Voucher expansion bills move forward, DeSantis disparages ‘book ban hoax,’ and more

Voucher bills on move: Bills that would expand state scholarship eligibility to all Florida K-12 students advanced in the Senate and House on Wednesday. H.B. 1 was approved by members of the Education and Employment Committee, and S.B. 202 got through the Appropriations Committee on Education. There are still questions about the cost: the Senate bill has been slapped with a cost projection of “indeterminate” while senators await an estimate from the Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research, and the House projection of $209 million is a fraction of the estimates by independent observers. The idea of scholarships for all also has not been embraced by Gov. Ron DeSantis. “I think there’s a philosophical interest amongst some to say everybody — universal — money follows the students,” DeSantis said. “I get that. And philosophically, I’m not even opposed to that. But you just have to make choices about okay, how much money are you going to do for people already in private school?” News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Tallahassee Democrat. Florida Politics. reimaginED. Another provision in the scholarships bills could give private and home-schooled students the option of enrolling part-time in public schools. The 74.

Also in the Legislature: Two bills that would change elections for school board seats were approved Wednesday by the House Ethics, Elections & Open Government Subcommittee. H.J.R. 31 would ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment making district school board elections partisan, and H.B. 411 would permit board candidates to live outside the district they want to represent until the day they assume office. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics. A bill that would require those who are paid to blog about the governor, a Florida Cabinet official or a state legislator to register with the state could be dead on arrival after it was repudiated this week by DeSantis and House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast. S.B. 1316 was filed by state Sen. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford. Orlando Sentinel.

DeSantis and book bans: Gov. DeSantis continued his campaign against what he has called “garbage” books in schools, saying the state is removing pornography from schools, not banning books. At a press conference Wednesday, DeSantis aides showed a 5-minute video with examples of questionable books found in Florida schools, including some with cartoon images of private body parts, masturbation and oral sex. “Parents, when they’re sending their kids to school, they should not have to worry about this garbage being in the schools,” he said. Twenty-three districts have received “violations” over their reading materials. The governor also criticized a “false narrative” in the media reporting on the effects of laws banning the teaching of critical race theory and the instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools, something he labeled a “book ban hoax.” WFLA. Spectrum News 13. WTVT. Sun-Sentinel. WPTV. WPLG. Florida Politics. Daily Mail.

Around the state: One Brevard County school board member is suing another over personal phone records, Lee school board members agree to consider joining the state’s school guardian program, Sarasota school board members vote to suspend the district’s state-required character education program, Leon school board members postpone a decision on adopting a human growth and development instruction after hearing complaints from the Moms for Liberty, two Florida school districts will receive millions as part of a national lawsuit against an e-cigarette manufacturer, and Alachua’s school board is considering rezoning four elementary schools to ease overcrowding at three of them. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Orange: About $5.4 million is headed to the school district as part of a settlement of a national lawsuit against the e-cigarette company JUUL Labs Inc. More than 1,400 school districts and other government agencies took part in the suit and will share the settlement. In June 2020, the district entered into the lawsuit by alleging JUUL was marketing its products to children and mislabeling the nicotine content of its products. District officials said they’ll use the money to buy vape detectors and counsel students caught vaping or smoking. WKMG.

Palm Beach: The school district will receive $10 million-plus over the next five years from JUUL Labs Inc. as its share of the same lawsuit. The money is compensation for money the district spent on creating a night class for students suspended for vaping, revising the student conduct code to prohibit e-cigarette use and conducting town hall meetings to alert parents to the dangers. Palm Beach Post. Even before the pandemic and the subsequent escalation of home prices, about 80 percent of county teachers said they were concerned about their ability to afford to stay in their jobs because of the rising costs of housing, according to a 2019 survey. Palm Beach Post.

Polk: Superintendent Frederick Heid is conducting a series of community conversations to update residents of what’s going on in the school district and to answer questions. The first meeting is March 20 at the Dream Center of Lakeland. Others are scheduled March 22, 23, 27, 30 and April 3, 17 and 19. A virtual meeting is May 1. Lakeland Now. A 15-year-old student at Westwood Middle School in Winter Haven has been arrested and accused of stabbing a 14-year-old classmate Wednesday during school. Lakeland Ledger. WKMG. WFTS.

Lee: School board members have voted to consider taking part in the state’s school guard program. Forty-six school districts participate now in the program, which allows some school workers to carry weapons on campus. WINK. WFTX. WBBH. High school graduations will be held May 19, 20 and 21 at Suncoast Arena, Alico Arena, Caloosa Sound Convention Center and the Hertz Arena. Tickets will be handled by each school. Fort Myers News-Press.

Brevard: One school board member has filed suit against another, alleging that he has illegally refused to turn over his personal phone records. Jennifer Jenkins said she wants Matt Susin’s records to show that Susin’s calls pertain to official board business and, therefore, are public records. Susin said he would review the suit, which he called a “part of a larger set of facts,” and release a statement later. Florida Today.

