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Revised federal aid guidelines for schools, reopening schools, budget problems, test changes and more

Federal aid use: The U.S. Education Department has issued guidance that could direct more of the federal coronavirus relief money to private schools and less to public schools with mostly low-income students. Congress dictated that the aid to distributed the way Title I funds are — which has meant more money going to districts with more families living in poverty. Private schools get a share depending on the percentage of how many of the area’s low-income students attend them. But the department’s new interpretation is that private schools should get a share based on the percentage of all the area’s students in private schools, not just the poorer students. In Louisiana, for example, the state’s Department of Education estimates that under this guidance it will have to give private schools $31.5 million instead of $8.6 million under the former guidelines. Chalkbeat. The Education Department is requiring that colleges receiving federal coronavirus relief funds publicly account for the way they are distributing the money to students through emergency financial aid grants. Politico.

On reopening schools: The chair of the Florida Board of Governors has appointed a task force to begin planning how to reopen the state’s colleges and universities in the fall. Syd Kitson said the group will “create a phased-in approach for each function and operation to determine what resources are needed to open and where to obtain them and to provide specific guidelines to protect the health and safety of our students and faculty.” He gave no indication of how long the process might take. How courses will be offered is just one of the many details to be determined. This week, Florida State University provost Sally McRorie notified faculty members that it’s unlikely all courses will be offered in person. “My direction for fall at this point is that we plan to offer only face-to-face courses that cannot be done” through other means, she wrote in an email. News Service of Florida. The Bay County School District has announced it plans to open schools as scheduled Aug. 11. A task force is being created to recommend rules for social distancing, wearing masks and more. Panama City News Herald. WMBB. Palm Beach County school Superintendent Donald Fennoy said distance learning will continue to be a part of the district’s education plans for the fall. WPTV. Parents around the state are being surveyed by the Florida Department of Education about when and how K-12 students should return to school. WOFL.

School budgets: Members of the Pasco County School Board are acknowledging that dire forecasts of declines in state sales tax collections and commercial real estate values will prompt a very hard look at the budget for the next fiscal year. “We need to start talking budget cuts,” said board vice chair Allen Altman. Superintendent Kurt Browning told board members that administrators have been working on the budget all spring and looking for ways to save money. “We know that it’s going to be tight,” he said, “and we’re being very cautious.” Tampa Bay Times. School officials in Lee and Lake counties are also bracing for the worst. March’s state sales tax collections were down $770 million, and April’s numbers will be reported later this month. Much of the state aid to schools comes from those taxes. Fort Myers News-Press. Daily Commercial. Catholic schools around the United States are scrambling to bid for federal aid, raise money online and attract students with virtual tours. Church closings have had a major impact on school budgets. “Many of our schools still depend on parish subsidies and those schools are struggling because no one is going to Mass right now,” said Kathy Mears, interim director of the National Catholic Educational Association. Catholic News Service.

Testing change considered: The Florida Department of Education is considering allowing high school students who aren’t graduating this year the option of substituting the geometry end-of-course exam for the algebra test as a way to meet the requirement for graduation. The algebra test was canceled this year, so the change would allow students to take the geometry test instead of waiting for the next algebra test. The Florida Board of Governors will consider the change at its May 20 meeting. Gradebook.

Graduation plans: Manatee County school officials are tentatively planning in-person graduation ceremonies between June 28 and Aug. 1. The district will also honor its graduating seniors by switching on the lights at the football stadiums of the six schools at 8:20 p.m. for 29 minutes, starting May 14. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Pasco County high schools will have in-person graduation ceremonies Aug. 12-15 at the University of South Florida’s Yuengling Center. If the ceremonies can’t be held because of federal guidelines, the money for the center’s rental will go toward 2021 graduations. Tampa Bay Times. Citrus County schools will celebrate graduations with drive-through ceremonies May 26-28. Citrus County Chronicle. Jackson County high school seniors will also graduate at drive-through ceremonies this month. WMBB. With the coronavirus pandemic upending the usual high school commencement ceremonies, parents and communities are resorting to alternative ways to honor their graduates. Here are six of the most popular. Naples Daily News.

Attendance falling: Daily online attendance rates have fallen from 86 percent before schools were shuttered to about 80 percent, Orange County school officials said. Nearly 3,000 students have not signed into the system since remote education began in mid-March. The district is planning to expand summer school, which will also be offered online, and are exploring other ways to help students catch up. “We will have to have more catch-up than we have in the past,” said deputy superintendent Maria Vazquez. Orlando Sentinel. About 1,700 Lee County students have not participated in online learning since it began nearly two months ago, and school officials said they risk not being moved up to the next grade. WFTX.

Scholarship program halted: A Tennessee judge has ruled that the state’s plan to provide scholarships for low-income students to attend private schools is unconstitutional because it violates the home rule amendment in Tennessee’s constitution. The state plans to appeal the ruling, which prohibits the education savings account program from starting as scheduled this fall. It would have affected only students in Nashville and Memphis.  redefinED. Chalkbeat.

More on the coronavirus: Last week, the Duval County School Board had approved an extension of the school year by three days to make up for time lost to the pandemic. Now the state Department of Education has approved a waiver and the district no longer has to make up those days, so the last day of school is again May 29. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. Technology advances have made remote learning for deaf and blind students much less daunting than it would have been 10 or 15 years ago. St. Augustine Record. Some Palm Beach County students are learning about farm animals and rescue farms through the Pet Haven Rescue Sanctuary’s virtual field trips. WPEC. School districts, organizations and individuals continue to feed low-income students while schools are closed. Florida Department of AgricultureFlorida Department of EducationWFTS. Citrus County Chronicle.

Superintendent search: A citizens advisory committee will be appointed to help the Martin County School Board selected a new superintendent. The 27 members will review applications and recommend which candidates the board should consider. The application period is May 15-July 15. Board members hope to hire a superintendent by the end of September. TCPalm.

Benefits of counselors: Effective high school counselors improve students’ chances of graduating by 2 percentage points, and attending and graduating from college by 1.3 percentage points, according to research published in Education Next. The outlook was even better for low-achieving and minority students, whose chances of graduating high school went up more than 3 percentage points with good counseling. Education Dive.

Handling sexual misconduct claims: New rules are being issued by the U.S. Department of Education on how K-12 schools and colleges must handle allegations of sexual misconduct. Trained personnel will be required to evaluate evidence and make decisions about allegations. Schools can use either a “clear and convincing” standard or a looser “preponderance of evidence” standard. K-12 schools will have the option of holding hearings at which representatives of the accused and the alleged victim can question witnesses. Those hearings will be mandatory for colleges and universities. Politico. Education Week. The 74. Associated Press.

Personnel moves: Nikita Reed, who guided many of the lowest-performing schools in Pinellas County to improved performances last year, has resigned. She gave no reason, though Superintendent Michael Grego said Reed wanted to return to Memphis to be close to her family. Ten of the 13 schools in the so-called “transformation zone” that Reed oversaw received grades of C last year. Tampa Bay Times. Sarajean McDaniel, who has been the principal of Moseley Elementary School and was named the Putnam County School District’s principal of the year, is taking a new job as an administrator on special assignment mentoring new principals and implementing school improvement projects. Assistant principal Tony Benford will take over as the interim until the position is filled. Palatka Daily News.

School elections: Charles Gathers, who has worked for the city of Port St. Joe and the Bay County Jail, has announced his candidacy for the District 4 seat on the Gulf County School Board. That seat has been open since December. when Billy Quinn died. Port St. Joe Star.

Opinions on schools: The disruption of the pandemic offers an opportunity to rethink what public schooling could look like. Rather than thinking about how to get schools back to “normal,” let us leverage this situation as an opportunity to think and act in ways that get our schools away from the inequitable normal of the past and on a path to expanded opportunity for students in the future. F. Chris Curran, Gainesville Sun. Waiting for Congress to bail out schools is a risky game of chicken. It’s time for districts to come up with a Plan B, and for the states to help. Marguerite Noza, The 74.

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BY NextSteps staff