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Partisan school board elections, back-to-school tax holiday, charter schools and more

Partisan board races: The Senate’s elections committee has endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment asking voters in 2022 to decide if local school board elections should become partisan for the 2024 election. Those elections have been nonpartisan since 1998. Republicans supported the proposal, saying it offers greater transparency in a process that’s already partisan. Democrats on the committee opposed it, saying doing so will disenfranchise independent voters. The proposal needs 60 percent support from lawmakers to get to the 2022 ballot, where it would need 60 percent support from voters to be added to the state constitution. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics. WFSU.

Back-to-school tax holiday: A proposed 10-day “back-to-school” tax holiday for 2022 got the approval Tuesday of the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee. The bill, filed by state Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, would waive sales taxes on the purchase of clothes and backpacks that are $60 or less, personal computers that cost $1,000 or less, and school supplies that cost $15 or less. The tax-free period would begin July 29 and end Aug. 7. News Service of Florida.

Also in the Legislature: The Senate Education Committee has advanced a measure that would create a charter school review commission to approve contracts between charters and local school districts. It would also eliminate a provision in the current law that allows school districts to terminate a charter contract for “other good cause shown.” State Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, the sponsor of the bill, said some districts have abused that provision. Politico Florida. Also getting the committee’s approval was a bill expanding the Hope Scholarship for bullied students to include students whose school districts have been sanctioned by the state Board of Education for failing to follow state rules. reimaginED. Florida Phoenix. The committee also approved a bill requiring social media literacy lessons in schools. Associated Press. Florida Politics. A proposal establishing a “bill of rights” for children in the state’s foster system care cleared a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday. Florida Politics. A bill that would allow schools to install speed cameras in school zones got the approval of a Senate committee. WPTV.

Around the state: Ransomware hackers may have personal information about 50,000 Broward students and employees, Sarasota school officials and the teachers union remain at odds over pay issues, Flagler school officials plan to ask voters in 2022 to renew an extra half-cent of sales tax to support technology upgrades, and a professor at the University of Florida filing a grievance alleging that top administrators are holding up approval of his job description because they’re worried legislators might be offended by the proximity of the words “critical” and “race” in it. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Face masks are now optional for students, regardless of vaccination status, at schools in the Archdiocese of Miami if their parents sign opt-out forms. Masks had already been optional for vaccinated students and teachers. Miami Herald. WSVN.

Broward: About 50,000 district students and employees may have had personal information stolen by ransomware hackers months ago, the school district said this week. When the security breach was first discovered in June, district officials said they were not aware of any personal data being compromised. The hackers’ demand of $40 million to allow the district to access files they had locked was rejected. District officials are offering free credit monitoring to those affected. Sun Sentinel.

Orange: A private Christian school in Orlando is offering a specialized curriculum for dyslexic learners. The Bridge is a program within the Christ School for students who have trouble with phonetic decoding or the spelling part of learning to read. “It is prescriptive and diagnostic. It is multisensory,” said Alissa Plaisance, director of the Bridge. “So teaching them to either tap sounds out or remember the rules that we have explicitly taught them, that is one way we help them be able to attack any work.” WKMG.

Pinellas: Clearwater High School has started a program to help students who are English language learners. The Elevate mentoring program pairs high-performing older students who were also ELL when they first started high school with younger students who are trying to learn the language. Nearly half the students at the school are Hispanic, and many come from homes where only Spanish is spoken. A similar program has also been started at Countryside High. WFTS.

Collier: Education leaders and advocates from around the county agreed at a recent meeting that early learning and career and technical education should be top educational priorities. School Superintendent Kamela Patton said establishing the priorities will give the district a path to help close the learning gap made larger by the pandemic. WINK.

Sarasota: Teachers union officials and school district negotiators have different views on the district’s latest pay proposal. Chief operations officer Jody Dumas is calling the $21 million offer “nearly double the amount of any raise in the history of Sarasota County schools.” Union president Barry Durbin called that characterization “rubbish,” and said the offer amounts to 4 percent raises for teachers rated as highly effective and 3 percent for others, which is about 1 percentage point higher than raises in previous years. The district offer also would increase the minimum teacher pay from $47,500 to $49,375. Talks continue this week. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Alachua: The Alachua County Education Foundation has recently donated nearly $80,000 to the school district and its teachers as part of its Catalyst for Change initiative. About $40,000 will be used for 10 educational projects, and $38,000 will be split between schools and the four chiefs of district-level departments as a thank you for their work. WCJB. WGFL.

Flagler: The school district plans to ask voters in 2022 to renew an extra half-cent of sales tax to support technology upgrades. The tax, first approved in 2002, generates about $8 million a year for the district. “We would never be where we are today (without it),” said board vice chair Colleen Conklin. “This has been a lifeline for our students.” Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Colleges and universities: A professor at the University of Florida has filed a grievance alleging that top administrators have yet to approve his job description because they’re worried it might offend legislators. Chris Busey is an associate professor in the College of Education, “where he primarily teaches courses for the Critical Studies in Race, Ethnicity, and Culture specialization,” according to his bio on the school’s website. UF has not yet approved the specialization, he said, because of the proximity of the words “critical” and “race.” Gainesville Sun. Tampa Bay Times. About 70 University of Central Florida students are virtually tutoring middle school students in Adeiso, Ghana, through Village Mentors, the UCF chapter of the nonprofit Village Book Builders. Orlando Sentinel. The College of Central Florida in Ocala is using a $13,000 grant from a private company to help build a science lab at College Park Elementary School. WCJB.

Board group withdraws: Members of the Florida School Boards Association voted unanimously Tuesday to withdraw from the National School Boards Association. Florida members cited a lack of responsiveness and transparency on the part of the national group. Space Coast Daily.

Around the nation: Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form should be a requirement for high school graduation, Federal Student Aid chief Rich Cordray said on Tuesday. The class of 2021 filled out 100,000 fewer forms than the class of 2020, and the largest declines were in students living in low-income households and students of color. Politico. A 15-year-old student shot and killed 3 classmates and wounded eight other people at a high school about 30 miles north of Detroit, according to police. The suspect was captured and a gun recovered. Associated Press. Since June 1, there have been at least 155 attempts to remove books about racial or LGBTQ issues from U.S. school libraries, according to the American Library Association. CNN.

Opinions on schools: If and when there’s another COVID surge in Florida, public schools will be without two of the most useful weapons in our fight against the virus: masks and quarantines, because many state leaders have put politics ahead of public health and safety. Alachua Superintendent Carlee Simon, Gainesville Sun. Once, the most active and vocal home-schoolers were conservatives. Today, the consensus within this movement is not so solid. New advocacy organizations have shifted the political terrain. Heath Brown, The 74.

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BY NextSteps staff