Senate, House budgets vary by $700M, constitutional questions, sculpture dispute and more

Spending plans gap: Both chambers in the Legislature unveiled their proposed budgets last week, with the Senate’s $113.7 billion plan coming in about $700 million higher than the House’s. Both project spending more than $26.6 billion on K-12 education, though the House wants to change the formula by which schools are funded. Appropriations committees in both the Senate and House will begin considering amendments Tuesday, pass their bills the following week and then begin reconciling them into a single spending plan by May 2 in order to end the session on time May 5. There is a 72-hour “cooling off” period required between the time an agreement is reached and a vote is held, so legislators have time to review the appropriations bill and related documents. Florida Politics.

Constitutional questions: Florida’s constitution requires the state to provide a “high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education.” Legislators have challenged the concept with a bill this year that would make every K-12 student in the state eligible for a nearly $8,000 state scholarship to attend a private school, arguing that if taxpayers are paying for the education, it is public education. The question of constitutionality is likely to be settled later, in the courts. Tampa Bay Times.

Around the state: Sarasota school board chair Bridget Ziegler proposes hiring a consultant with ties to Hillsdale College, newly released text messages showing a New College of Florida trustee communicating with others about motions he intended to make to hire Richard Corcoran as interim president and Bill Galvano as general counsel on the same day that the board fired the school president, the story of the Leon charter school principal who resigned after failing to notify parents that their 6th-graders would see Michelangelo’s nude statue of David has made headlines worldwide, Lee and Collier school districts would have to change the start times for all their high schools if a bill dictating how early they can start is approved in the Legislature, and University of Tampa president Richard L. Vaughn announces he’ll retire after the 2023-2024 school year. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Hillsborough: Parents, students and the Hillsborough County NAACP are calling on the school district to investigate how a teacher who allegedly has ridiculed students for decades is still teaching. There have been at least 23 allegations filed against Wharton High School social studies teacher Todd Harvey. Several times the district threatened to fire him. But it never followed through, and Harvey is still in the classroom. “The school district that we have just doesn’t take this seriously enough,” said Yvette Lewis, president of the local NAACP branch. “It’s trauma.” Tampa Bay Times. The Academy of the Holy Names, a private Catholic school in Tampa, has received a $1 million donation from Renée and Brian Murphy, founder and CEO of ReliaQuest. The money will be used to support student programming at all levels and to create new and improved athletic and recreational areas. WTVT.

Polk: Seven district high school seniors have been named National Merit Scholarships finalists. They are: Cullen Wyatt of Lakeland High; James Barrios, Neil Dave, Elijah Englund and Keshav Singh from the International Baccalaureate program at Bartow High; Gianna Junqueira of Davenport High; and Payson Keown of the Haines City High IB program. Lakeland Now.

Lee, Collier: Both the Lee and Collier school districts would have to change the starting times for every high school if H.B. 733 is approved by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor. It calls for high schools to start no earlier than 8:30 a.m., and would take effect July 1, 2026. All middle schools in both counties are already starting after 8 a.m., which the bill also would require Fort Myers News-Press. The sheriff’s office has created a new team to address school threats. Detectives, analysts and social workers will be placed on the School Threat Enforcement Team to investigate threats and hold the persons responsble for them accountable. WFTX.

Brevard: Two district school principals were arrested over the weekend in separate incidents and charged with driving under the influence. On Friday, Heritage High School principal John Harris, 62, was arrested. On Saturday, Lewis Carroll Elementary School principal Jenifer Born, 56, was pulled over and detained. Both have been placed on administrative leave. WKMG. WFTV. WESH.

Sarasota: School board chair Bridget Ziegler is proposing that the board hire a consultant “to have someone help us with certain things when it comes to keeping us away from the fire.” The company, Vermilion Education, said it “helps school boards ensure an accurate and high-quality education for their students” with principles that include “transparency.” The company has been in business just three months, and was created by Jordan Adams, a former civic education specialist at Hillsdale College, the conservative Christian college in Michigan that the DeSantis administration wants to replicate at Sarasota’s New College. WFTS.

