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Expanded choice bills ready for floor votes, court continues hold on Stop WOKE Act, and more

Choice bills head for floor votes: Senate and House bills that would give all Florida K-12 students access to state scholarships have now cleared all committees and are ready for floor votes. The Senate Appropriations Committee on Education approved its chamber’s version of the bill in a 12-6 vote Thursday, and a vote by the full Senate is expected next week. The House version of the bill is ready for a floor vote today. A $646 million pricetag was announced for the Senate bill, while the House projects a cost of $209 million. Critics of the bills contend the voucher expansion will cost the state billions of dollars. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Tallahassee Democrat. Florida Politics. reimaginED. About 76 percent of state students who receive K-12 scholarships attend religious schools, according to the Florida Department of Education. Orlando Sentinel.

Also in the Legislature: The bill that would limit local school board members to eight years in office is now prepared for a House vote today. News Service of Florida. A provision in H.B. 1069 could allow the state to remove books or instructional materials if a single person files an objection. News Service of Florida. Another provision in H.B. 1069 would prohibit girls younger than 6th-graders to discuss their periods in school. Huffington Post. Senate and House committees cleared bills (S.B. 256 and H.B. 1445) that will have an impact on teachers and other public union workers. They call for 60 percent representation for unions to remain certified, and would end payroll deduction for union dues. News Service of Florida. Tampa Bay Times.

Stop WOKE on hold: Florida’s legal restrictions on the way race-related concepts can be taught in universities will continue to be on hold while the case moves through the court system, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday. The state had asked that the injunction be lifted, but the court refused without elaboration. Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker issued the injunction in November, saying the so-called “Stop WOKE Act” was “positively dystopian” and violated the First Amendment rights. “The First Amendment does not permit the state of Florida to muzzle its university professors, impose its own orthodoxy of viewpoints, and cast us all into the dark,” Walker wrote. News Service of Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. WKMG. Florida Politics. Inside Higher Ed.

Around the state: A Palm Beach Atlantic University English professor has been fired after a parent claimed he was “indoctrinating” students by including lessons about racial justice in his writing assignments, at least one publisher of social studies textbooks now under review has muted racial references in the Rosa Parks story to try to gain Florida’s approval, the deputy mayor of Cocoa has been removed as a substitute teacher for in Brevard schools after a district investigation concluded he lied about his criminal record on his application, six Lee County teachers were presented with Golden Apple awards, and a Palm Beach County high school has started logging students into certain bathrooms during classes and not allowing them to take their backpacks with them. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade, Broward: School board members unanimously approved a move to commemorate the National Day of Prayer in the district’s public schools May 4. Board vice chair Danny Espino said the approved measure “creates a space for everyone of all faiths” to participate. Wednesday was also the first day that the state’s motto, “In God We Trust,” was displayed in the school board room. Miami Herald. Graduation dates have been set for Miami-Dade and Broward high schools. Ceremonies for seniors at 66 public schools in Miami-Dade begin May 30 and end June 7. In Broward, 48 public schools will hold ceremonies from June 2-8. Miami Herald. Multiple students were arrested after a brawl broke out at Miami Northwestern Senior High School. School officials said there were two incidents: the fight that quickly spread and firearms being recovered on school property. WFOR. WPLG. WSVN. WTVJ.

Palm Beach: Seminole Ridge High School students are now being required to scan their student IDs with a teacher and leave their backpacks when they go to the bathroom during classes. Principal Robert Hatcher said the new policy is intended to improve how the staff monitors student bathrooms after they were renovated. It calls for teachers stationed outside certain restrooms to review any items students take into the restroom and record their visit. No more than four students will be permitted in the bathroom at a time. “Controlling access to student restrooms is a proactive measure,” Hatcher said. Palm Beach Post. WPEC. Michael Williams, the principal of Lake Worth Middle School, is being investigated by the district after a shouting match with a member of the public on school grounds. A video of the incident shows Williams used profanity and racial slurs. WPEC. Jay Blavatt, the principal of Palm Beach Gardens Community High School, is under an internal investigation of an undisclosed nature, district officials said Thursday. WPTV. WPEC. A Palm Beach Gardens Community High School student was arrested Thursday and accused of having a loaded gun on campus. WPTV. WPEC.

Pasco: The legislative bills that would change residency rules for local school board candidates were prompted by the case of recently elected Pasco school board member Al Hernandez, who was living in central Pasco last year while he was trying to win a seat in east Pasco. State law requires candidates to live in the district they want to represent by the time they qualify for the ballot. Hernandez was initially ruled off the ballot, but four days before the Nov. 8 election an appellate court overruled the first decision and he was elected easily. State Rep. Kevin Steele, R-Dade City, acknowledged his H.B. 411 bill was filed because of Hernandez’s situation, though Hernandez said he did not ask for the bill and has not been involved in discussions about it. Tampa Bay Times.

Lee: Six district teachers were presented with Golden Apples awards on Thursday by the Foundation for Lee County Public Schools. They are: Luis Fisher, a secondary music teacher at Gateway High School; Tamara Hunter, a peer collaborative teacher at Franklin Park Elementary; Lindsey Maxwell, a 5th-grade teacher at Bayshore Elementary; Laura Jordan, a peer collaborative teacher at Caloosa Elementary; and Joni Pelletier, who teacher special education students on the autism spectrum disorder at Treeline Elementary. Fort Myers News-Press. Fifteen classrooms at Gateway High School in Fort Myers were damaged last weekend when a power outage reset the emergency shut-off system in the science classrooms and water began to flow from faucets. Insurance will cover the damage. WINK.

Brevard: The deputy mayor of Cocoa has been removed as a substitute teacher for the school district after a district investigation concluded he lied about his criminal record on his application. LaVander Hearn had been substitute teaching since 2020. The investigation was prompted by a complaint from school board member Gene Trent, who himself remains under investigation for also allegedly lying about his past arrests on his 2015 application for a teaching position. Florida Today.

Collier: The Collier Community Foundation has started a fund-raising campaign to help pay for uniforms for about 3,300 low-income students for the 2023-2024 school year. “Purchasing uniforms can be expensive for people who are low income. We’re wanting to help those families,” said Eileen Connolly-Keesler, foundation president and CEO. Naples Daily News.

Escambia: The Escambia Children’s Trust has awarded a $1.7 million grant to the Pensacola Parks and Recreation Department to support after-school programs in four community centers over the next three years. Students whose families qualify for free or reduced-price lunches can attend the programs at no cost. Pensacola News Journal.

Martin: More than 80 books have now been removed or restricted by age in school district libraries because of sexual or racial content, including works by such notable authors as James Patterson, Jodi Picoult, Toni Morrison and Judy Blume. TCPalm.

Gadsden: School officials have spent only about $500,000 of the $33 million in federal pandemic relief aid the district has received. About $7 million has to be spent by September, and the rest by September 2024. The district has not detailed how it intends to the spend the money, but has previously said it aims to get a better student data tracking system and improve its early learning and voluntary pre-kindergarten programs. WFSU.

Colleges and universities: A Palm Beach Atlantic University English professor has been fired after a parent claimed he was “indoctrinating” students by including lessons about racial justice in his writing assignments. “They did this for a clear reason: my decision to teach and speak about racial justice,” said Sam Joeckel, who had taught at the Christian school for two decades. Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel. WPEC. Florida A&M University has blocked accessibility of the TikTok app on school devices and wifi networks. Tallahassee Democrat. Florida Board of Governors chair Brian Lamb said the board wants to take a closer look at how long interim school leaders stay in place, presidential searches and presidents’ contracts — “some of the key elements that are in presidential contracts and what role the BOG should play as compared to the trustees,” he said. Florida Politics. Grace Keenan, the student member of the New College of Florida board of trustees, has become the loudest dissenting voice on the board since it was packed with conservatives. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Social studies books review: Florida’s review of social studies textbooks has begun, and so have the questions from conservative groups looking for any sign of critical race theory or “prohibited topics” in them. The process has become so politically charged that one publisher created multiple versions of its material, even softening or eliminating racial references in such historical stories as Rosa Parks declining to move to the back of a bus in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955, apparently as a way to gain approval in Florida. “Normally, a state adoption is a pretty boring process that a few of us care about, but there are a lot of people watching this because the stakes are so high,” said Jeff Livingston, a former publishing executive who is now an education consultant. New York Times.

Lawsuit over book training: The Florida Education Association has filed an administrative legal challenge against the state Department of Education, contending it exceeded its legal authority in issuing training for school librarians to comply with a state law signed last year. The complaint contends that training materials “really rewrite the law that the Legislature passed last year through a rulemaking process,” said Skye Perryman, president of the nonprofit legal advocacy group Democracy Forward. WUSF.

Opinions on schools: Parents don’t want politicians dictating what their children can learn, think and believe. That’s not how public education is supposed to work in a free country. U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, Tampa Bay Times. Understanding the difference between myths and facts about tenure for college professors is vital for an informed debate about its future. Clay Calvert, Tampa Bay Times.

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BY NextSteps staff