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$22.4B deal on education budget includes $1,000 bonuses, Bright Futures book cuts, and more

Education budget set: The Senate and House agreed over the weekend on a $22.4 billion education budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year that includes $1,000 bonuses for public teachers, certified pre-K teachers and principals. Also included is another $550 million in raises for educators, $200 million to expand school choice programs, $264 million for districts if enrollments rebound to projected levels, $120 million for school mental health programs, and a per-student spending increase of $38.71, to $7,795. The $6.8 billion in federal aid for schools that isn’t being spent on bonuses will be put in reserves until the Department of Education produces detailed plans on how to use it. Two notable items have been cut from the higher education budget: the $600 book stipend for top Bright Futures Scholarship winners, which would save the state $37.4 million, and $4.6 million that helped students with private college tuition. There are still a couple of unresolved issues on the overall state budget, including how to spend $10 billion stimulus aid from the federal government and whether to raise the pay for low-level government workers to $13 an hour. To end the 60-day legislative session as scheduled on Friday, the budget must be approved by Tuesday since there’s a 72-hour window required between an agreement and a vote. News Service of Florida. Miami Herald. Politico Florida.

Also in the Legislature: Many education-related bills are still awaiting legislative action, with only one scheduled week left in this session. Politico Florida. House members voted overwhelmingly Friday to approve a bill authorizing three tax-free holidays this year, including seven days in August when back-to-school clothing, supplies and electronics won’t be taxed. News Service of Florida. A proposal establishing the Purple Star School program to help children of military families find schools and help with their transition was approved Friday by the House. Florida Politics. A proposed ban on arresting children younger than 7 years old has stalled because it’s part of a larger police reform proposal that is hung up on accountability measures for the use of excessive force. Orlando Sentinel. A bill that would prohibit discrimination against blacks who wear their hair naturally is not moving in the Legislature for the second year in a row. Daytona Beach News-Journal. A bill banning transgender females from girls sports in high schools and colleges appears to be dead, but transgender youth say the effort hurt them and they’re worried it will be refiled next year. Tampa Bay Times.

Around the state: Supporters rallied on behalf of Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie after he was indicated last week on a perjury charge, a survey of Hillsborough school district administrators shows a broad lack of support for Superintendent Addison Davis, a majority of Lee County’s legislative delegation is demanding that the school district not allow students born male to use girls bathrooms in schools, dress code violations have tripled over last year in St. Johns County schools, and several districts have announced their summer learning programs. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Summer school traditionally has been held for 5,000 or 6,000 students. This year, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said, the district is opening 179 schools and hopes 65,000 students participate in programs designed to accelerate learning recovery. Federal aid will be used for the program, which will include free transportation and meals, and to subsidize before- and after-school care. “We have a lot riding on this promise and it’s a promise and a premise based on need,” said Carvalho. “This is our way of, quite frankly, kick-starting the 2021-2022 school year.” Miami Herald.

Broward: Supporters of Superintendent Robert Runcie rallied on his behalf over the weekend, calling his indictment by a statewide grand jury for perjury “political” and urging that he be allowed to continue to lead the district. State Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, who said last week that he would run in a special election to replace the late U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings in District 20, accused Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of being the “undisputed co-leader in this witch hunt against Mr. Runcie.” Runcie’s lawyers have filed a motion in circuit court to dismiss the charge, calling it intentionally vague. Runcie is scheduled to appear in court May 12. The school board meets Tuesday to discuss the future of Runcie and general counsel Barbara Myrick, who was also indicted last week on a charge of illegally disclosing information about the grand jury’s proceedings. Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald. WPLG. WTVJ.

