House K-12 education budget would punish a dozen districts that defied mask rules, tax hike and more

House education budget: A dozen Florida school districts that defied the state’s ban on face mask mandates for students would be stripped of $200 million in funding under the $24 billion education budget proposed by the House on Thursday. The money would be taken from districts that include Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Leon and Alachua, and spread among the 55 districts that didn’t impose mask mandates, based on enrollment. Specifically, the money would be taken from about 1,600 non-teaching school employees making over $100,000 in those districts, and follows a recommendation from state Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay. “They spent money that we gave them to sue us,” Fine said. “Clearly you have more money than you need.” That funding cut is not in the Senate’s $24.1 billion education budget that was also released this week. Another difference between the chambers is the amount proposed for raising teachers salaries; the House wants $800 million, while the Senate proposes $600 million. Politico Florida. A nearly $9 billion higher education bill was also proposed Thursday in the House. Most significantly, it would change the state’s Effective Access to Student Education (EASE) program, which gives grants for students to help pay for private colleges. Colleges would be ranked by tiers. Those in the highest tier would receive $4,000 per student. Those in the middle tier would receive $2,841, and those attending lower-ranked schools would receive nothing. College leaders said the changes would “kneecap” school choice. Politico Florida. Florida Politics.

Also in the Legislature: Colleges and universities would be steered away from their current accrediting board under a bill approved Thursday by the House Post-Secondary Education & Lifelong Learning Subcommittee. The push comes after the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools raised questions about “undue political influence” at the University of Florida and potential conflicts of interest in the Florida State University presidential search. “When the accrediting agency itself interferes with governance, you have to start asking some tough questions about what their role is,” said Alan Levine, a member of the state Board of Governors. Politico Florida. Miami Herald. WFSU. The bill that would exempt college presidential searches from public records laws was approved Thursday in a second reading in the Senate. Florida Politics. Insurance companies would be required to provide hearing aids for children under a bill approved in the Senate. WFLA.

Around the state: Hillsborough’s superintendent is asking an advisory committee to consider a school property tax to help bail out the financially struggling school district, Miami-Dade schools announce their teacher of the year, Flagler school officials are proposing to change start and finish school times for next year, Palm Beach County schools agree to pay a security company $75,000 to settle a lawsuit, and about 50 people have shown interest in the president’s job at the University of South Florida. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Unethia Fox, a special education teacher and coach at South Miami Senior High School, has been chosen as the district’s teacher of the year. The rookie teacher of the year is Gabriela Goitia Vazquez, who teaches English language learners at the Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Senior High Biscayne Bay Campus. Miami Herald. WPLG. WFOR. A Spanish teacher at Felix Varela Senior High School in west Miami-Dade has been arrested and accused of child abuse and offenses against a student by an authority figure. Police said Andy Barbosa-Morel, 40, inappropriately touched the girl’s leg while she was seated at her desk during class. Miami Herald. WPLG. WSVN. WTVJ. A woman has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Carver Middle School in Coconut Grove, claiming it refused to hire her for a fulltime job as a security monitor because of her Spanish accent. Miladis Barnes has been working four years as a fulltime custodian at the school and part-time as a security monitor for two years. WTVJ. Some parents of students at the Mater Academy Cutler Bay charter school want a teacher disciplined for her remarks during a recent class. In a video recording, she tells students they’ll end up as prostitutes if they don’t work harder. School officials said they are taking “appropriate measures.” WSVN.

Broward: Five finalists have been selected for the teacher of the year award. They are: Seema Naik, who teaches 4th-graders at Eagle Ridge Elementary School; Brandon Forbes, an AP Literature teacher at Hallandale Magnet High; Esther Charles, a literacy coach and English teacher at Sheridan Technical High; Elizabeth Fahy, who teaches marine biology at New River Middle; and Jeannie Krouch, a 1st-grade teacher at Westchester Elementary. The winner will be announced tonight. WTVJ.

Hillsborough: Superintendent Addison Davis is lobbying a district advisory committee to consider supporting a special property tax to help the financially struggling school system. Davis said asking for a tax of an extra $1 per $1,000 in property value, which would raise an estimated $126 million a year. That would help the district cope with its nearly $100 million budget deficit, boost salaries for teachers, fund arts and STEM programs, and improve school security. Tampa Bay Times.

Palm Beach: District officials have agreed to settle a lawsuit with the company it had hired to train security guards for charter schools, then abruptly fired after a review by the sheriff concluded the lead instructor for the company wasn’t properly certified, its record-keeping was shoddy and it marked students who failed the firearms qualifications as passing. The district owed Invictus Security in Boynton Beach $97,000 when it terminated the contract. Under the agreement, the district will pay Invictus $75,000. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: An assistant principal at Terry Parker Senior High School in Jacksonville has been temporarily reassigned to duties with no student contact after being accused of hitting, choking, and throwing a 17-year-old female student to the ground Wednesday. WJAX.

