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Best and Brightest repeal, top education bill passed over, overtime, scholarships, coronavirus and more

Best and Brightest: The Senate has approved a bill that repeals the educator bonuses program known as the Best and Brightest Award Program. Gov. Ron DeSantis called on the Legislature to end it and redirect the money spent on it last year to a new $300 million bonus program rewarding teachers and principals at schools based on student improvement. DeSantis also asked for $600 million to raise starting teacher pay to $47,500 a year. Legislators have responded by pushing legislation for raises, but allotting nothing for bonuses. The House also is expected to approve the repeal. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics. One of the session’s major K-12 education bills, S.B. 62, did not get a vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee before the panel adjourned Tuesday in what could be its final meeting of the session, leaving the proposal in legislative limbo. The bill patched together a variety of education ideas, including raising teacher pay, cutting student testing, expanding dual-enrollment for home-schooled students, banning the use of seclusion and cutting back the use of physical restraints on students. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida.

Legislative overtime: Disputes over the budget, health care reform, tourism marketing and gaming will apparently force the Legislature to go into overtime this year instead of ending as scheduled March 13. “At this moment in time, we are extending at the very least a day or two,” said House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes. There’s a 72-hour “cooling off” period required after the budget is passed, which means it would have to be approved by March 10 for the session to end on time. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida.

Expanding scholarships: The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved a bill to increase the enrollment cap for the Family Empowerment Scholarship and align some of its provisions with the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship. About 126,000 economically disadvantaged students are enrolled in private K-12 schools under the two programs this year. S.B. 1220 also modifies requirements for getting and keeping teacher certificates as a way to ease the teacher shortage. The Senate bill and H.B. 7067, which is awaiting a vote in the House, would increase the maximum enrollment growth on Family Empowerment Scholarships this fall from 7,000 to 28,000. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer both scholarship programs. redefinED.

Coronavirus concerns: Legislators said Tuesday they were preparing an offer of $10 million to $20 million to Gov. DeSantis to assist the state in containing the coronavirus. Meanwhile, a presumptive third case has been reported in Florida. The 20-year-old sister of a Hillsborough County woman who is confirmed to have the virus has now tested positive for the virus. Both recently returned from a trip to Italy. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Associated Press. Tampa Bay Times. Sun Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Politics. USA Today Network. WUSF. WFLA. WTSP. WFTS. School districts around Florida continue to make plans on how they will fight the virus. Florida Times-Union. Florida Times-Union. Fort Myers News-Press. Naples Daily News. WFTV. WJAX. WJXT. WMBB. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WPLG. Vice President Mike Pence visited the Sarasota Military Academy last Friday and shook hands with classmates of a student who has been quarantined. Aides said Pence did not have direct contact with the student. Bloomberg. Florida Politics. Tampa Bay Times. Questions and answers about the coronavirus. Miami Herald. Florida Times-Union. Florida Department of Health. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WKMG. WFTX. How to talk to K-12 students about the coronavirus. Politico Florida. U.S. schools are in a state of alert about the coronavirus. Are they overreacting or not doing enough? USA Today. The CDC has advised schools to start planning for remote instruction. But that’s not an easy solution. Chalkbeat.

Minimum arrest age: A bill that would have prohibited Florida police from arresting anyone under the age of 10 is probably dead for this legislative session after the Senate Appropriations Committee finished its last meeting without discussing it. Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, who chairs the committee, said he had no objections to the bill but that his committee simply ran out of time to hear it. Other legislators said they would try to add the proposal to the Senate criminal justice bill, or to a different bill in the House, but that’s considered unlikely to happen. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Politics.

Higher taxes for schools: The Florida House has rejected a bill that would have allowed school boards to raise property taxes to hire school safety officers with a super-majority vote and without a ballot referendum. Districts would have been able to property taxes by up to 50 cents for every $1,000 in taxable property value, or about $100 more for the owner of a $225,000 home with a homestead exemption. Sun Sentinel. A citizens committee, named Duval Citizens for Better Schools, has been created to lead the campaign to pass a sales tax increase that would help the district raise money to repair and replace aging schools. Florida Times-Union.

