myers News-Press.

School worker suspected: Daytona Beach police are looking for the PTA president at Palm Terrace Elementary School, who is facing charges of grand theft, obtaining property by fraud and passing a counterfeit check. Amber Dickens, 33, has denied doing anything wrong, and said she would turn herself in. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Students and the law: A 17-year-old Marion County student was arrested this week when a school resource officer found a handgun in his backpack at Lake Weir High School. Deputies said the gun had been reported stolen last August. WESH. Ocala Star-Banner. An 18-year-old Hillsborough County student was arrested Wednesday after a school resource officer found an unloaded .22-caliber handgun in his car in the Riverview High School parking lot. WTSP.

Opinions on schools: Does Florida have a terrible problem of school board members amassing dictatorial powers and building permanent political fiefdoms all over the state? If not, then why are so many legislators so intent on imposing an eight-year term limit on those county officials? Bill Cotterell, Tallahassee Democrat. At a time when Gov. Ron DeSantis is actively promoting his workforce initiative, education committee officials are floating the idea to drastically cut funding for Effective Access to Student Education grants to students who hope to attend a private college or university. Teri Christoph, Miami Herald. In the past year, the number of Florida high schools with more than 1,000 students but no physics classes have grown from 36 to 45. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: Jewish students are increasingly choosing Hebrew as a second language, according to a report from the Consortium for Applied Studies in Jewish Education and George Washington University’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development. More than 6,600 U.S. students were taking Hebrew lessons in 2018, and 19 of the 35 schools offering those classes reported increases in enrollment. Jewish News Syndicate. Wolfson High School was the site of the first naturalization ceremony ever held at a Duval County public school. Thirty new U.S. citizens were sworn in Wednesday as the school’s 730 students looked on. Florida Times-Union. An archery club has been started at the Healthy Learning Academy charter school in Gainesville with a donation of equipment from Bear Archery. Gainesville Sun.

Correction: Wednesday’s roundup incorrectly identified state Sen. Jason Pizzo’s political party. He’s a Democrat from Miami.

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BY NextSteps staff