Lee: A 59-year-old bicyclist was killed at 4:30 a.m. Thursday in Bonita Springs when he was struck by a school bus. The bus driver and the lone student aboard were unhurt. Florida Highway Patrol troopers said the man had no lights on his bike. The investigation is continuing. WINK. WFTX.

Volusia: A 29-year-old math teacher at Deltona Middle School has been arrested and accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a 15-year-old student. Deputies began an investigation of Carlos Aguirre Rendon after allegations that he kissed the girl on the lips in a classroom. Rendon faces charges of lewd or lascivious conduct and witness tampering charges. WKMG. WOFL. WFTV. WESH.

Manatee: One of the two sheriff’s deputies who arrested and handcuffed a 12-year-old girl for refusing to turn over the cell phone she used to record a fight at Palm View K-8 in Palmetto last September has received a written reprimand. Deputy Judd Beckwith used profanity and was chewing tobacco during the arrest, and reprimanded for conduct unbecoming of a deputy. The school’s resource officer, deputy George Schrenk, was cleared of any wrongdoing. Charges against the girl were dropped, and her family has filed a notice of intent to sue. Bradenton Herald.

St. Johns: The district has created an online COVID-19 reporting form for students, and will start informing parents when there’s a positive case in a classroom. Previously, parents were only notified if their children came into close contact with an infected student. WJXT.

Sarasota: No consensus was reached this week in a public hearing about proposed changes to the public commenting process at school board meetings or about how to teach racial issues in the classroom. The meeting was generally civil. Board members will pick up the conversation in future meetings. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

St. Lucie: A 15-year-old 9th-grader at the Lincoln Park Academy magnet school was arrested this week and accused of sending electronic death threats to the school. The material was shared with other students during a 3rd-period class on Wednesday. “Some were violent, some were sexual in nature, but they were all very dark,” Chief Deputy Brian Hester said of the material. “Some of them contained what appeared to be a list of maybe potential targets for violence as well.” TCPalm. WPTV. WPEC.

Okaloosa: A school bus driver was cited for failure to use due care Wednesday afternoon for slamming into the back of a car stopped in traffic in Crestview. The driver of the car sustained minor injuries, but none of the 10 students on the bus was hurt. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Flagler: New school start and end times have been proposed by district officials for the 2022-2023 academic year. Fifteen minutes a day would be added for both high schools, all elementary schools would move to identical 9:10 a.m. to 3:40 p.m. schedules, and the two middle schools would have five-minute earlier starting times. District officials said the changes were needed because 6th-graders are moving to the county’s two middle schools in August, and because a seventh period might be added for the two high schools. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Franklin: Whitney Martina, a 5th-grade math and science teacher at the Apalachicola Bay Charter School, has been chosen as the school district’s teacher of the year. WOYS.

Colleges and universities: About 50 people are talking with the University of South Florida about its presidency, according to the consultant handling the search process. Interviews are expected to begin next month. Tampa Bay Times.

Tax collections up: General-revenue tax collections were up nearly 20 percent in December over projections made last August, according to state economists. About 87 percent of the gains were from the sales tax. Two weeks ago economists projected general-revenue tax collections would be about $4 billion more than projected over the next two years. Education funding is heavily dependent on general-revenue taxes. News Service of Florida.

Step Up at 20: The nonprofit Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, is celebrating its 20th year of providing educational options for students. SUFS helps administer five of the state’s K-12 scholarship programs: the donor-supported Florida Tax Credit Scholarship and the taxpayer-funded Family Empowerment Scholarship for Educational Options for low- and middle-income students; the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities (formerly Gardiner); the Reading Scholarship for public school students in grades 3-5 with low reading test scores; and the Hope Scholarship for bullied students. It helps more than 170,000 mostly low-income students or those with special needs. “As I reflect upon the last 20 years, I want to thank all the legislators, educators and donors who made this program and this movement possible,” said John Kirtley, chairman and founder of Step Up. “As important, I want to thank the families who were empowered by the scholarships to give their students the chance to find an educational environment that best suited their individual needs.”  reimaginED.

Opinions on schools: The incongruity about censorship of books is that it almost always backfires, making an artwork forbidden fruit for those it’s meant to protect — usually children — and making the censors look asinine. Bill Cotterell, Tallahassee Democrat.

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BY NextSteps staff