Homeless students in central Florida, veterans-turned-teachers, research rankings, and more

Around the state: More than 9,000 students in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties are considered homeless right now, up 45 percent from last year, more than 500 veterans have expressed interest in the state’s program to turn veterans into teachers but only seven have completed the requirements and are in classrooms, three Florida universities rank among the top 100 in the nation for spending on research, Broward school board member-elect Rod Velez wins a legal challenge against his eligibility to hold the seat but is no closer to being sworn in, Flagler school board members want to place the anti-overdose treatment naloxone in every school, and one high school teacher in Escambia County is responsible for 148 of the 150 challenges to books in school libraries since August. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Two legal victories in the past two days have brought school board member-elect Rod Velez no closer to being sworn in to the seat he won Nov. 8. Tuesday, prosecutors said they wouldn’t file charges against Velez for signing a sworn statement that he was eligible to run for the seat, despite not having his full civil rights restored after a 1995 felony conviction. Wednesday, a judge dismissed a civil complaint against Velez brought by his election opponent on procedural grounds. But neither decision cleared Velez to hold the office. Prosecutors said he was ineligible, while the judge didn’t address that issue. Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis indicated that he would soon be appointing a replacement for Velez. Velez’s attorneys said they will challenge the governor if he does. Sun-Sentinel. WPLG.

Central Florida: More than 9,000 students in Orange, Osceola and Seminole county public schools are living in shelters or hotels, with relatives or friends or sleeping outside or in cars, the Homeless Services Network of Central Florida reported Wednesday. That’s up 45 percent over last year, when the three districts combined counted 6,270 homeless students in the same first four months of the school year. “This is a significant change,” said Martha Are, CEO of the network, which collects the data from school districts. “It’s horrendous for the children.” Orange had the biggest increase, at 52 percent over  last year, while the number was up 48 percent in Seminole and almost 30 percent in Osceola. Contributing to the spike were rising rents and damages caused by two hurricanes. Orlando Sentinel.

Polk: The county ranked 51st among the state’s 67 counties in childhood well-being, according to a report recently released by the Florida Policy Institute. That’s an improvement of four places over last year’s ranking. Its worst rating was 57th for education. “It is encouraging to see the improvement in Polk’s index score over the past 4-5 years, and with continued focus on children, I expect the improvement to continue,” said Dr. Joy Jackson, county health director, who specifically mentioned the improvement in the county’s high school graduation rate. Lakeland Ledger.

Lee: Brian Velazquez, a student at Dunbar High School in Fort Myers, recently won the 30th Certiport Microsoft Office Specialist Florida state championship for his score on the PowerPoint 2019 exam, and will represent the state at the national championship next June in Orlando. WBBH.

St. Johns: Teachers and the schools are at an impasse over pay in contract negotiations, and Superintendent Tim Forson said in his recent state of the schools presentation that while he’d like to pay every teacher and school employee more, the district is limited by the money it has on hand. The district’s operating budget is down almost 6 percent, and new funding went to  meet the state mandate to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, he said. The average teacher salary in the district is about $51,000. The next step in the process is the appointment of a special magistrate by Jan. 5, who will hear both sides and then make a recommendation. If either the teachers or the district reject the recommendation, the contract issue will be decided by the school board. WJTX.

Sarasota: About 29 percent of the district’s schools still have at least one teaching vacancy, according to records obtained from the district. Forty-four teaching jobs remain unfilled. Those figures are down from the 80 openings at August, with 43 percent of schools having at least one instructional job unfilled. The district has more than 2,800 teachers for its 46,602 students. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Escambia: Vicki Baggett, the chair of the Northview High School language arts department and a 30-year veteran of the school district, has filed 148 of the 150 challenges to books in school libraries since classes began in August. Among them: When Wilma Rudolph Played Basketball, a story about how Rudolph overcame polio and racial discrimination to become an Olympic track star (which Baggett calls “very anti-white”); And Tango Makes Three, about two male penguins in a zoo raising an adopted child (“LGBTQ agenda using penguins”); and such classics as Perks of Being a Wallflower, BelovedSlaughterhouse-Five and Water for Elephants for high school students because of sexual content. About 125 books she’s challenged have been placed in the “restricted” section of libraries. Popular Information. A Warrington Elementary School janitor who works for the company that has the contract for those services has been arrested and accused of child pornography and attempting to solicit a student. Deputies said Eric William Poston, 24, befriended a 13-year former student at Bellview Middle School when he worked there. WEAR.

Flagler: School board members have directed administrators to come up with a plan to make naloxone available in every county school. Naloxone is used to reverse the effects of drug overdoses by restoring normal breathing patterns. It can be injected or sprayed. Administrators are expected to have a proposed policy for the board to consider within weeks. “The faster we can move forward on this and make this accessible to our staff, the better,” said board chair Cheryl Massaro. Flagler Live. A school district proposal for an interagency agreement with the city of Palm Coast and county commissioners to keep the Belle Terre Swim & Racquet Club in Palm Coast alive has drawn little interest, and board members are now considering other options. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Colleges and universities: Three Florida universities have been ranked among the top 100 nationwide in spending on research, according to the latest report from the National Science Foundation. The University of Florida ranks 27th, the University of South Florida 68th and Florida State University 83rd. In July, UF announced it had passed the $1 billion mark for the first time. Johns Hopkins University ranked No. 1 in the country with almost $3.2 billion spent. The Capitolist. Twenty-two Orange County education paraprofessionals have become teachers through Rollins College’s Pathways to Teaching program. It’s a 2.5-year course, and Orange school district employees get a $1,000 scholarship, free textbooks and a laptop. WMFE. State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota has started construction on the Venice campus’ science and technology building. The $5 million project is the first new construction on the campus since 1995, and is expected to open next fall. Charlotte Sun. Fourteen-year-old Evan Byrne recently graduated with an associate’s degree in psychology from Valencia College in Orlando and will start classes in January at the University of Central Florida. WKMG.

Seven in vets-to-teachers plan: A plan heavily touted by the state to convert military veterans into teachers has placed just seven veterans in classrooms since it began in June, according to the Florida Department of Education. More than 500 have applied for the new program, called the Military Veterans Certification Pathway, but only seven have made it through the certification program so far. They’re teaching in Brevard, Citrus, Clay, Okaloosa, Manatee, Monroe and Volusia counties. “An actual certificate is not issued to any candidate until they are hired by a school district or charter school and pass the required Level 2 background screening,” said a DOE spokesperson. “Therefore, just because over 500 applications have been received by the BEC, this does not mean that all applications have been reviewed, nor does it mean the applications contain all the required documents.” The spokesperson also said, despite “a false media narrative suggesting the Military Veterans Pathway was created to ‘fix’ a teacher shortage,” the program is instead intended “to support military veterans in finding employment as teachers in Florida.” WFLA.

Florida education rating: Florida ranked 31st among states in education and overall prosperity in 2022, according to the American Dream Prosperity Index compiled by the Milken Center for Advancing the American Dream in partnership with Legatum Institute. That’s up four spots for education in the past 10 years, and seven for overall prosperity. Flagler Live.

Around the nation: Instructors in Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps programs in Florida and other U.S. states have promoted the National Rifle Association to students in return for money to buy air rifles and other equipment for their marksmanship programs. The tradeoff gives needed equipment to the programs, and introduces the NRA to a new generation of potential members and supporters of the Second Amendment through trusted school systems. New York Times.

Opinions on schools: The COVID-19 pandemic popularized a Do It Yourself (DIY) education movement. Americans take cues on schooling from friends, families and social networks. More people doing DIY recently seems likely to lead to still more DIY in the future. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED. A shortage of teachers is one of the three major failings of Florida. The question here is whether education is a priority, whether teachers are valued and what Florida’s workforce will look like if students emerge unprepared. Tampa Bay Times. Across Florida, support for LGBTQ+ students is crumpling like gift-bag tissue paper, as state education officials demand that school districts erase protections, many just a few years old, adopted after long and sometimes contentious public debate and heartfelt testimony by students and parents pleading that schools be safe for all students. Orlando Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff