Legislators about to remake higher ed, state budget discussions, public union changes, discipline program, and more

Remaking higher ed: Legislators are expected to sign off soon on several bills that will make significant changes to the state’s higher education system. Colleges and universities would be forbidden from putting money into diversity and inclusion programs and would review college courses for traces of lessons that assert “systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege” are embedded in American society. Academics and Democrats contend the policies violate academic freedom principles and could have a “devastating” effect on Florida’s higher education system. But Republicans say they’re cutting programs that have gone too far and are divisive in nature. “If you want to learn whatever you want, go to a school and pay for it yourself,” said state Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay. “But if you want to go to one of our heavily subsidized colleges and universities, you have to play by the rules that the people of the state of Florida want.” Politico Florida. In a speech Friday at the Heritage Foundation’s 50th Anniversary Leadership Summit, Gov. Ron DeSantis again rejected what he called political doctrination in all levels of education and said, “We believe in the traditional, classical mission of education. We want to be able to pursue truth. We want to be able to promote rigor, and we want to give students the foundation so that they can think for themselves and be citizens of our republic.” Daily Signal.

In the Legislature: Senate and House leaders have agreed to top-line spending numbers for every area of the budget, and will begin to hash out the specifics between the chambers this week. The total budget is expected to top $115 billion. Florida Politics. News Service of Florida. A bill imposing new restrictions on teachers and select other public employee unions goes before the full House for a vote Tuesday. H.B. 1445 would prevent dues from being deducted from the paychecks of most public union workers, among other changes. Unions representing police officers, firefighters and corrections officers would not be affected by the bill. News Service of Florida.

Around the state: Broward school board members are being asked to revised a controversial discipline program that focused on providing alternatives to arresting students for nonviolent offenses, Hillsborough school officials are delaying any re-examination of the district’s policies for reviewing or removing library books that are challenged for inappropriate content until this summer, Duval Superintendent Diana Greene’s job could be in jeopardy this week when the school board discusses the district’s handling of recurring sexual misconduct complaints against a high school teacher, and a Palm Beach County nonprofit that provides grants to graduating, low-income students to attend college isn’t accepting donations to make the grants renewable. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: The school district’s controversial arrest diversion program could be replaced under a proposal from district officials that goes before the school board in June. The Promise program was touted as a national model by sending students to alternative schools instead of charging them with misdemeanors for nonviolent offenses. But it was heavily criticized as being soft on violent students after the 2018 Parkland school shooting in which 17 students and employees were killed. The district proposal would keep the curriculum and counseling services in Promise, but end the practice of issuing civil citations for minor offenses. Alcohol sales, alcohol use, major disruption on campus, misdemeanor possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia, mutual combat fighting, petty theft, trespassing and vandalism would all have to be reported to law enforcement. If the proposal is approved, it will go into effect in the fall. Sun-Sentinel. Damages to about 20 schools from the recent record rainfall and subsequent flooding could top $10 million, a district spokeswoman said Friday. State and local authorities are being consulted about helping financially. Miami Herald. WLRN.

Hillsborough: School leaders have delayed any re-examination of the district’s policies for reviewing or removing library books that are challenged for inappropriate content until this summer. A workshop scheduled for Tuesday has been postponed until June 27 so administrators can evaluate how changes made during the legislative session could affect their policy. Four books are now under review for age-appropriateness and content, said district spokeswoman Tanya Arja, while no books are being quarantined and no books have been taken off shelves. Tampa Bay Times.

Palm Beach: When the nonprofit TeamWork Education Foundation abruptly announced that it was restricting $4,000 scholarship awards to new students entering college instead of renewing existing grants, members of the community offered to help. But their donations were turned away. TeamWork board president Redgy Couke told one donor that “currently TeamWork does not award renewal college scholarships,” and that his offer “does not fit within the parameters of the TeamWork College Scholarship Program.” Palm Beach Post. An 18-year-old student at Atlantic Community High School was arrested last week and accused of bringing a stun gun to school. School officers said the student told them she kept the weapon for protection. WPTV.

Duval: School Superintendent Diana Greene’s job could be in the balance at a school board meeting this week to discuss the district’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations against a former teacher at the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. Jeffrey Clayton was arrested last month, but district records indicate that top officials knew he had been the subject of accusations for years. Board chair Kelly Coker said that detail “appalled” her, and called for the meeting. Greene’s supporters are holding a rally today on her behalf. WJXT. WJAX.

