Recount for Hillsborough tax issue, DeSantis endorsement review, student loan debt and more

Around the state: The Hillsborough school tax referendum that lost by 619 votes out of more than 221,000 votes cast will undergo a recount, 19 of the 30 school board candidates Gov. Ron DeSantis endorsed won their primaries Tuesday and another six advanced to the November runoff, President Biden announces a student loan forgiveness program that could affect millions of Florida students, 20 Bay County teachers quit during the first week of school, some Flagler County students will no longer be eligible for school bus rides after the district reclassified 6th grade from elementary to middle school, and a 7-foot alligator greeted students at a Lee County middle school Wednesday morning. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Nikolas Cruz “never was right,” a neighbor testified Wednesday at the sentencing trial of the Parkland school shooter. “There was never any sense of normalcy,” said Steven Schusler, who lived across the street from Cruz. “You could always see there was something just not right … This boy did not go bad. He was never right.” A psychologist who treated Cruz when he was 8 said Cruz was a “peculiar child” whose mother never gave him the consistent discipline or the counseling he needed. Defense attorneys are trying to convince the jury that Cruz should be spared the death penalty. Sun-Sentinel. Associated Press. WPLG. Summarizing what happened Wednesday in the sentencing trial of Cruz. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Voter approval of a referendum to increase a school property tax for the next four years was a huge relief to district officials, who had warned of massive budget cuts if it failed. “This was incredibly important,” Superintendent Vickie Cartwright said in a thank you to voters, adding that the district was “incredibly grateful knowing that the supplements will allow our teachers and our school staff and others to have livable wages and be able to stay and remain here in Broward County.” Sun-Sentinel.

Hillsborough, Tampa Bay area: The Hillsborough Canvassing Board meets today to certify the election results and has ordered a recount of the schools tax measure that lost by 619 votes out of more than 221,000 votes cast. If the results stand after Friday’s recount, it will be the only state schools tax initiative in Tuesday’s election that was rejected by voters. District officials and teachers said they are devastated by the loss, and are trying to understand why it didn’t attract enough support. Superintendent Addison Davis said the loss is disappointing because the district has worked hard to develop “a sound financial recovery plan that has led to the first surplus for our district in over a decade,” and the defeat is a step back in that recovery. Tampa Bay Times. WTSP. WTVT. Three Tampa Bay area school board races that are headed to the November runoff are representative of the partisan divide that has become more pronounced in this election year. Tampa Bay Times.

Duval: A 10-year-old Biscayne Elementary School student was dropped off at a wrong school bus stop in north Jacksonville last week, but was safely reunited with her mother after about an hour. The girl told her mother she was given two options by the bus driver: Get off at this stop or get taken back to the school. In a statement, district officials said, “We have reviewed this and can confirm that unfortunately the student was inadvertently dropped off at the incorrect bus stop. We deeply apologize for this error.” WTLV. The district is also investigating two recent reports of wheels falling off school buses with students aboard. No one was injured in either instance. WTLV.

Lee, Collier: Lee schools still have 208 teaching positions open, and Collier about 60. Here’s a look at why the struggle to fill jobs persists, and what the districts are trying to do about it. Fort Myers News-Press. A 7-foot alligator greeted students at Lexington Middle School on Wednesday morning. School resource officer Dave Jennings, a former gator trapper, managed to secure it until Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers could remove and relocate it. Fort Myers News-Press. WINK. WFTX. WBBH.

Brevard: Megan Wright’s defeat of District 1 school board member Misty Belford on Tuesday swings the balance of power on the board to conservative members. Board member Jennifer Jenkins, a Democrat who was elected in 2020, called the shift “disheartening,” and said she’s worried the group will try to arm school staff and end the district’s practice of allowing transgender students to enter bathrooms and locker rooms of the gender with which they identify. Florida Today.

Escambia, Santa Rosa: A 2,500-member Facebook group has been busy fulfilling requests from teachers for classroom supplies such as tissues, books, disinfectant spray, snacks, dry erase boards, stickers, notebooks and more that teachers might otherwise have had to buy with their own money. “I just see the commitment that teachers have to our youth and trying to help raise these kids,” said Zoe Long, who started the Facebook page. “They do so much more than just teach reading, writing, arithmetic. They truly try to teach these kids how to live. So I just wanted to help them in any way I could.” Pensacola News Journal.

Leon: School Superintendent Rocky Hanna took to Facebook this week to criticize Gov. DeSantis for his recent comments blaming teacher unions for setting rigid educational certification credentials “that often have little impact on teaching performance.” In his post, Hanna pointed out that the Legislature, governor and Department of Education set the requirements and credentials needed to become a certified classroom teacher, and that by blaming teachers DeSantis is creating a “false narrative” that “is just another example of the governor and his propaganda machine disseminating misinformation and lies.” Tallahassee Democrat.

Bay: Twenty teachers resigned during the first week of school, district officials said this week. “Bay is doing its best to equip new hires in order to prepare them for teaching students,” said Holly Buchanan, executive director of human resources. WMBB.