Volusia: After a former Atlantic High School teacher was arrested and accused of having sex with a 15-year-old student, the student’s classmates started a club called “We are United” and held a silent protest outside the school. Since then, the club and school officials have started a conversation, and extra counselors have been added. Student Sofia Valle said the discussions with principal Jason Watson have “gone really well.” This week the teacher, Arin Hankerd, pleaded not guilty to the charges. Daytona Beach News-Journal. A Matanzas High School teacher’s aide who was beaten by a student has filed a petition for an injunction for protection against the boy accused of beating her. Joan Naydich suffered two broken ribs and multiple bruises. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WTLV.

Collier: High school graduations have been scheduled May 25 and 26 at individual schools and the Suncoast Arena. Tickets will be handled by each school. Naples Daily News. Five students at Pine Ridge Middle School in Naples were injured when they were hit by a school bus that was pulling up to a curb at the school. The driver has been removed pending a district investigation. WINK.

Sarasota: School board members decided this week, in a 4-1 vote, to suspend the district’s state-required character education program, Character Strong. Board chair Bridget Ziegler called the program a “distraction,” and voted against it in part because she contends programs such as Character Strong are influenced by big corporations pushing “well outside of academic standards and moving to more social emotional standards.” Interim superintendent Allison Foster is expected to recommend an alternative program. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Charlotte Sun.

Leon: After members of the Moms for Liberty expressed concern about the district’s human growth and development instruction, the school board decided to postpone consideration of the material. Critics said the content was “dehumanizing” and used “confusing language to avoid the weaponized sensitivity of trans activists.” Priscilla West of Moms for Liberty-Leon said, “It harms children.” District officials said they would re-evaluate the material, consider changes and bring it back to the school board at a future meeting. Tallahassee Democrat. Tallahassee Reports.

Alachua: School board members are considering a proposal to rezone school boundaries for Chiles, Hidden Oak and Meadowbrook elementary schools. All are over capacity, and school officials said they want to send some students from each school to Terwilliger Elementary, which has open space. WGFL. WCJB.

Bay: School board members have agreed to invest $5 million during the 2023-2024 school year to improve seven struggling schools. Lucille Moore, M. Cherry St., Parker, Callaway, Cedar Grove and Waller elementary schools and Rutherford Middle-High all received grades below a C from the state. Principals can use the money to give teachers bonuses and attract “master teachers” to mentor younger, inexperienced teachers. WMBB. Bonuses of up to $3,000 are being offered to fill school bus driver vacancies. The district hopes the money from a Florida Department of Transportation grant will help it add at least 20 new drivers. Panama City News Herald. WMBB. WJHG.

Martin: School board members are still debating whether to fill the soon-to-be-open superintendent’s job from within the district or conduct a wider search. Superintendent John Millay announced in February that would leave the district June 30. Some board members are leaning to filling the job from within, since a search will be expensive and seven other Florida school districts are also searching for a superintendent. TCPalm. WPTV. A former Martin County High assistant coach and campus security guard has pleaded no contest to six counts of lewd computer solicitation of a child by an authority figure and will be sentenced to seven years in prison. Alton Lee Edwards, 28, was arrested last December after sheriff’s investigators found that he had solicited sexually explicit photos and videos of students for at least nine years. TCPalm.

Charlotte: Four candidates have filed applications to replace Steve Dionisio as school superintendent. The application deadline is March 31, and interviews with the finalists will be held May 4-5. Those applying so far: Ernie Lozano, the chief of staff for the Broward County School District; Jason E. Spencer, the senior director of safety services for the Cincinnati Public Schools district; Jerry Gibson, superintendent of schools in Galveston, Texas; and Malinda Lansfeldt, elementary school principal in Stillwater, Minn., who was formerly the interim superintendent. Charlotte Sun.

Flagler: Whether Cathy Mittelstadt continues as school superintendent will be clarified in early April when the school board discusses her contract. An official vote has been scheduled for April 18, but her self-evaluation and evaluations from the school board members will be discussed at the April 4 workshop. Flagler Live. Book review committees agreed this week that a book about a early 1950s Chinese-American teen defying the norms of her family and neighborhood by starting a relationship with another girl should remain available in the Matanzas and Flagler Palm Coast high school libraries. Last Night at the Telegraph Club is the sixth consecutive book to withstand challenges from the community over content. Flagler Live.

Monroe: School board members have approved the academic calendar for the 2023-2024 school year. The first day of school is Aug. 10, and the last day is May 24. School is out the week of Thanksgiving, from Dec. 25 through Jan. 9, and the week of March 17. Monroe County School District.

Colleges and universities: Florida A&M University has received a $5.4 million, two-year grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to expand high-speed Internet access to underserved neighborhoods surrounding the campus. Tallahassee Democrat.

Opinions on schools: It’s time for the Hillsborough County School Board to move ahead with a new student assignment plan. The sooner that happens, the sooner parents can plan, and the sooner the school system can become more sustainable, and more valuable to the ideals of public education. Tampa Bay Times. It’s time people start paying closer attention to the influence of Hillsdale College on the state. Chris Anderson, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. We are being sold the illusion of education choice. School of choice is only a choice for families who have the privilege to make that choice. Sierra Bush Rester, Tallahassee Democrat.

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BY NextSteps staff