Pinellas: An online feud between two parents that began with the school district’s ban of Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye has led one to seek a restraining order against the other. Conservative blogger David Happe contends that pro-choice activist and liberal Elisabeth Weinstein is making untrue and potentially damaging allegations against him. Weinstein said she is simply highlighting public posts Happe and others have made that she views as misinformation. A hearing is scheduled in May. Tampa Bay Times.

Lee: Taylor VanDemark, a 2nd-grade teacher at Colonial Elementary School in Fort Myers, has been selected as the school district’s new teacher of the year. Also honored was Jessica Heckler as the district’s mentor of the year. Heckler teaches language arts at Challenger Middle School in Cape Coral. Lee County School District.

Pasco: School Superintendent Kurt Browning has been named national superintendent of the year by Magnet Schools of America for the district’s ongoing support of school choice. Patch.

Escambia: The robotics team from Escambia High School won first place in the high school division of NASA’s Human Exploration Rover Challenge in Huntsville, Ala. The challenge was to design and build a vehicle that could complete an obstacle course and multiple tasks over simulated lunar and Martian terrain. Escambia High’s team outperformed 48 competitors from eight countries, and their score placed them second in the combined high school and college division, behind only the University of Alabama, Huntsville. WEAR.

Leon: Seventeen organizations offering summer programs will be on the receiving end of $1.7 million in grants from the Children’s Services Council of Leon County. That’s a boost of $200,000 over last year’s spending. Sixteen of the organizations will help more than 1,100 students academically, and the 17th, America’s Second Harvest of the Big Bend, is expected to provide children around the county with 72,500 meals. Tallahassee Democrat.

Colleges and universities: Citadel hedge fund CEO Ken Griffin has made a $20 million donation to set up a scholarship fund for county high school graduates to attend Miami Dade College. Miami Herald. WFOR. Mya Breitbart, a professor of biological oceanography at the University of South Florida, recently discovered what was killing sea urchins in the Caribbean and Florida Keys. Tampa Bay Times. Another USF professor, Matthew Pasek, recently identified a phosphorus material that had never been seen naturally on Earth while studying a fulgurite, which is a naturally occurring clump of sand, soil or other debris caused by a lightning strike. Tampa Bay Times. Frederick Dunbar Morgan II, a longtime minority admissions counselor and recruiter for the Edison State College and coordinator of the Project HOPE Scholarship Program, has died in Fort Myers. WINK. The University of Florida remains the top school in the state in the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings, and is tied for 29th best in the country. The rest of the state’s top 10 are Florida State, the University of Miami, University of South Florida, University of Central Florida, Florida International University, Florida A&M University, Florida Institute of Technology, Keiser University and Nova Southeastern University. USA Today Florida Network. A Florida Institute of Technnology professor was arrested for allegedly stalking multiple girls at a Melbourne store, taking their pictures and then touching himself inappropriately. University officials said David Knight, 60, resigned his position. WKMG.

Students protest policies: Students from about 300 schools and colleges around the state walked out of classes at noon on Friday to protest the education policies of Gov. DeSantis and the Legislature. WKMG. Tampa Bay Times. WGFL. WFTS. Florida Times-Union. WESH. WTXL. CBS News. WJXT. WCJB. WINK. Bradenton Herald. Miami Herald. WFTX.

New career programs: Thirteen new career and technical education curriculum programs will be started during the 2023-2024 school year, Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. announced Friday: Seven college credit certificates, three secondary programs, one career certificate, one associate in science degree and one adult education program. Among the career tracks are public service, cybersecurity, control tower operators, data science and machine learning that focus on preparing students for jobs that pay $40,000 to $100,000 a year after graduation. Florida Department of Education.

Around the nation: The pandemic era experiment of providing free, universal school meals is starting to gain traction in a growing number of states. Florida Phoenix.

Opinions on schools: Universal education savings accounts will be a game-changer. Advocates think they will revolutionize schooling. Opponents think they will destroy public schools. I think both groups are wrong. Mostly they will subsidize families that have already chosen private schooling or home-schooling, will encourage a small number of families on the bubble to choose Catholic or other private schools, and along the way, will put helpful (if limited) pressure on school districts to improve. Michael J. Petrilli, Thomas B. Fordham Institute. My blueprint to make New College a true world-class school is to change the name so students won’t mistake it for a two-year school, start assigning grades, and deal with deferred maintenance. Garin Hoover, Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Avatar photo

BY NextSteps staff