New academic standards approved, colleges consolidation, budgets, tax hikes, charters and more

New academic standards: Florida Board of Education members unanimously approved the replacement for the Common Core academic standards, even as they had questions about whether the changes are as sweeping as state officials said they would be. “Could you just answer that question whether or not this is Common Core Phase 2?” board member Michael Olenick asked Jacob Oliva, the Department of Education’s K-12 chancellor. Oliva acknowledged some commonalities, but said the way information will be presented and the progression of the materials are very different. He said the adoption of the new standards was “a historic moment, a defining moment” for public education in the state. The new K-12 standards are called Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking (B.E.S.T.). The spell out new standards for learning English language arts, emphasizing classic literature and back-to-basics reading instruction, and math, with an emphasis on simplification. They’ll also cut down on the number of tests students will be required to take, and emphasize financial literacy and civics and history. The new standards go into effect next fall. Orlando Sentinel. Gradebook. Florida Phoenix. WTXL. Some things to know about the new standards. Florida Today. WKMG.

Consolidation and scholarships: A bill that would merge two small colleges into two larger ones and change the standards for certain scholarships won the approval of the House Education Committee on Wednesday. The plan would fold Sarasota’s New College into Florida State University and Lakeland’s Florida Polytechnic University into the University of Florida. It also tightens the eligibility for grants to private colleges from the Effective Access to Student Education tuition assistance program, and eliminates a requirement in the Bright Future scholarship program that Academic scholarship winners receive $300 for textbooks. But Bright Futures Medallion recipients could receive 100 percent of tuition if they go to a state college to first get an associate’s degree. The sponsor, Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, said the changes are needed to cut the costs per degree at smaller schools and free up some grant money for other uses. News Service of Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Florida Politics. WJXT. Education Dive.

Senate, House budgets: Committees in both the Senate and House worked on their proposed budgets on Wednesday to prepare them for floor votes today. The Senate’s $92.8 billion plan boosts per-student spending by 2.4 percent and calls for $500 million to improve teacher salaries. The House’s $91.4 billion budget would commit $650 million toward teacher raises. Once both budgets are approved, committees from each chamber will begin negotiations to resolve the differences in the plans. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics. GateHouse. Florida Phoenix.

Tax hike considered: Lee County School Board members are considering asking voters to raise property taxes so employee salaries, benefits and academic services can be improved. District officials estimate improving compensation, benefits and bonuses would cost up to $35 million, and that lengthening the school day by 30 minutes and expanding tutoring, after-school and summer programs could cost about $28 million. Less than two years ago, voters approved a half-cent sales tax increase for school renovation and construction, maintenance, and upgrades in school security and technology that’s expected to raise $83.8 million this school year. Fort Myers News-Press. WINK.

Charter authorization: A bill that would give colleges and universities the authority to approve charter schools was approved by the House Education Committee. “All this bill does is allow our nationally recognized state colleges and universities to become authorizers,” said Rep. Stan McClain, R-Ocala. “Florida is one of the only states that does not have multiple authorizers.” redefinED.

Compensation for athletes:bill allowing college athletes to be compensated for the use of their “name, image, likeness or persona” has been approved by the House Judiciary Committee and now moves on for a full House vote. The bill also would require schools to provide athletes with insurance, offer them life skills and financial training, and extend grants for up to one academic year after an athlete’s eligibility has ended and up to five years for athletes who are injured and can no longer play. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics.

Improvement plans: District plans to improve the academic performance at three schools in the Tampa Bay area have been approved by the Florida Board of Education. Pinellas County’s Lakewood Elementary School and Hillsborough County’s Oak Park and Foster elementary schools will each get one more year to boost the schools’ grades from the state to C or higher. No action was taken on a similar request for Thonotosassa Elementary, also in Hillsborough. The board also approved the Pasco County School District’s request to close long-struggling Hudson Elementary School and send its students to Northwest and Gulf Highlands as part of a plan to revamp academics in the west part of the county. Gradebook.

Federal grants misused: A Lee County School District investigation has disclosed that money from federal Pell grants has been mismanaged for years at Fort Myers Technical College. Some of the money that was supposed to be going to students may been diverted to buy boats and cars instead. “It started in October [of 2018] with our internal auditing department trying to work with them,” said Lee Superintendent Greg Adkins recently told school board members. “They assured us that they had made corrective action. They had not.” More than $30,000 that should have gone to students didn’t. School finance director Ami Desamours said new oversight procedures are in place over the technical school. WFTX.

Scholarship administration: The Florida Department of Education has unanimously approved the renewal for Step Up For Students (SUFS) and the AAA Scholarship Foundation to continue to administer state K-12 scholarships. Both organizations administer the Florida Tax Credit, Gardiner and Family Empowerment scholarship programs. SUFS, which hosts this blog, also administers the Hope and Reading scholarship programs. redefinED.

Superintendent searches: Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday that he expects to appoint an interim superintendent for the Clay County School District by the end of the month. Addison Davis recently accepted the job as Hillsborough County superintendent and could begin next month. WJXT. Clay Today. Jim Tager, who is resigning this summer as superintendent for the Flagler County School District, has been hired for the same job at the Franklin West Supervisory Union in Georgia, Vt. He begins July 1. Saint Albans Messenger.

