DeSantis defends textbook bans, Broward’s gamble on referendum, charter rules protested, and more

Book rejections defended: During an appearance Monday in Jacksonville, Gov. Ron DeSantis defended the state’s decision to reject 54 math textbooks because he said they don’t meet the state’s new learning standards or they contain references to critical race theory. He didn’t provide specific examples, saying the content is considered “proprietary information” by publishers, but did say, “You do have things like social and emotional learning, and some of the things that are more political in there. … Math is about getting the right answer. We want kids to learn to think so they get the right answer. It’s not about how you feel about the problem or to introduce some of these other things. There’s a right answer and there’s a wrong answer. And we want our students getting the right answer.” Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times. WFOR. WJAX. WPBF. New York Post. Here’s a list of the 54 math textbooks the Florida Department of Education rejected. Palm Beach Post. Many districts are in the middle of choosing textbooks for the next school year, and have little time to adjust to the state’s decision. Palm Beach Post. Orlando Sentinel. Sun Sentinel. WFTV.

Around the state: Broward school board members are expected to vote today whether to gamble the tax revenue the district already gets by asking voters in August to double a special school tax, the testimony phase of the Parkland school shooter’s trial is moving from May 31 to June 13, Gov. DeSantis again says he and his supporters will be involved in local school board races even though they are nonpartisan, St. Petersburg College is opening its third collegiate high school in Pinellas County this fall, Palm Beach County’s school board is considering hiring a new chief for the district’s police department, Madison County’s school board votes to end annual automatic raises for teachers, and DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran demand that the U.S. Department of Education change its proposed rules governing federal grants for charter schools. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: School board members will consider today whether to ask voters in August to double the special school tax that pays for salary supplements, safety and mental health services for students. The request is a gamble. If it’s put on the primary ballot and fails, the tax will end and teachers will lose the yearly supplements ranging from $1,500 to $8,000 they now get. The district would also have to find a way to pay for 500 safety and security positions and 100 mental health counselors. “It’s important that the community realizes that if the referendum were not to pass, it not only impacts future operations but current operations,” said district spokesman John Sullivan. “Without the renewal, we would not have the resources to continue with all the initiatives.” Sun Sentinel. WFOR. Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer issued an order Monday that moves the first day of testimony in the sentencing trial of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz from May 31 to June 13. Sun Sentinel. WPLG. The trial has thrust Scherer into the national spotlight. Palm Beach Post. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School marching band has been chosen to perform in the 2023 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. WTVJ.

Hillsborough, Tampa Bay: The employment agency that supplies substitute teachers for Tampa Bay area school districts said the shortage continues. Kelly Education Southeast provides about 1,000 subs a day, and continues to recruit to fill openings due to retirements and resignations. “I think we’re always going to need substitute teachers, with education losing teachers at the rate they are,” said Cheryl Courier, a vice president for Kelly. WFTS. A K-2 charter school that started in 2017 as an alternative to struggling elementary schools in east Tampa is closing because of declining enrollment and financial problems. East Tampa Academy, which is housed in a community center near the persistently low-performing Potter Elementary, will become a preschool in the fall. Tampa Bay Times.

Palm Beach: School board members will be asked Wednesday to vote on the proposed appointment of the former West Palm Beach police chief to lead the school district’s police department. Sarah Mooney was the West Palm Beach chief from February 2017 until June 2019, when she was reassigned to the new position of chief of police for emergency management. If board members approve the appointment, Mooney could start work as soon as May 4. She would be the district’s fourth police chief in about a year, and take over at a time when the department is so understaffed that the school board has recently signed contracts with the sheriff and six city departments to help meet the state’s requirement to have an officer in every school. WPTV. The school district has used physical restraints on students with autism, emotional disorders or other disabilities more than all but three other school districts this school year. Most of the district’s 262 cases involve the prone restraint, in which students are held on the ground with their heads turned to the side and their stomachs on the floor. Done improperly, the restraint can be life-threatening. Palm Beach Post.