Leon: The story of a charter school principal who resigned under fire last week because she didn’t notify parents in advance that Michelangelo’s nude sculpture of David would be the subject of a 6th-grade art lesson has gone viral. Hope Carrasquilla’s story has been picked up all over the world, and the mayor of Florence, Italy, where the sculpture can be seen in the Galleria dell’Accademia, has invited her to visit so he can personally honor her. Dario Nardella said confusing art with pornography is “ridiculous.” Tallahassee Democrat. Associated Press. Politico Florida.

Martin: Firefighters said they have mostly contained an 80-acre blaze that began Sunday afternoon when an old tree hit a power line. No homes are threatened, they said, but power has been knocked out in an area of Stuart that includes South Fork High School. WPTV.

Flagler: Wadsworth Elementary School principal Paul Peacock will make a pay-related grievance before the school board Tuesday. Peacock said he is owed $7,500 for his work as a district negotiator on a contract over a calendar year. District officials argue that Peacock had been removed as a negotiator in June 2022 after making a promise about insurance rebates that was rejected by the school board, and that he is not entitled to another $7,500 because he was removed before the fiscal year 2022-2023 began July 1. Peacock also has threatened to sue the school board after member Colleen Conklin called him an idiot in a text to Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt. Flagler Live.

Levy: A parent of three students that were seriously injured in a 2022 school bus crash near Yankeetown is suing the driver of the truck driver who ran into the back of the bus. The students were permanently injured, according to the suit against Frederick Campbell of Hillsborough County, the owner of the truck, and his employer Denmark Trucking Co. WCJB.

Colleges and universities: Newly released text messages show New College of Florida trustee Matthew Spaulding communicating with others about motions he intended to make to hire Richard Corcoran as interim president and Bill Galvano as general counsel on the same day that the board fired President Patricia Okker. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The president of the University of Tampa has announced he’ll retire at the end of the 2023-2024 school year. Ronald L. Vaughn, 76, has run the private school since 1995 and overseen a period of expansion. The school has grown from 1,500 to 11,000 students, increased the faculty from 150 to 900 and taken operating revenue from $28 million to $400 million. Tampa Bay Times.

Board of education appointments: Two new members were appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to the state Board of Education on Friday, and another current board member was reappointed. New to the board are former state Rep. MaryLynn Magar, who represented Martin and Palm Beach counties and is now vice president of HeartCare Imaging Inc., and Kelly Garcia, a trustee for Florida Virtual School. Named to another term was Ryan Petty, the head of product and marketing for the consulting firm Blue Rocket Inc., Gemini division, and the father of Alaina Petty, a 14-year-old student who died in the 2018 Parkland school shooting. Politico Florida. Florida Politics.

Around the nation: Members of the U.S. House on Friday passed a parents’ bill of rights requiring schools to publish course studies and a list of books kept in libraries, and guarantee parents’ ability to meet with educators, speak at school board meetings and examine school budgets. It’s not expected to be approved by the Senate. Associated Press.

Opinions on schools: The signature of Gov. DeSantis on the universal school choice bill will dispel any confusion whatsoever regarding which year stands as the most productive in the history of the choice movement. It’s not yet April, and 2023 already has earned the crown. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED. For nearly a decade now, in-state tuition rates have brought so many of us Dreamers closer to our future ambitions, and I beg the Florida Legislature not to take that away from us. Please, let us help Florida thrive in the years ahead. Britney Ortiz, Orlando Sentinel. Call Florida Atlantic University’s stealth president searches for what they are: an effort to silence the voices of students, academics and communities. Sun-Sentinel. If the universal voucher plan comes out of Tallahassee this year, it should not foretell the end of the public schools as some might say. It may, ironically, provide some relief for school districts. Will Bronson, Naples Daily News. The first student to enroll in Florida’s new civics course should be the autocratic Gov. DeSantis. Fabiola Santiago, Miami Herald. Florida’s increased support for career and technical education is a great thing. But it should also be increasing support for students who are preparing for college STEM majors. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. Many TV programs have an advisory like, “The following program contains scenes that may be upsetting to some viewers. Viewer discretion is advised.” The school ought to give parents such a warning at the start of the school year, then let the teachers teach. Bill Cotterell, Tallahassee Democrat. It’s a sad commentary on our weird, tiresome politics that the Michelangelo statue mess in a Florida school is not surprising. Stephanie Hayes, Tampa Bay Times.

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BY NextSteps staff