Hillsborough: Superintendent Addison Davis, already under attack by the school board and community for proposing layoffs and massive cuts in spending to make up a $100 million-plus budget deficit, took another hit Friday at an emergency school board meeting. Results of a survey of principals, assistant principals and other administrators conducted by the Hillsborough Association of School Administrators were announced by board chair Lynn Gray, and they were jarring. About 77 percent either disagree or strongly disagree that Davis “has made a sustained, honest and sensitive effort to address district and school leaders’ concerns.” Sixty-five percent disagree or strongly disagree that Davis can lead the district through the financial crisis that prompted Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to threaten a state takeover if an adequate recovery plan can’t be provided within 20 days. Davis defended his actions, saying “tough decisions have had to be made.” He and board member Henry Washington also questioned the survey, which was set up in a way that allowed people to respond multiple times. The board meets again Tuesday to discuss the crisis and Corcoran’s order. Tampa Bay Times. WFTS. WUSF. A 2016 audit foreshadowed the district’s financial crisis. WFTS. A former custodian at West Shore Elementary School in Tampa has  been indicted for allegedly distributing images showing children being sexually abused, according to the Department of Justice. Charles Mark Currie, 64, who resigned from his job earlier this year, faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted. WBBH.

Orange: Health officials are starting to offer coronavirus vaccinations to students and their parents at high schools. Wednesday, shots will be offered at Evans, Jones and Colonial high schools. “It is currently important for parents to exert influence in younger individuals to get vaccinated — and they are not getting vaccinated at a higher rate,” said Dr. Raul Pino, county health director. Spectrum News 13.

Palm Beach: Incoming school district police chief Daniel Alexander said union concerns that the district department is losing officers and has problems with technology are overblown. “It’s really important to ask the question, ‘is anyone that’s talking about this talking about the safety of our kids?’ ” Alexander said. “Because that’s what this is about. It’s not about politics. It’s not about taking over. It’s about taking care of our kids, our teachers, our schools every day.” Alexander has been hired to replace the resigning Frank Kitzerow. WPEC.

Polk: Eleven county students were honored Friday with Silver Garland awards for service to their schools and community. Lakeland Ledger.

Lee: A majority of the Lee County legislative delegation has sent a letter to the school district demanding that it “immediately discontinue or cancel any policies that allow male students and faculty members to use the girls’ bathrooms and locker rooms in Lee County Schools.” Rep. Spencer Roach, R-North Fort Myers, who chairs the delegation, said such policies will lead to more rapes in schools. Florida Politics. A mass text sent to members of the community urges them to speak up against the school district’s code of conduct, specifically as it pertains to LGBTQ students. The school board meets today. WINK.

Brevard: The Titusville High School chapter of Best Buddies planted a tree Friday to honor those who have died during the pandemic and due to mass shootings. Florida Today.

Osceola: Recommendations from a task force looking into the role of resource officers in schools are generally being favorably received by the community and law enforcement officials. The task force, which includes police officers, is calling for officers to get 40 hours of training from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, require them to wear body cameras, and set guidelines for calling in officers to intervene in a situation. Orlando Sentinel.

Lake: Two new principals have been appointed in the school district. Dawn Brown, the assistant principal at Fruitland Park Elementary School, will take over as principal from Tammy Langley, who has been appointed to the top job at Oak Park Middle School in Leesburg. Barbara Longo, who had been the principal at Oak Park, is retiring. Villages-News.

St. Johns: The number of reported dress code violations in county schools has more than tripled this year, from 164 last year to 518 so far this year. More than 300 of those have been at Creekside High School, and 33 Bartram High students recently received violations. Some district students call the policy sexist and are demanding changes. School advisory committees are asking for comments, and will report to the school board in June. WJXT.

Escambia, Santa Rosa: Summer school programs will be offered at all Escambia schools and will focus on reading, math and language arts. District officials will invite struggling students to attend, though it is not mandatory. In Santa Rosa, K-12 instruction will be offered, and invitations to parents will be going out soon. WEAR.

Clay: Fleming Island High School officials have reversed a decision to prohibit the school yearbook from including a page celebrating the school’s LGBTQ students. The decision came too late for the page to be in the yearbook, but it will be included as an add-on that accompanies the book. Clay Today.

Alachua: Wearing face masks in schools will become optional in the summer and next fall upon the advice of health officials, according to district officials. For now, masks are still required in schools and on buses, but won’t have to be worn outdoors on school campuses. WCJB. WGFL. Ten district public school students have qualified for the United States of America Physics Olympiad. Eight of them attend Buchholz High School. Gainesville Sun.

Martin: Closing achievement gaps in math and reading will be the focus of the district’s expanded summer school program. TCPalm.

Sumter: A high school teacher who challenged the school district’s policy against having guns in cars on school property has won his case. An appeals court has ruled that the district’s policy adversely affected Jonathan Forrester, who wanted to keep a gun secured in his car but was told by district officials that he would be disciplined if he violated the policy. State law generally bars guns from school campuses, though an exception allows guns in cars at schools if they are secured. But school districts can approve policies preventing guns in school parking lots. News Service of Florida.

Monroe: A total of about $20 million in federal aid could be heading to the school district. The first $1.3 million was spent on personal protection equipment, cleaning supplies, training and food for students. The second round’s expected payment of $5.8 million will go for an expanded summer school program. About $13 million could be available in the third round of the stimulus, and district officials are working on a plan for that money. Florida Keys Weekly.

Colleges and universities: Tao Li, a tenured computer engineering professor at the University of Florida, has resigned as the university continues to investigate whether he has any connection to a student’s suicide. WUFT. Students will be leaving colleges and universities soon, and health officials are concerned they will do so before getting vaccinated. Palm Beach Post. The Saint Leo University’s faculty union has filed nine charges against the university with the National Labor Relations Board, including failure to recognize the union or bargain in good faith. School leaders announced in October that they would no longer recognize the union. Tampa Bay Times. Three seniors at Florida Polytechnic University have developed a wearable device that can be used to control an electric longboard through hand gestures. WTVT.

Around the nation: Schools around the country are starting to reopen, but mostly with white children. A government survey at the end of February indicated that 78 percent of Asian 8th-graders were still learning from home, and 60 percent of black and Hispanic students. “You can’t really blame parents of color for saying ‘You know what, I’m not ready to re-engage with the system yet,’ ” said Keri Rodrigues, president of the National Parents Union. “All of this mistrust is really well earned.” Politico. Indiana is the latest state to either start or expand educational choice. About 37,000 students in that state now use choice programs, and that could expand to about 48,000 after the Legislature raised the income eligibility limits. redefinED. A lawsuit filed in Connecticut to keep transgender students from competing in girls high school sports has been dismissed by a federal judge. Florida and about 20 other states are considering bills to stop or limit transgender participation. Associated Press. A study of test results for 3.8 million students in grades 1-8 by the assessment provider Renaissance showed that they are still making progress in reading and math. “Learning loss, in general, is a misnomer. Kids’ scores are going up,” said Katie McClarty, vice president of research and design at Renaissance. Education Week.

Opinions on schools: Government should avoid pre-empting decisions that could be made as well or better at a level of control nearest, first, the individual affected, then the family, next voluntary associations, local government … and soon to the state. Applied here to our schools, the state would recognize the low-income parent as the natural and proper locus of legal and practical authority to choose. John E. Coons, redefinED. There’s a deficit of trust on the Hillsborough County School District, not only of finances, and with the clock running, it will take a breakthrough in the relationship between Superintendent Addison Davis and the board to see the crisis through. Tampa Bay Times. Keep face masks in schools for now and keep junk science out forever. Sun Sentinel. What’s the rush to end the Sarasota County School District’s face mask policy? Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Florida legislators should be encouraged to reconsider any bill that limits the state’s ability to serve our Hispanic population. David Armstrong and Belinda Keiser, Palm Beach Post. S.B. 86, which changes the way Bright Futures Scholarships are funded, punishes the very students we should be inspiring and rewarding. This bill doesn’t need to be amended or altered, but killed. Citrus County Chronicle. Here’s a quiz to see if you’ve been paying attention to the Legislature. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. The idea of using financial incentives to steer students at the state’s public universities toward particular majors preferred by policy-makers has reappeared in H.B. 1261. What could possibly go wrong? Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. Without accountability, how are parents supposed to know if a preschool program is preparing children for kindergarten? Norma Schwartz, Florida Politics.

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BY NextSteps staff