Polk: During a recent appearance in Lakeland, Gov. DeSantis again encouraged his supporters to take a role in local school board races even though they are nonpartisan. He noted that conservative counties such as Polk, Lee and Brevard have school board members “who are fighting against the community and fighting against the values of parents.” He said, “That has to end this year. So, we’re going to be involved in school board races. We’re going to make sure we’re going to be able to support the candidates who are going to be reflective of our values.” Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: St. Petersburg College is opening its third collegiate high school in the county this fall, this time in downtown St. Petersburg. The charter school program, which started in 2004, focuses on graduating students with a high school diploma and an associate in arts degree. The newest school will enroll 200 students in grades 9, 10, 11, and expand to seniors the following year, and stress STEM subjects. By its third year, it hopes to have 320 students. Tampa Bay Times. Kathy Biddle, a teacher, coach and athletic director at Clearwater High School for 42 years, died of breast cancer March 15. She was 65. Tampa Bay Times.

Manatee: School district officials have announced new jobs for six administrators. Wendy Mungillo is the district’s new chief of human resources, Stephanie Callaway the executive director of elementary education, Laurie Breslin the executive director of curriculum and professional learning, and Robin Thompson the executive director of pupil personnel services. Ginger Collins replaces the retiring Rosa Faison as principal at Southeast High School, and retiring Witt Elementary principal David Marshall will be replaced by Connie Dixon. Bradenton Herald.

Marion: Coronavirus cases ticked up last week in the school district last week after weeks of declines. The numbers remain low, though. Nine cases were reported from April 9-15, up from six the previous week. The single-week record is 1,014 cases for the week of Jan. 15-21. Ocala Star-Banner.

Alachua, north central Florida: School bus driver shortages continue to cause problems in Alachua and surrounding counties, with students often getting picked up or dropped off at school late or being stranded with no transportation. Alachua now has 116 drivers, down from 129 in 2019-2020, to transport more than 9,000 students over a total of 10,000 miles a day. The Marion, Hernando, Columbia, Union, Levy and Clay school districts are in similar situations. WUFT.

Madison: School board members voted 4-1 to end the automatic annual raises that have been a part of teachers’ contracts for years. District officials said they can no longer afford the raises. The district and union officials have bickered over pay since the last contract expired in January 2021. In a statement, district officials said, “We have come to tentative agreements on all contract language changes for both the instructional and support staff units. The only remaining issue at this impasse is whether the school board will continue the automatic step wage increase for certain employees. Because of the $15 minimum wage mandate and other new legislation about how teacher’s pay increases are prescribed, the automatic step increase is no longer viable.” WCTV.

Colleges and universities: Philanthropists Kate Tiedemann and Ellen Cotton have donated $14 million to the University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business to develop its financial technology program. The money will specifically benefit the Kate Tiedemann School of Business and Finance, which is based at USF’s St. Petersburg campus, but also has students and faculty in Tampa and Sarasota. Tiedemann and Cotton have given USF around $30 million over the years. Tampa Bay Times. WTVT.

Corcoran answers feds: The U.S. Department of Education’s proposed rules governing grants for charter schools have drawn a protest from Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran. In an e-mail to U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, Corcoran wrote, “Although these changes are certainly cloaked with noble intent — support for public education, improved racial equity, elimination of perceived profiteering — their facade is desperately misleading, and their practical impact will assuredly be disastrous to students, parents and communities served by thriving school choice programs throughout the country. To that end, I must insist you reconsider.” Florida Department of Education. Gov. DeSantis and 17 other Republican governors have also sent a letter demanding the USDOE to reconsider. Fox News. Politico.

Around the nation: Critics have filed challenges against at least 1,600 books nationwide, and a majority of the recent challenges are against books written by authors of color, LGBTQ, black and indigenous, and focus on characters from one or more of those groups. Florida Phoenix. Cox Media Group.

Opinions on schools: Buster Douglas’ shocking knockout of Mike Tyson in 1990 has a lot to teach the education reform movement: Have a smart strategy, stick with it, and when you suffer a setback, pick yourself up off the canvass and keep fighting. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED. Families who like their child’s school may still want more options. That’s where course choice comes in. Rick Hess, Education Week. “Show your work” is the mantra of many math teachers. They don’t accept an answer without students showing how they arrived at their conclusions. When it comes to rejecting math books, state education officials wanted you to skip that step. Instead, we should all insist that they always show their work. Tampa Bay Times. If the Florida Department of Education found concrete examples of “the tenants of CRT or other unsolicited strategies of indoctrination” in 54 math textbooks, it should kindly share them. Joe Henderson, Florida Politics.

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BY NextSteps staff