School choice bill advances in state Senate, bus woes in Pinellas, student fundraisers and more

In the Legislature: During a hearing on Tuesday, freshman Sen. Corey Simon introduced a proposal to make private school vouchers available to all Florida students, and the Senate Education PreK-12 Committee voted 9-3 along party lines to approve SB 202. The bill would end current eligibility requirements for vouchers, such as limits on household income. Under the bill, families could qualify to receive vouchers if “the student is a resident of this state and is eligible to enroll in kindergarten through grade 12 in a public school in this state.” The bill would also allow families of home-schooled students to receive vouchers. Orlando Sentinel. Pensacola News Journal. TC Palm. Citrus County Chronicle. The state Legislature, after financing a University of Florida study, will consider financing twice weekly music classes for kindergarten through second grade students in a proposal brought forward by state Sen. Keith Perry.  The Early Childhood Music Education Incentive Program helps elementary schools host music classes by paying $150 per student enrolled in the class. Main Street Daily News. Rep. Michelle Salzman is filing legislation to help military families in state schools. HB 633 removes the ability for school districts to limit access for military families to certain types of schools, and would also remove some penalties for exceeding class size. Salzman is presenting HB 633 to the Escambia County School Board at their Tuesday night meeting. WEAR. Asian American and Pacific Islander studies could become mandatory in Florida schools. SB 294 would require Florida schools to teach the culture and contributions of AAPI people. The Legislature could consider the bill during the upcoming March session, and if passed, it could be implemented by the fall. Spectrum News.

Around the state: Bus issues abound in Pinellas, Gov. Ron DeSantis rolled out a list that includes more than a dozen school board members he plans to target in 2024 to protect Florida students and parents from particular ideologies, the Martin county schools superintendent resigned, options are being discussed for a school in Lee that was badly damaged by Hurricane Ian and a statewide demonstration is planned on college campuses. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A group of parents from North Beach Elementary pleaded with city officials to help them pressure the school district to make crucial repairs at a recent Miami Beach Commission meeting. Issues include exposed rebar, mold and peeling paint, among others. CBS Miami.

Orange: Support continues to grow for a sixth-grade teacher placed on administrative leave last week. District officials accused him of using students as “political pawns” in videos posted on TikTok. WESH.

Pinellas: Buses running on time remains an issue in the school district here. Superintendent Kevin Hendrick unveiled several steps to the school board that are designed to reduce the need for additional drivers and make routes more efficient. Tampa Bay Times.

Lee: School officials here will discuss options Wednesday for Fort Myers Beach Elementary. The school was severely damaged during Hurricane Ian. Options range in cost from under $5 to nearly $25 million, and include sending students to other schools and restoring the campus, a phased rebuild and a portable campus with an option to rebuild, according to the meeting’s agenda. Fort Myers News-Press.

Seminole: Seminole State College of Florida and Seminole County Public Schools partnered to give 700 high school seniors the stools needed to take the next step in their education. Students throughout the district attended Decision Day earlier in February. WKMG.

Martin: Superintendent John Millay resigned Tuesday after less than two and a half years in his position. Millay, who was appointed in 2020, told the school board he would work until June 30.  “I love the students, I love the families and I love the professional staff,” Millay told the board. TC Palm.

Target list: Gov. DeSantis on Tuesday rolled out a list of more than a dozen school board members he plans to target in 2024 to protect Florida students and parents from ideologies that are seeping into classrooms across the state. DeSantis met with Florida House Speaker Paul Renner, Moms for Liberty co-founders Tina Descovich and Tiffany Justice in addition to leaders from the state’s school board reform movement. During the meeting, DeSantis unveiled his 2020 school board target list, which includes 14 school board members across the state. Fox News.

Walkout planned: Students of the Florida College Democrats and Dream Defenders are organizing a demonstration at college campuses statewide in response to recent education-related efforts by Gov. Ron DeSantis. The “Stand for Freedom” movement and walkout will be held Thursday on Florida college campuses with the intent to request the restoration of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in colleges across the state. Tallahassee Democrat.

Earthquake funds: National Junior Honor Society members at a school in Tallahassee found a way to give back to loved ones in need of aid in Turkey and Syria after two earthquakes hit resulting in the loss of over 30,000 lives. Students at the Tallahassee School of Math and Sciences began fundraising with the encouragement of faculty and staff. Tallahassee Democrat.

Best school hero: Nominations were sought to find people in South Florida school communities who make big impact in the lives of students. The field is now narrowed down to the Sweet 16. Miami Herald.

University and college news: Former UCF president John Hitt died at the age of 82, less than five years after retiring from the university where he spent 26 years at the helm. Hitt oversaw tremendous growth at the school including the addition of a medical school, on-campus football stadium and more than 100 new buildings. Orlando Sentinel. WESH. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy stuck shovels in the dirt at Palm Beach State College for the ceremonial groundbreaking of an indoor tech golf league. Palm Beach Post.  Meanwhile, Palm Beach Atlantic University is investigating whether a professor was “indoctrinating” students with discussion about racial justice. Palm Beach Post. Students at the University of North Florida called out the school’s president and the state’s governor during a demonstration on campus. They demanded that diversity, equity and inclusion programs on college campuses be protected, and said school officials should take a stand. First Coast News.

Opinions on schools:  Vermont’s school voucher program — which is 154 years old — is in jeopardy because of a new bill introduced in the state Senate this month. The legislation offers a unique way of circumventing a string of U.S. Supreme Court victories that have expanded school choice over the last two decades.  Patrick R. Gibbons, reimaginED. Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa recently signed the nation’s third publicly funded education choice program for all K-12 students, following Arizona and West Virginia. This represents a stunning reversal, since a smaller proposal failed to clear the Legislature last year. Jason Bedrick, reimaginED. To be honest, listening to other teachers often makes me feel a bit guilty about how much I still enjoy teaching after more than 10 years as an early childhood educator. Margi Bhansali, Chalkbeat.

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BY Camille Knox