Senate and House to reconcile education and state budgets, controversial bills before House, and more

Education budgets: The Senate and House are only $104 million apart on proposed budgets for K-12 education, but the differences are significant. The House wants to take $200 million from 12 school districts that defied Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban against face mask mandates in schools and distribute it to the other 55 districts, and the Senate does not. The House also wants to spend $200 million more than the Senate on improving teacher pay, and the Senate budget has $303 million more allotted in per-student spending. Negotiators for the chambers begin meeting this week to reconcile the differences. Politico Florida. Districts targeted for cutbacks in the House budget are beginning to fight back against what the Orange County School Board, in a letter to local lawmakers, called an “unfair, unreasonable” punishment. Florida Phoenix. Miami Herald.  Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Education cuts to the 12 districts were the idea of State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay. He insists they are not an attempt to punish, but last April, during the battle over face mask mandates, Fine vowed, “I can tell you, if my school district requires masks, I will make sure they get hurt next year. I’m not going to share what I will do. But it will hurt.” Florida Today. Education spending is just one of the key components in the overall Senate and House budgets, which differ by $3.3 billion. A final budget must be completed by March 8 if the Legislature is to end March 11 as scheduled. A 72-hour “cooling off” period is required once a final budget is approved by both chambers. Florida Politics.

Controversial bills: Tuesday, House members are scheduled to vote on two controversial education bills targeting cultural issues being championed by Republicans. H.B. 7 has been dubbed the “Individual Freedom” bill, and would prevent the teaching of critical race theory and any instruction leading students to believe that a “person, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex or national origin, bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the person played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, national origin or sex.” H.B. 1557 is titled the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, though critics are calling it the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. It says “instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” Senate versions of the bills are still in committee. News Service of Florida.

Also in the Legislature: The full Senate approved a bill last week that would raise the limit on the number of students who can receive the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities from 20,000 to 26,500 for the coming school year, address the needs of struggling young readers and include new provisions for private school students in dual enrollment programs. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the scholarships. reimaginED. The bill that would allow students to meet Bright Futures scholarship volunteer requirements with paid work and make a now-mandatory civics or social issues project optional was approved last week by a House committee. Florida Phoenix.

Around the state: Palm Beach County school officials want to address the shortage of substitute teachers by temporarily boosting their pay and permanently changing the district’s rules so 18-year-old high school graduates can sub, the Lake Wales Charter School System’s board of trustees is scheduled to select a new superintendent Tuesday after a year of controversy, a shortage of officers in the Palm Beach County School District police force leads the district to ask the sheriff for help,  teacher and school-related employees of the year are named for the Manatee County School District, and Seminole school board members deny a parent’s appeal to remove a video about the civil rights movement from an elementary school lesson. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: The mother of a student at Brentwood Elementary School in Miami was arrested last week after allegedly taking a gun to the school and threatening employees. Brenzina Jones, 35, was at the school to meet with the principal. WFOR.

Broward: A social studies teacher at Nova High School in Davie had his state teaching license revoked over allegations that he had an inappropriate relationship with a student. In 2019, a female student said that Daniel Arnoux, 38, had been making sexually suggestive comments to her since she was a sophomore during the 2016-2017 school year. The district investigated and gave Arnoux a one-day suspension Nov. 19, 2019. A state complaint was then filed by the Department of Education in December 2021, which led to the uncontested revocation. Sun Sentinel.

Palm Beach: School officials want to address the shortage of substitute teachers by temporarily boosting their pay and permanently changing the district’s rules so 18-year-old high school graduates can sub. Pay would be bumped from $12.33 an hour to $14.30 for subs at the bottom of the scale, and from $14.91 an hour to $17.41 for retired teachers. Subs in the middle of the scale, who have attended some college or have degrees, would get $2.50 more an hour. The higher pay would end when federal coronavirus relief money runs out in 2024. School board members are expected to vote on the proposal Wednesday. Palm Beach Post. A shortage of school district police officers has the school board asking the sheriff’s department for help. The district police department has about 70 open positions and has struggled to provide protection to every school. Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said he anticipates supplying about 20 deputies on contract to the district. WPBF.

Duval: A student-led nonprofit organization, JaxTHRIVE, has resumed in-person tutoring and mentoring every Saturday for refugee children new to the area. The group had switched to teleconferencing during the pandemic. “It was so exciting to finally be back in person and actually have face-to-face connections and interaction with our students,” said Hope Freedman, the group’s co-president. “The experience of the kids running through the door to give you a hug or high five simply can’t be replicated virtually.” Florida Times-Union.

Polk: The Lake Wales Charter School System’s board of trustees is scheduled to select a new superintendent Tuesday. The more than year-long process has been marked with controversy. Two members of the search committee resigned in protest over a suspension of a nationwide search, the committee chairman publicly pushed his preferences, one of the highest ranked candidates withdrew his name from consideration, and there’s widespread belief that the process was tilted to favor former school board chair Andy Oguntola, despite his low ranking by the search committee and his lack of K-12 teaching and administration experience. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: Keesha Benson, the chief learning and evaluation officer for the non-profit Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, has announced her candidacy for the District 3 seat on the school board. She said she will resign her job to run for the spot being vacated by Nicole Carr. Benson will face off against at least two other candidates: former state legislator Carl Zimmerman, and Dawn Peters, a part-time personal trainer and parental rights advocate. Tampa Bay Times.

Lee: District school officials said they decided to bring back peanut butter sandwiches to school cafeterias because of the rising prices and the unpredictability in getting chicken, beef and pork. “We are still able to get them, but it is very inconsistent and the prices were going up tremendously,” said Kathy Messenger, the district’s director of food and nutrition services. Fort Myers News-Press.

Seminole: School board members last week denied a parent’s appeal to remove a video about the civil rights movement from an elementary school lesson. She contended the video, which included protestors holding signs saying “Black Lives Matter,” “Stop Police Violence” and “White Silence is Violence,” were “racially divisive,” “politically partisan,” controversial and constituted teaching critical race theory without her permission. WNDB. A Seminole High School student was arrested Friday after school officials and law enforcement officers, working on a tip, said they found a gun in his backpack. No one was injured. WKMG. WFTV. WESH.

Manatee: Deelah Jackson, a 4th grade teacher at Samoset Elementary School, has been named the school district’s teacher of the year. Kari Keech-Babcock, a guidance secretary at Lakewood Ranch High, was chosen as support employee of the year. SRQ magazine. WWSB. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Lake: Finalists have been chosen for the school district’s rookie teacher of the year and school-related employee of the year. The teacher finalists are William Fouraker, a television production teacher at East Ridge High; Alexa DeJarlais, a kindergarten teacher at Fruitland Park Elementary; and Tori Grable, a 5th grade teacher at Seminole Springs Elementary. Support employee finalists are Serita Morgan, a family school liaison for Beverly Shores Elementary; Shaun Smith, head custodian at Eustis Middle; and Susan Johnson, a 1st grade teaching assistant at Fruitland Park Elementary. The winners will be announced March 9. Daily Commercial. A Leesburg High School resource officer got into a physical altercation with a 9th-grade student last week on campus. Police said the student tried to punch the officer during a discussion about fights at the school and was forced to the ground by the officer. The student declined treatment for a small cut on his lip, and was not arrested. WFTV. Daily Commercial.

Alachua: Glenn Bruda, a senior at Buchholz High School in Gainesville, has discovered a new calculus technique to solve integral equations, and on Jan. 30 his research was published to Cornell University’s “arXiv,” an open-access archive for scholarly scientific articles. He titled his technique the “Maclaurin Integration” because it’s derived from a formula named after Colin Maclaurin, an 18th century Scottish mathematician. WUFT. Rachel Young, a senior at Buchholz High School in Gainesville, has received a “top in the world” score in the English language Cambridge exam. Junior classmate Vicki Jung received a “top in the USA” score on the math exam. Gainesville Sun. WGFL.

Bay: Rutherford High School has added a class for students to learn Python coding, and created a “Girls Who Code” club. Teacher Jessica Brantley said the programs got a boost with a $50,000 grant from Florida Power and Light that will help the school buy desktop computers, laptops, tablets, more 3D printers and laser cutters. WMBB.

Indian River: Sixteen 9th-graders at Vero Beach High School have been arrested after several fights broke out last Wednesday at the school’s freshman learning center. All 16 also face school disciplinary measures that include 10-day suspensions. TCPalm. WPTV. WPEC.

Citrus: This week, school board members will consider a proposed policy governing the use of drones by students and staff. Teachers must an educational objective for a drone to get permission from their principal. Drones must be registered with the FAA, cannot be flown higher than 400 feet or within 400 feet of a structure or crowds, and students must be supervised at all times Citrus County Chronicle.

Colleges and universities: Florida A&M University trustee David Lawrence Jr. has stepped down from the board of trustees to help care for his ailing wife, he announced last week. Lawrence promised to continue to help FAMU “in any way I can.” WCTV. Ron Yrabedra, an art professor at Florida A&M University from 1974 to 2008 and a well-known painter, has died at the age of 78 of a genetically inherited liver disease. Tallahassee Democrat. WFSU.

Around the nation: The pushback against classroom lessons on race and social injustices is expanding to include U.S. school districts’ efforts to diversify and stress equity and inclusion. “Even in districts that aren’t threatened as much, they’re thinking twice about what they say and what they do and how they go about doing it because (the political climate) is having a chilling effect on the whole equity, diversity and inclusion movement,” said Dan Domenech, executive director of the School Superintendents Association. Associated Press.

Opinions on schools: The most insidious bills in a Florida legislative session that’s cluttered with them travel under the false but beguiling flag of “individual freedom.” The “freedom” they promote is to be ignorant of racism’s enormous influence on American history and why it still matters today. Sun Sentinel. There’s a single word that can describe the Florida House’s recent vote to financially punish the Sarasota County School District and 11 others for imposing mask mandates in defiance of a July 2021 executive order by Gov. DeSantis that banned them: Vindictive. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Being superintendent is a difficult job, made even harder by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Alachua County School Board should keep Carlee Simon in the job as the pandemic winds down and she is able to focus on other challenges, rather than putting schools through even more instability. Gainesville Sun. It is ironic that Gov. DeSantis loves to talk about Florida as a “beacon of freedom” when his recent actions, such as dictating what our children learn, are increasingly authoritarian moves that crush free speech. Julee Garcia, Tampa Bay Times. A growing number of Florida schools have implemented the community school strategy that is proven to elevate student success by addressing some of the most pressing barriers affecting children’s ability to learn: hunger, homelessness, exposure to violence, untreated mental health challenges, access to health care and more. Jack Levine, Tampa Bay Times. The end of my 26-year teaching career can best be described as death by a thousand paper cuts. Melissa Roy, Orlando Sentinel. The COVID-19 pandemic has pulled the curtain back to reveal the ugly truth of what vast numbers of people think about public school teachers, and what they think is inhuman. As the spouse of a public-school teacher, what has been revealed makes me weep for our humanity lost. Kevin Bohacz, Florida Times-Union. If you talk to faculty and higher ed administrators all over this state (in other words, the people who actually do the work to ensure their campuses are accredited), they will tell you that legislators are playing political games with a system that they do not fully understand, and the potentially dire consequences will fall upon the students. Andrew Gothard, Sun Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff