Parents rights law expansion, flag-flying restrictions, school board elections, vouchers and more

Parents’ rights expansion: The bill that would expand the Parental Rights in Education law by further restricting teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity and prohibiting school employees from asking students for their preferred pronouns was approved Tuesday by the House Choice & Innovation Subcommittee. Classroom discussions about sex and gender that were banned in grades K-3 would be expanded to encompass pre-K through 8th grade. “I think that most parents would agree that conversations about these topics can be necessary,” said state Rep. Adam Anderson, R-Palm Harbor, the bill sponsor. “But they would also agree that they should not be outsourced to the government.” Most Democrats opposed the bill. “This bill is anti-freedom, it’s anti-liberty,” said state Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville. “It’s not about parental rights, it’s not about kids’ rights. It’s about scoring political points — it’s about power and control.” News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Politico Florida. Florida Politics.

Flying the flags: Approved flags that could be displayed at schools and in other government buildings would include the U.S., Florida and Confederate flags under a bill passed Tuesday by the Senate Committee on Governmental Oversight and Accountability. Other flags specifically mentioned in the bill are those of the United Nations, POW-MIA, foreign nations, military services both federal and state, Olympics, beach warnings and those of Florida’s counties, municipalities, public universities and colleges. Not mentioned are flags such as those celebrating LGBTQ+ Pride and Black Lives Matter. “It just clearly lines up what flags can be flown over government facilities, like the state flag, the American flag, the POW flag and our firefighter’s flag,” said the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Jay Collins, R-Tampa. WJAX. Forbes.

Also in the Legislature: A proposed constitutional amendment to make local school board elections partisan was approved Tuesday by the House Education & Employment Committee and is now headed for a vote by the full House. News Service of Florida. Camera-enforced “speed detection systems” could be set up in school zones under a bill approved by the Senate Transportation Committee. Florida Politics. Computer devices owned by school districts would be barred from accessing social media sites such as TikTok under a bill that was cleared by the House Education & Employment Committee. News Service of Florida. A provision in the voucher expansion bill H.B. 1 would delete the requirement that all students take an online course to be eligible for graduation. Tampa Bay Times. Some legislative committees are limiting comments from the public on bills to 30 seconds. Florida Phoenix.

Around the state: A report contends that between 2008 and 2019, per-pupil spending declined 12 percent in Florida while spending on voucher programs grew 313 percent, Duval school leaders deny that they were making a political statement by covering books in libraries, best-selling author James Patterson questions the removal of his Maximum Ride book series for young adults from Martin County school libraries, and Jacksonville’s City Council commits $20 million to help bring a University of Florida graduate school campus to the city’s downtown. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Palm Beach: Some parents are questioning the seeming inconsistency among district schools on when to impose a lockdown when weapons are found on campus. Mandy Ratcliff, whose daughter attends Palm Beach Gardens Community High School, said that school wasn’t locked down when a student was recently found with a loaded gun. “Whether there was a threat or not, it could have accidentally been fired,” she said. “Something could have happened to a student, a teacher, a staff member, anyone there.” District Police Chief Sarah Mooney said schools have flexibility depending on the circumstances. “If it is something that could be a potential threat that could be mitigated very quickly,” she said, “we’re not necessarily going to lockdown a campus, because we want to be as least disruptive to the school day as possible, especially if we know the threat is potentially contained.” WPTV.

Duval: School leaders are denying Gov. Ron DeSantis’ charge that the district intentionally covered unreviewed school library books for political reasons. “In Duval, what they were doing was intentionally trying to create friction and trying to create issues to act like something was wrong in the state of Florida,” said the governor. District spokesman Tracy Pierce said that is inaccurate, and that the district was simply trying to protect teachers from unintentionally violating state law based on guidance from the Florida Department of Education. Jacksonville Today.

Escambia: District officials said this week that they plan to hire additional campus security officers, who are district employees trained by the sheriff’s office. Ideal candidates would have law enforcement and/or military experience and enjoy working with children, the district said. The pay is $33,309 for 10 months. WEAR.

Martin: Best-selling author James Patterson’s Maximum Ride book series for young adults has been banned from the district’s school libraries, and Patterson is urging residents to “send a polite note” to Gov. DeSantis to ask him why. “Honestly, who would want Maximum Ride banned from schools?” Patterson asked. “On what possible grounds? What do the majority of parents in Martin County think of this arbitrary and borderline absurd decision?” Palm Beach Post.

Colleges and universities: The Jacksonville City Council voted Tuesday to commit $20 million to help the University of Florida build a downtown graduate school campus for classes in UF Health, the College of Business and the College of Engineering. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. Records from the state’s public universities show that gender-affirming health care makes up a small fraction of the medical cases handled in their medical facilities. Schools were ordered by the governor to turn over their records to the state. The University of Florida, for example, reported 1,914 patients whose medical files included the code for gender dysphoria over the last four years, out of 12 million patients seen. Tampa Bay Times. Hampshire College, a private school in Amherst, Mass., is offering to accept New College of Florida students who want to transfer at the rate they’re paying now. Tuition and fees at Hampshire are $54,812 a year. New College charges $6,916 for in-state tuition and fees and $29,944 for out-of-state students. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Miami Herald. The U.S. Department of Education will use a “secret shopper” program to evaluate whether colleges and universities are being misleading when telling students about their academic programs and financial aid. Politico.

Demographics of vouchers: “No state comes close to Florida in the allocation of public funds to private schools,” concludes a report from the Public Funds Public Schools, a nonprofit advocacy group for public schools. During that period of vouchers growth in Florida, from 2008 through 2019, per-pupil spending on public education declined 12 percent while spending on voucher programs grew 313 percent. “This decline in per-pupil funding in Florida cannot be attributed to
economic duress,” accoeding to the report. “It coincided with a 3.4 percent annual growth rate in GDP for the state from 2008 to 2019, exceeding the 3.1 percent mean annual growth rate over this time period for the 49 other states.” A separate report from the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy shows that in three states — Arizona, Louisiana and Virginia — more than half of voucher tax credits are going to families with incomes over $200,000. K-12 Dive.

Opinions on schools: Parents and policymakers shouldn’t wait for a civics overhaul to ensure that future generations know what responsible citizenship entails. By supporting school choice programs, we can cultivate the civic virtues our country has traditionally relied upon, regardless of whether one believes civic knowledge or civic participation is more important. Garion Frankel, reimaginED. Gov. DeSantis’ calling the banning of books a “hoax” is, itself, a hoax. Pat Beall, Sun-Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff