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State approves second K-5 math text publisher, school tax requests going to voters, and more

Second K-5 publisher approved: The state has revised its list of approved K-5 math textbook suppliers after approving Pennsylvania-based Big Ideas Learning LLC. Big Ideas joins Accelerate Learning, a Houston company, as the only approved publishers for K-5 math books. The Florida Department of Education did not explain its decision. Last week the state rejected 54 math textbooks, saying they either didn’t meet the required academic standards or contained “prohibited topics,” including critical race theory. Several other publishers have appealed the state’s decision to exclude them from the list, and said they are working with the state to comply with its standards. Politico Florida.

Around the state: Voters in Orange, Duval and Brevard will be asked this year to approve special taxes to help their districts pay for employee raises and academic programs, some prospective jurors in the Parkland school shooting sentencing trial get testy, a Palm Beach County teacher who refused to wear a mask at school or leave when asked to was found guilty of trespassing, two Polk County book review committees are recommending that two more challenged books remain in high school libraries, school hours will change next fall for 12 Pinellas schools as the district tries to work around school bus driver shortages, the state senator recommended for the Florida education commissioner’s job said he wants to “make teaching cool again,” Florida is now 16th among the states for average starting teacher pay but only 48th in overall average teacher pay, and a New Smyrna Beach High School senior who isn’t old enough to vote is running for mayor in the Volusia County city of Edgewater. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer said Tuesday that some potential jurors in the Parkland school sentencing trial were getting belligerent and mouthy. One panel of 70 prospective jurors was dismissed when at least three made threatening gestures at confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz. Jury selection resumes today, and defense attorneys also must present their arguments for keeping previously screened candidates who were dismissed by the judge. Twelve jurors and eight alternates will be chosen to decide if Cruz is sentenced to death for the killings of 17 students and staff, or life in prison. Sun Sentinel. WPTV. WTVJ. Broward school officials said the state’s rejection of 54 math textbooks could delay the arrival of books and push students into online learning in the fall. WPLG.

Orange: School board members unanimously agreed Tuesday to ask voters in August to renew an extra 1-mill property tax to help pay veteran teachers’ salaries and finance arts and athletic programs for students. The tax was first approved in 2010 with 55 percent of the vote, which improved to 76 percent in 2014 and 85 percent in 2018. If voters renew the tax, it’s projected to bring in $818 million over the next four years. Orlando Sentinel.

Palm Beach: A 4th-grade teacher who refused to wear a face mask at Westward Elementary School in West Palm Beach on Oct. 27, 2021, and was arrested when he had to be escorted from the school, was found guilty Tuesday of trespassing on school grounds after warning. Christopher Persaud, 33, was ordered to pay court costs of $323 within the next 30 days. “I took that stand. I did it based on my religious values and Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior,” Persaud said after the verdict. “I would have done it again for the sake of every teacher in Palm Beach County that was fearful about the mandates.” Persaud is still listed as a teacher at Westward, and has filed to run for the District 7 seat on the school board. Sun Sentinel. WPTV. WPEC.

Duval: Jacksonville City Council members voted 14-5 Tuesday to place a 1-mill tax increase for schools on the Aug. 23 ballot. The council’s approval was needed for the issue to be put on the ballot, though it’s usually regarded as simply setting the logistics for the election and the county’s Office of General Counsel advised members that their vote was strictly “ministerial.” The tax is expected to raise about $81 million a year for the next four years, which the district will use to give pay supplements to teachers and other staff, and improve arts and athletic programs. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. WJAX. Florida Politics. School board members will vote next week on a resolution introduced by Charlotte Joyce that would support the state’s controversial Parental Rights in Education Bill, disapprove of the district’s LGBTQ Support Guide, and thank Gov. Ron DeSantis for his work. Florida Times-Union.

Polk: Two book review committees are recommending that two challenged books be kept in high school libraries. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and Tricks by Ellen Hopkins were targeted by a local conservative group for allegedly containing pornographic material. These are the 11th and 12th challenged books that have been reviewed by the committees. The school board is expected to vote on the recommendations at its May 10 meeting. Lakeland Ledger. Here’s a list of the books that have been pulled from libraries in Polk and six other state school districts and will be reviewed. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: School board members have approved changes in school hours for 12 schools as a way to deal with the school bus driver shortage by reducing the number of daily routes. Seven elementary schools are starting 15 minutes later, while two others are starting and finishing 70 minutes later. Two other schools are starting and finishing 30 minutes later, and one is starting and finishing 25 minutes earlier. The changes cut the number of school bus routes from 373 to 325. WTSP. WFTS. Bay News 9.

Lee: Teachers are awaiting further guidance from the state and the district’s attorneys on what they can and cannot do under the state’s new Parental Rights in Education law. “I think it’s getting the information out how teachers are going to be able to implement the law and make sure that all students feel comfortable and safe, and that all parents know their rights and they are included and not excluded,” said school board member Melisa Giovanelli. The board will meet with its attorneys May 24 for a Q&A session to answer questions from teachers. WFTX.