Higher education: The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved a revised version of a higher education bill that includes changes in the Florida Student Assistance Grant Program. Only students whose family income is 150 percent or less than the maximum Pell grant eligibility would be eligible for the grants, and the awards would be available for students during summer sessions. The bill also would create a Universities of Distinction program. Politico Florida.

Contract negotiations: A contract agreement between the Martin County School District and its teachers union calls for a one-time 3 percent bonus for all instructional staff. District officials praised the deal, while union president Karen Resciniti said she is “extremely disappointed it was not a permanent raise.” The proposed deal still has to be approved by the school board and union members. TCPalm.

New school boundaries: Osceola County School Board members approve a rezoning plan that will send hundreds of students to new schools as a way to ease overcrowding. The changes go into effect in August. WKMG.

New schools: Two new high schools are on schedule to open next fall in Orange County. They will be the 21st and 22nd high schools in the county, and were built to relieve overcrowding at Dr. Phillips, Windermere and Freedom high schools. The school district have redrawn attendance zones, and are showing them to those school communities at a public meeting tonight. Orlando Sentinel.

Graduation requirements: The Pasco County School Board has approved Classical Preparatory School’s request to widen the requirements to become valedictorian. The charter school will now weigh grade point average, Advanced Placement test results, ACT and SAT scores, and disciplinary records to determine the top student in the senior class. District officials said there are no plans to adopt the formula in other high schools. Gradebook.

Charter school review: Lake County School Board members said in a review that the Altoona School has shown progress on improving academic performance and its financial conditions in the past year. In 2019, the board gave the charter school a one-year renewal and demanded improvements. The school’s contract ends June 30, and the board is expected to vote on a renewal soon. Daily Commercial.

New STEM facilities: Bay County school officials broke ground Tuesday for a new science, technology, engineering and mathematics facility at Bay High School. The building has been discussed for years, but construction fell behind because of Hurricane Michael in 2018. The first phase of the building will cost about $5.5 million and is expected to take 12 to 16 months to finish. Panama City News Herald. WMBB. A new STEM building that includes a media center is expected to be finished on schedule by July 1 at the Tallahassee School of Math and Science. WTXL.

Homeless near schools: Fort Lauderdale city commissioners say they support a proposed bill that would bar homeless people from setting up camps within 1,000 feet of schools and day-care centers. Commissioner Robert McKinzie said the bill is needed to protect children from people who refuse to be helped. The final vote is March 17. Sun Sentinel.

Students and the law: A 15-year-old Osceola County student has been arrested and accused of having a gun on the campus of Poinciana High School in Kissimmee. Deputies said the gun had been reported stolen from Polk County. Orlando Sentinel. WFTV. Several students were arrested after a massive after-school brawl at Coral Springs High School on Monday. Parents are blaming gangs for the conflict. WPLG.

Opinions on schools: St. Petersburg has almost 4,500 homeless students. The city council is considering entering into a partnership with a county homeless alliance that offers promise to address the problem. Tampa Bay Times. What state Rep. Randy Fine does not understand is that education is not merely vocational training; education is about challenging authority, cultivating the mind, engaging with ideas you don’t like, figuring out who you are, learning to think. Diane Roberts, Florida Phoenix. Supporting after-school and summer learning programs is critical to fighting juvenile crime and helping our kids reach their full potential. Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, Tampa Bay Times. The Legislature is about to pour $200 million more into voucher schools. How about they add basic transparency and accountability measures as well? Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. The U.S. Supreme Court is about to decide a case that would mark a seminal moment in the annals of American public education. Carl Ramey, Gainesville Sun.

Student enrichment: The cheer team at Strawberry Crest High School in Hillsborough County recently won the school’s first national championship. WTVT. A Vegan Club, the only one of its kind of the Palm Beach County School District, is doing well in its second year at Spanish River High School in Boca Raton, said founder Bodey Miller, a 17-year-old junior. Palm Beach Post.

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BY NextSteps staff