School calendar: The next school year begins Aug. 24 and ends June 9, 2021, according to the Miami-Dade County School District calendar approved this week by the school board. It includes just three days off during Thanksgiving week, and a spring break week beginning March 29. Miami Herald.

Charter expansion: A Monroe County charter school’s plans to move and expand are being questioned by school board members. Ocean Studies Charter School wants to move from Tavernier to Key Largo and grow from K-5 to K-8. It also wants to place ownership of the building into the hands of a private corporation so it couldn’t be taken over by the school district if the charter school fails. School board members believe that private corporation will want public money to help pay for the proposed $1.8 million building. The board took no action, and will revisit the issue at a future meeting. Key West Citizen.

Naming a school: The Pasco County School Board will choose a name next week for the technical high school now being built in the eastern part of the county, which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2022. Dozens of suggestions have been made to the district, with 72 people urging the school be named after Sean Bartell, a former Wesley Chapel High School student who died in 2014 of a rare disease. The next-highest recommendation was for Kirkland Ranch, where the school is being built. Gradebook.

Crossing guards honored: Ellen Cipriani of Hillsborough County and Star Myers of Seminole County have been named Florida’s school crossing guards of the year for 2019 by the Florida Department of Transportation. Tinamarie Ioffredo of the Sebastian Police Department won the Extra Mile Award, and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, and Pinellas Park and St. Petersburg police departments were named the crossing guard programs of the year. Capitol Soup.

School busing policy: Students who live within 2 miles of their schools would no longer be eligible for busing under a proposal that will be considered by the Martin County School Board next week. The state stopped funding for busing those students in 2015, but Martin County continued to provide them limited service. Complications prompted the reconsideration of the policy, said Superintendent Laurie Gaylord. TCPalm.

School board elections: Scott Boyes, the principal at Jessie P. Miller Elementary School in Bradenton, has announced he is running for the District 3 seat on the Manatee County School Board that is currently held by Dave Miner. Shaun Lehoe is also in the race, and Miner has yet to announce his plans. Boyes is retiring March 1. The primary election is Aug. 18. If no one wins a majority, the runoff is Nov. 3. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Bridie Wulff will challenge incumbent Ginger Bryant for the District 2 seat on the Citrus County School Board. Also running is Mark Garlock. Citrus County Chronicle.

Fire damages total $700,000: A November fire reportedly caused by a two-way radio charger caused about $700,000 in damage at Manatee Elementary School in Bradenton, according to a report for school board members. Insurance will cover the damage after the district meets the $100,000 deductible. Bradenton Herald.

School officials and the law: An appeals court has rejected the appeal of an Ohio man sentenced to more than four years in prison for defrauding several Florida charter schools. Businessman Steven Kunkemoeller was convicted of racketeering and organized fraud in 2018. He and Marcus May, who owned Newpoint charter schools, bought furniture and equipment and then sold it to the schools after increasing the prices as much as threefold. Pensacola News Journal. A former employee at an Ormond Beach day-care center was sentenced to four months in jail for slapping and shaking a child in her care. Katherine Weitz, 66, who worked at Dream City Academy, pleaded no contest to four counts of child abuse. Associated Press. A Volusia County teacher has been put on leave after bringing a fake rifle to New Smyrna Beach High School. The teacher apparently brought the gun to show to students. No charges have been filed, but the investigation continues. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Students and the law: A 14-year-old student at Belleview High School in Marion County has been arrested and accused of making threats on social media to carry out a shooting at the school. More than 1,000 stayed home from school on Tuesday after the threat was made on Monday. WMFE.

Opinions on schools: Floridians want students to have access to the best educational opportunities available, and will support the state House and Senate taking bold steps to accelerate the implementation of universal access to the Family Empowerment Scholarship. Skylar Zander, Florida Politics. For two decades, Florida has led the nation in providing more education options for its students and families, and over that period has seen academic gains in the public and private sectors. The state cannot afford to retreat from that commitment. State Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., Florida Politics. It is important that the embedded civics content in Florida’s new education standards reflect the diversity of our students. Such content should celebrate the virtues of our country but not shy away from critically engaging with the racism, structural inequalities and discriminatory policy decisions that have disenfranchised many. F. Chris Curran, Gainesville Sun.

Student enrichment: St. Johns Country Day School is one of just nine in the country to be named as a “hero school” by the One Love Foundation for its emphasis on education about healthy relationships. Clay Today. About 20,000 new books will be distributed to children in areas of northwest Florida affected by recent hurricanes. The nonprofit First Book partnered with author Alane Adams and the Rise Up Foundation to make the donation. Port St. Joe Star. An Orlando high school student has released a music video called Change to honor the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School two years ago. “We’re the future, we’re the kids. We still got long lives to live,” sings Yomar Fontanez, a student at Cornerstone Charter Academy. Tampa Bay Times. Go behind the scenes of a high school play — and students’ school lives — in a four-part series (part 1, part 2) from Atlantic High School in Port Orange. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

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BY NextSteps staff