Brevard: A 1-mill property tax increase is headed for the Nov. 8 ballot after school board members approved it Tuesday in a 4-1 vote. The revenue increase will help the district give raises to teachers and other employees, and upgrade technology and career and technical education. Florida Today. County Public Defender Blaise Trettis is pushing the county’s Charter Review Commission to ask voters to change the way they elect school board members. Members are now elected only by voters in their districts. Trettis, who previously asked the commission to change the county charter to allow for the recall of school board members, wants all seats to be elected countywide. The 15 members of the commission, a three-attorney panel and the county commission would all have to approve the request to get it placed before voters in November. Florida Today.

Volusia: A New Smyrna Beach High School senior who isn’t old enough to vote is running for mayor in Edgewater, a town of about 20,000. Diezel Depew, who turns 18 in May, is a Republican who says the story of  Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene inspired him to run. “She had next to no political experience whatsoever and she won with no endorsements at all,” Depew said. “The American dream can always be there as long as you chase it.” Former Edgewater Mayor Mike Ignasiak is the only other declared candidate so far. The election is Nov. 8. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Collier: School board members decided unanimously Tuesday to approve state-approved textbooks for the next school year. Seven textbooks that weren’t approved by the state are in the state’s appeals process, and could be reconsidered by the board if they win their appeals. WFTX.

St. Johns: School board members have tentatively approved seven of nine proposed changes in school boundaries as a way to better balance enrollment among schools and accommodate population growth. Three more public hearings will be held before the board’s final vote May 31. WJXT. WJAX.

Escambia, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa: Santa Rosa school officials said the state’s rejection of 54 math textbooks for being “extremely age-inappropriate and pornographic” has led them to cancel the district’s sole honors course in statistics. Instead, students can take an online course that’s been approved by the Florida Department of Education. Escambia and Okaloosa officials said they are hopeful the course will continue to be offered in the fall. WEAR.

Leon: With district teachers shut out of receiving recognition funds from the state, a parent has started raising money to provide the educators with bonuses. Leon is one of 12 state districts ineligible for the extra funding because it defied state rules and required students to wear face masks at school. Adrianne Johnson said she’s coordinating with the Foundation for Leon County Schools to set up a GoFundMe page and how to distribute whatever funds are raised. WCTV.

Alachua: School board members have agreed to use $6 million in federal coronavirus relief aid to provide students with better Internet access at their homes. Thousands of county students could receive take-home laptops with built-in Internet connections or hotspots. District officials are sending a survey home with students for parents to complete by May 13 to determine eligibility. Gainesville Sun. WCJB. WGFL.

Bay: Charter schools asked the district for some of the funding from the revenue generated by the extra half-cent sales tax. “We are all strapped financially sometimes, and the way education funded in is in different silos, and you can spend some money on some other things,” Ron Danzey, executive director of Palm Bay Academy, said at Tuesday’s school board meeting. “Half-cent sales tax goes for facilities and technology upgrades. We need that revenue stream just like the district.” Board members agreed to discuss the request with charter school officials at a future workshop meeting. WMBB. WJHG.

Citrus: A Seven Rivers Christian School student has won the 7th-grade division of the national 2022 NASA Langley Research Center’s student art contest. Gracelyn Jennette took first with her drawing of Neil Armstrong. Citrus County Chronicle. The Citrus High School band also has been honored by becoming the first county school to win straight superior ratings at the state concert music performance assessments last weekend. Citrus County Chronicle.

Colleges and universities: Nine candidates will be interviewed this week for the job as regional chancellor at the University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg campus. One of the candidates is Kanika Tomalin, former deputy mayor of St. Petersburg and now the chief operating officer and vice president of strategy at Eckerd College. Tampa Bay Times.

Diaz’s goals for state: State Sen. Manny Diaz said if he’s approved by the state Board of Education Friday to become the next education commissioner, he wants to change the tone around teaching and find ways to encourage people to become teachers. “I hate to use such a simplistic term but how do you make teaching cool again? Because this is a profession a lot of women went into and they were respected for the work they were doing, and it’s become … you’re right, there are some critics,” he said this week. WFSU.

Florida teacher salaries: Since 2020, the state has poured $2 billion into raising starting teacher salaries to $47,500 a year. But latest salary information released by the Florida Department of Education shows that 31 of the state’s 67 school districts still have not reached that salary goal. Florida ranks 16th among the states in average starting salaries, at $44,040, but drops to 48th in average salaries among all teachers at $51,009, according to data from the National Education Association teachers union. WFLA. Education Week.

Florida high schools rated: The School for Advanced Studies in Miami is the top-rated high school in Florida, and fourth in the nation, according to the latest U.S. high school rankings issued by U.S. News & World Report. Sarasota’s Pine View School was judged as second in the state and 24th in the nation. Florida had 11 schools ranked in the top 100 nationally. U.S. News & World Report.

Around the nation: Controversy surrounding the children’s book Everywhere Babies, which was included on a list of 58 books considered by the conservative activist group Florida Citizens Alliance to have inappropriate content, has pushed the book to the top of the children’s book sales charts at USA Today.

Opinions on schools: On behalf of students like me, the Biden administration should end its sabotage of charter schools and make sure charters are included in a family’s range of education options. Sherlean Roberts, reimaginED. Gov. DeSantis’ “free state of Florida” pitch does not include the freedom to understand our history. And Moms for Liberty apparently think repression and liberty are synonyms. Welcome to DeSantistan. Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post. The issue of removing  certain books from school libraries because of questionable content is unnecessarily buried in bureaucracy. Bill Mick, Florida Today.

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BY NextSteps staff