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Education relief funds, budget worries, graduations, scholarship growth, superintendents and more

Finances and relief funds: U.S. governors are pressing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to immediately start releasing the $30 billion of aid earmarked for education from the $2.2 trillion coronavirus virus package approved last week by Congress. The National Governors Association also urged DeVos to give governors maximum flexibility in how to allocate the money. “The more than $30 billion in education funding will be a lifeline to educators and students during this time of unprecedented uncertainty,” the group wrote in a letter to DeVos. Florida is projected to receive more than $1.7 billion, with about $770.2 million going to K-12 schools, $760.9 million to higher education, and $173.7 million to Gov. Ron DeSantis to be used at his discretion to help districts and colleges most affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Politico. School officials around Florida are worried that their budgets will be hit even harder than they were during the 2007-2009 recession, which they were just starting to recover from. Districts are building budgets now for the 2020-2021 school year, and officials said they are starting to look hard at positions and programs that aren’t “absolutely necessary.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Scholarship growth: The number of students participating in the state’s K-12 scholarship programs is continuing to grow. The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship has increased from less than 40,000 students a decade ago to about 110,000 now. In that same time, the McKay Scholarship for students with disabilities has grown by about 50 percent. Two newer programs also have expanded. The Gardiner Scholarship for children with special needs, which was launched in 2014, grew by about 2,000 students this year and another jump is expected after this year’s Legislature appropriated an extra $42 million for it. And the Family Empowerment Scholarship, in its first year, enrolled 18,000 students. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the scholarships. redefinED.

Staying online: Broward County school Superintendent Robert Runcie reiterated Friday in a video address that he expects the rest of this school year to be conducted online. “We recognize that the pandemic will continue to grow and anticipate more challenging conditions emerging over the next several weeks,” he said. “Consequently, it is reasonable for all of us to plan for continuing distance learning through the end of the school year.” Last week, Runcie suggested that the “new format” could go even beyond the end of this school year. Florida schools have been closed since mid-March and will stay closed at least through May 1. The first day of online learning last week was rocky for Broward students, but Runcie said by the end of the week 96 percent of the district’s students had signed in and 98 percent of teachers had published courses with the program Canvas. Miami Herald.

End-of-year delays, doubts: Graduation ceremonies for Indian River County’s two high schools have been rescheduled, district officials have announced. Vero Beach High’s graduation was changed from May 15 to June 12, and Sebastian River’s from May 16 to June 13. Some seniors are dubious any ceremonies will be held. “No one thinks it’s going to happen,” said Vero Beach High senior Madelaine Rhodes. “We know (school officials) will do their best to make it happen, but it’s still all up in the air.” TCPalm. Duval County high school seniors are also worried the graduation ceremonies will be canceled. If they are, Superintendent Diana Greene has assured parents the district are “looking into various creative ways to honor our graduating seniors.” Florida Times-Union. Putnam County proms and other end-of-the-year ceremonies have not been officially canceled, but Superintendent Rick Surrency said he thinks they will be. He said individual schools probably will start making decisions this week. Palatka Daily News. St. Johns County high school seniors have started a petition protesting the district’s plans to cancel traditional graduations in favor of virtual ones. WJXT.

Superintendent searches: Some Sarasota County School Board members wants to slow down the process of choosing a new superintendent because of the coronavirus pandemic. Bill Vogel, a consultant with the Florida School Board Association who is helping with the search, said the timeline may have to be adjusted. It calls for the board to start advertising the position Thursday, but with the lockdowns in place Vogel said that may be too ambitious. Board members Caroline Zucker, Jane Goodwin and Shirley Brown said the schedule may have to be altered but that the board should press ahead with the process. The board meets Tuesday, virtually. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Martin County School Board said its search for a new superintendent will continue, though board members acknowledge that the application process could be delayed because potential candidates are busy dealing with the coronavirus crisis in their own school districts. The application process begins May 1, and the board wants to have Laurie Gaylord’s successor in place before she retires in November.  TCPalm. One of the three finalists for the Marion County superintendent’s job has withdrawn. Brennan Asplen said he was staying on as deputy superintendent of academics and student services for the St. Johns County School District to help deal with the coronavirus outbreak. The remaining finalists are Diane Gullett, deputy superintendent for the Clark County School District in Las Vegas, and Heath Morrison, a former superintendent in Charlotte, N.C., and now president of McGraw-Hill Education’s school group. Ocala Star-Banner. New Flagler Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt will be paid $154,200 a year for three years, starting July 1, under a contract approved last week by the school board. Flagler Live.

Taking attendance: The seemingly simple school task of taking attendance has created yet another problem in the era of online learning. Just being there can become a chore, especially for children with limited or no access to computers, laptops or tablets and have substandard Internet connections. The Florida Department of Education has offered no guidance on how districts should take their counts, and so districts are taking a variety of approaches. Some favor overall performance on such things as completing assignments over daily check-ins. Others demand the performance, but also want to know students are spending time in front of a computer screen. Tampa Bay Times.

Adapting to changes: The Hillsborough County School District has canceled final exams, postponed the second school choice application period and has started to plan alternate graduation ceremonies because of the coronavirus pandemic. Gradebook. The governor’s stay-at-home has prompted the Pasco County School District to cancel all final exams and move all workers out of all schools, and the school board to switch to a virtual meeting Tuesday. Tampa Bay Times. Alachua County students, teachers and parents are adjusting to the learning curve of virtual education. Gainesville Sun. The changeover to virtual lessons has been challenging for Charlotte County students, and teachers say they miss the loss of the rapport that can be established in face-to-face communications. Charlotte Sun. About 60,000 Brevard County students were logging into the district’s online platform by the end of the first week of remote learning. Space Coast Daily. Virtual school board meetings tread a narrow path in balancing safety and transparency. Chalkbeat.

More on the coronavirus: Missing the structure of a daily school schedule is especially hard on students with special needs, said school officials, and those students are not getting the services and accommodations they require to learn. Tampa Bay Times. A mobile app to reduce stress has been introduced to students by the Sarasota County School District. About 3,000 students have signed up to use Inner Explorer, which is an audio program that helps students be mindful of what they’re experiencing. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The Lake County tree producer Cherrylake will hold its annual Agriculture in the Classroom Ag Literacy Day book readings to students this morning through Facebook. Daily Commercial. The Babcock Neighborhood School in Lee County is making 3D face masks for medical workers. WFTX. School districts and other organizations continue to feed low-income students while schools are closed, and some are making changes in their deliveries. Florida Department of AgricultureFlorida Department of EducationWTXL. WTVT. TCPalm. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Daily Commercial. WJHG. WJXT. Walton County School District. Tampa Bay Times. Palm Beach Post. WINK. WBBH. WEAR.

Spring sports Q&A: Seven questions about the Florida High School Athletic Association’s announcement last week that it could extend the spring sports season to June 30 if schools reopen this school year, or grant spring athletes another year of eligibility if schools remain closed until the 2020-2021 academic year. USA Today Network.

Opinions on schools: It’s about time for Florida to acknowledge that its students probably won’t be going back to traditional classrooms this year, which means that teachers, students, parents and administrators should buckle up and prepare to work out the kinks in virtual school and use it as an opportunity for innovation. Tampa Bay Times. A solution involving both government and the private sector is needed to close the digital divide in Florida schools as quickly as possible. No matter when schools open again, ensuring that all students have access to high-speed Internet service and digital devices will better prepare them for the use of such technology throughout their educational and working lives. Gainesville Sun. The reality is that the coronavirus could come back and the current school shutdown may not be the last school shutdown. Lots of things can change for the better between now and the fall – testing, treatments and vaccines, for example. Florida policymakers are wise, nevertheless, to expand the state’s capacity to deliver online instruction. Matthew Ladner, redefinED. Perhaps more important than the decentralization of public schools is that our charter, private, and homeschooling sectors — and even some traditional districts — have been able to be incubators of sometimes very different ways of delivering education. And that helps in responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Neal McCluskey, redefinED. Transforming the Duval County School District to online learning could have been an education nightmare. Instead, it was solved with great determination, ingenuity and excellence, and is a testament to a school system that is functioning in the best way under the most difficult of circumstances. Matt Carlucci, Florida Times-Union. This is not what I had envisioned for my last year, but this is the hand that I was dealt. I ache for these kids and I ache for all of us, a retiring Marion County teacher says in a letter to his students. Todd Carstenn, Ocala Star-Banner. A first-year Volusia County teacher’s initial fears over the impact of the coronavirus on her students have been calmed. Alyssa Reed, Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Student enrichment: Students in the robotics club at River City Science Academy Elementary in Jacksonville designed, then created a prototype of a sea turtle nest protector that the Beaches Sea Turtle Patrol is testing during the nesting season, which runs from March to October. Florida Times-Union.

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BY NextSteps staff