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Budget and education bills go to governor, school reopenings, election day closings, charters and more

Bills now before governor: Several bills with implications for education in Florida are among the 89 that have been sent this week to Gov. Ron DeSantis for consideration. Foremost is the $93.2 billion state budget. The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent economic shutdown has gutted the state’s sales tax collections, by $770 million in March and $878 million in April with another significant shortfall forecast when May’s figures are announced. DeSantis is expected to use his line-item veto authority to cut at least $1 billion from the budget, and the state will depend on federal aid and reserves to close the gaps. DeSantis has said he hopes to preserve the $500 million increase in teacher pay, and he’s also received the bill that would expand the Family Empowerment Scholarship program by about 29,000 students and allow for increases in the income limit for eligibility. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, administers the scholarship. DeSantis has until June 30 to sign or veto the bills, or let them become law without his signature. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics. redefinED. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel. WFSU. The governor signed an order on Wednesday recommending that all the state’s K-12 schools close Aug. 18 for the primary election and Nov. 3 for the general election so they can be used as polling places. WFTS. Politico Florida.

Reopening universities: The state university that focuses on STEM subjects will turn to technology to help reopen safely. The Florida Polytechnic University plan includes the now-standard use of masks indoors, social distancing, a mix of online and in-person classes, and health screenings, but also incorporates touchless entry into high-volume areas, air monitoring systems in public areas and more. Tampa Bay Business Journal. The University of South Florida announced that if the coronavirus forces the school to close again, it won’t be issuing refunds for housing. Tampa Bay Times. The University of Florida is asking a judge to toss out a class-action lawsuit that argues the school should refund tuition and fees after closing the campus in mid-March. News Service of Florida.

Reopening K-12 schools: Leon County will reopen schools Aug. 10 for face-to-face instruction, though parents will have the option of online learning for their children. A survey of parents indicated that “85 percent of our families were confident they want their children back in school today,” said Superintendent Rocky Hanna. A school reopening task force has begun meeting and will make recommendations on such issues as students wearing masks,  classes being held in the cafeteria and more. Suwannee County school officials also said that schools will reopen in August, with safety precautions in place. WTXL. Tallahassee Democrat. WCTV. The Miami-Dade School District will announce its reopening plans next Wednesday. WPLG.  The school reopening task force in Lee County talk about safety measures, equity and more as it works on its recommendations. WINK. Pinellas County school officials are surveying parents to help them decide how to reopen schools in the fall. The survey began Monday and ends Sunday night. WUSF. Gradebook. There are more questions than answers about the best way to reopen schools, and plenty of risk for U.S. school officials. Politico. If the hybrid teaching models that mix online and in-person instruction are found to be effective, some educators think they could become a learning norm that outlasts the coronavirus pandemic. Education Dive.

Graduation plans: The Seminole County School District has canceled its July outdoor graduations because of the recent spike in coronavirus cases. District officials are developing alternate plans. Senior dances were also scrapped. WKMG. Orlando Sentinel. The Pinellas County School District will hold outdoor graduation ceremonies the week of July 7 at Spectrum Field in Clearwater. Graduates and up to four guests can walk to a stage on the field for a photo with the school principal, then go to Clearwater High School to pick up their diplomas in a drive-through line. Gradebook.

More on the coronavirus: A Broward County preschool summer camp was suspended after two teachers tested positive for the coronavirus. Miami Herald. A survey shows that 42 percent of Floridians enrolled in colleges or a training program are taking time off or transferring because of the pandemic. Florida Trend. Two years ago, Venezuelan thugs forced the Santana family from their home. They emigrated to Lakeland and their daughter Samira settled in at the St. Joseph Academy. Now their lives are being disrupted again after the coronavirus closed the school, and 12-year-old Samira will start over again at St. Anthony Catholic School. redefinED.

IDEA’s Florida expansion: A charter school network that is planning on opening four “Schools of Hope” in Hillsborough County just announced that it already has plans for two more. IDEA Public Schools, based in Texas, wants to build two schools in east Hillsborough to compete with elementary schools that have C or D grades from the state. The schools would open by the 2022-2023 school year, and are planned to eventually expand to K-12 for 1,500 students. The other four are expected to open in 2021. Schools of Hope is a state program that provides incentives for highly regarded charter school companies to open schools in neighborhoods with persistently struggling schools, and are approved by the state. Gradebook.

Budget concerns: The Brevard County School District is considering cutting busing for students to attend schools of their choice and eliminating 136 district positions as ways to save money. Ending the transportation would save the district about $1 million a year. The district projected a funding shortfall of $13 million before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Florida Today. Space Coast Daily.

Contract negotiations: Miami-Dade County School District first-year teachers would be paid $47,500 under a tentative agreement between the district and the teachers union. That’s up from $41,000, and matches the goal Gov. DeSantis set earlier this year. Veteran teachers who aren’t making $47,500 would be bumped up to that, and other eligible teachers would receive a 2.5 percent stipend. WLRN.

Superintendent search: The Sarasota County School has narrowed its search for a new superintendent to five candidates: Brennan Asplen III, deputy superintendent, St. Johns County; Marie Izquierdo, chief academic officer, Miami-Dade County; Gonzalo S. La Cava, chief of human resources, Palm Beach County; Peter Licata, regional superintendent, Palm Beach County; and Keith Oswald, deputy superintendent, Palm Beach County. The board could narrow the field further at its meeting Tuesday, and is expected to make a decision at its meeting July 14. WWSB.

Teaching tolerance: A handful of Duval County teachers will undergo training to help them incorporate social justice into their classroom instruction next fall. The training for Teaching Tolerance is financed through a grant from the Southern Poverty Law Center and administered through the Jacksonville Public Education Fund. “It’s not just discrimination or racism alone,” said Leena Hall-Young, the county’s teacher of the year for 2020. “It’s also about equity, it’s also about tolerance. So having a safe space in the classroom at all times to actually open the dialogue, understand where they’re coming from, understand where you’re coming from, and then find a solution.” The training will include anti-bias instruction and a project where teachers will identify a problem and a means to solve it. WTLV.

Campaign against campaign: Miami-Dade County School Board members said they were deluged with profane calls filled with misinformation for a day or two before they voted on a proposal to introduce an anti-racism curriculum into the district. Despite the campaign, board members voted 8-1 to approve the plan. Miami Herald.

Studies on education: A new study shows that in affluent schools, school resource officers believe the biggest threat to students is intruders. But in racially diverse schools, officers perceive that students are the primary threat. “It’s not necessarily individual officers, but it’s sort of the way that people, and especially law enforcement, make sense of what counts as criminal,” said Ben Fisher, the author of the study and an assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Louisville. The 74. A survey by Echelon Insights shows that parents worry that school closings because of the pandemic are putting their children’s education and future at risk. The 74. New social science research suggests that students graduating from high school during a recession could earn higher pay later in life. NPR.

Chair shuts off speaker: Flagler County School Board chair Janet McDonald is drawing criticism for shutting down a speaker at Tuesday’s meeting who was castigating her for amplifying and supporting discrimination. McDonald interrupted the speaker, a student, during the public comment portion of the meeting, saying “we cannot have individuals called out.” Flagler Live.

Notable deaths: Gwendolyn Delores Maxwell, a longtime northeast Florida teacher and coach who led the Ribault High girls track team to multiple state titles and runner-up finishes, has died at the age of 86. Florida Times-Union. WJXT.

Personnel moves: Laurence Pender has been named as principal of the K-12 Franklin County Schools. Pender had been the principal at Grand Ridge School in Jackson County. He replaces Michael Sneed, whose contract was not renewed. Apalachicola Times.

School board elections: Candidates for the District 2 seat on the Citrus County School Board talk about reopening schools, teacher pay, capital improvements, career education and more. Citrus County Chronicle.

Volunteer arrested: A retired Volusia County teacher who was working as a school volunteer has been arrested and accused of soliciting sex from a minor. Deputies said James Benefield, 61, who taught at New Smyrna Beach High School and now volunteers there, was charged with soliciting sexual activity with a child, child abuse and providing false information to law enforcement. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Teacher fired: A Palm Beach County teacher has been fired after a district investigation concluded he changed more than 18,000 grades within the online learning programs over a two-year period. Randy Whidden taught at Forest Hill High School before his actions were discovered. “In his mind he’s helping kids,” said his former principal, Mary Stratos. Palm Beach Post.

Opinions on schools: By not setting clear expectations that teachers would teach and students would learn during the coronavirus pandemic, the majority of U.S. school districts surveyed left teachers on their own to figure out what they needed to do for students, and how. School system leaders must not do that a second time. Robin Lake, Betheny Gross and Alice Opalka, The 74.

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BY NextSteps staff