Flagler: The school board’s decision a few weeks ago to reclassify 6th-graders as middle school students means that those who live between 1 and 2 miles of a school and had been bused are now having to find other ways to get to school. Elementary students who live more than a mile from school are bused, while middle and high school students aren’t eligible to ride unless they live more than 2 miles from school. Flagler Live.

Walton: About 82 percent of county voters agreed in Tuesday’s election to extend a half-mill property tax assessment that has been in place since 2003 through 2027. The referendum generates about $1 million a year, which will be used for “operating expenses necessary to recruit and retain quality teachers, preserve extra-curricular programs and provide instructional materials and technology to maintain the excellent quality of Walton County’s public school system,” read the ballot language. “This allows a shift of 0.5 mills from capital outlay to general operating funds so that we can continue to keep teacher salaries the highest in the Panhandle, as well as provide instructional materials, CTE and dual enrollment programs, magnet schools, and expanded school safety throughout the district to include the addition of the guardian program,” said Superintendent Russell Hughes. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Sumter: A Villages High School student is in custody and accused of making a bomb threat against the school Wednesday, according to sheriff’s deputies. Villages News.

Taylor: A former teacher’s aide at Point of Grace Christian School in Perry has been arrested and accused of engaging in sexual conduct with a student. Deputies said Wendy Carlton, 42, had a sexual relationship with at least one student during the 2017-2018 school year. School officials said “her employment with the school ended in June 2018. We cannot provide any further information on her employment or departure from our staff.” WCTV.

Colleges and universities: University of Florida Provost Joe Glover said the decision to remove Mark Law as director of the school’s honors program was his, and made after determining that the program was not “making significant progress — and had not for some time — toward being a program that belongs at a top five public university.” Gainesville Sun. The University of South Florida has received a $5.26 million gift from an insurance company that it will use to expand its School of Risk Management and Insurance on the Sarasota-Manatee campus. Tampa-based national insurance distribution holding company Baldwin Risk Partners made the donation, and the school will add the Baldwin name to its title. Tampa Bay Times. A first-year student at the University of West Florida in Pensacola is recovering after being struck by lightning on the first day of the fall semester. Emma Eggler, 18, of Birmingham, Ala., was released from the hospital Tuesday. WEAR.

DeSantis endorsements update: Of the 30 endorsements Gov. DeSantis made for state school board candidates who pledged to support his agenda, 19 won outright, five lost and six are headed for the Nov. 8 runoff election. And those candidates knocked eight incumbents out of office. His backing was particularly effective in Miami-Dade and Sarasota, where more liberal school boards will become more conservative. Miami Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Florida Phoenix. WFTS. News Service of Florida. The 74. WWSB. Rolling Stone. New York Times. WKMG. Florida Politics.

Student vaccinations: Florida kindergarten vaccination rates for the 2020-2021 school year were at their lowest level since 2014, the Florida Department of Health said, reflecting the pandemic and general mistrust of COVID vaccines. “There were a lot of questions and concerns about the COVID vaccine, especially as it relates to children, and so there could be some spillover with parents having more questions and concerns about vaccines that they previously accepted without question,” said Dr. Julie Morita, a pediatrician and a member of a CDC advisory committee. WUSF.

Around the nation: Up to $10,000 in student loan debt will be forgiven for more than 43 million Americans under a new proposal announced Wednesday by President Biden. Borrowers who earn less than $125,000 or families earning less than $250,000 will be eligible, and students who took Pell grants could qualify for up to $20,000 in debt forgiveness. The plan is expected to be challenged in court. Associated Press. Politico. Tampa Bay Times. The 74. Chalkbeat. More than 2.6 million Floridians have student loan debt totaling about $100.9 billion, according to an April report from Education Data. Almost half of those who have debt are under the age of 35. WTVJ.

Education podcasts: Emily Hayes, a Florida mother of three who benefit from the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities, talks with Step Up For Students senior writer Lisa Bue about the variety of ways she’s able to use the money, and the benefits and flexibility an education savings account provides. reimaginED.

Opinions on schools: The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Carson v. Makin, upholding the constitutionality of school choice for the third time in 20 years, revealed that naysayers have argued against the right of parents to direct a child’s upbringing and education for over 100 years. They are still wrong. The Constitution does not require public funding for a child’s education. Leslie Hiner, reimaginED. Teachers, if you love teaching but feel stifled by the system, you now have options. The door to controlling your own destiny has never been more open. Step Up For Students’ Ronda Dry, Florida Politics. What we now hope for is that Gov. DeSantis-endorsed Miami-Dade school board candidates think and speak for themselves, lest every utterance be seen as a mandate from the governor. This remains a nonpartisan school board, and members are beholden only to the constituents in their districts, and residents countywide. Miami Herald. The more school boards are subsumed in low-priority political messaging and the less concerned they are with solving the serious issues, the grimmer the eventual consequences. R. Bruce Anderson, Lakeland Ledger. Sarasota County voters sent a resounding message Tuesday that they want change in how the school district operates. But it’s now the responsibility of those who have been given that mandate to provide change that truly benefits the children of the Sarasota County School District — who, after all, remain its most important constituents. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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BY NextSteps staff