Next steps logo

State sues feds over accreditation policies, out-of-state college tuition hike decision paused, phone policies, book challenges, dress codes and more

State sues over accreditation: A lawsuit has been filed by the state against federal laws and policies that govern private accreditation boards. Gov. Ron DeSantis said the rules give accrediting agencies “near limitless power” over state colleges and universities and block states from setting their own rules. Accreditation agencies decide if higher education institutions are meeting quality standards and, therefore, if their students are eligible to receive billions of dollars in federal financial aid. Florida has long squabbled with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges over the accreditation process, and in 2022 passed a law allowing schools to choose new accreditors. The U.S. Department of Education then adopted policies requiring schools to show “reasonable cause” for switching. Thursday, DeSantis called the policies “unconstitutional,” and said, “You cannot take legislative power and delegate it to an unaccountable private body and let them administer that power without any type of checks and balances.” The case was assigned to Judge Rodney Smith of the U.S. District Court Southern District of Florida in Fort Lauderdale, who was appointed by former president Donald Trump. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Associated Press. Tampa Bay Times. Tallahassee Democrat. WFTS. WFLA. WTSP. Florida Politics. Florida Phoenix. Axios.

No out-of-state tuition hike yet: Just hours after Gov. DeSantis trumpeted the state’s low college tuition rates at a press conference in Tampa on Thursday, Florida’s Board of Governors postponed consideration of a tuition increase requested by the state university system’s presidents. The proposal would have allowed the schools to raise out-of-state tuition rates by up to 15 percent after holding the rates steady for the past decade. Eric Silagy, the BOG vice chair, said the request was postponed because “additional work” was needed before considering the increase. His comments came after DeSantis said, “We are the lowest in America for tuition and fees in higher-education, and that’s really important. And I don’t think we have done tuition increases in Florida for about 10 years. So, that’s something that’s been very, very significant.” News Service of Florida. BOG members unanimously confirmed Aysegul Timur on Thursday as president of Florida Gulf Coast University. She had been the school’s vice president and vice provost for strategy and program innovation before being chosen as Mike Martin’s successor. Fort Myers News-Press.

Around the state: Orange County School Board members will consider a policy that would ban students’ use of cell phones during the school day, Miami-Dade’s school board give district officials the go-ahead to create a new book challenge policy, a Fort Myers high school bans students from wearing shorts or leggings when schools resume, an Orange County middle school reports a decline in fighting and disciplinary problems after deciding to use a “mediation team” to respond to bad behavior, parents in Santa Rosa County complain to the county commission about “obscene” books in schools, and the University of Florida is listed among the top 34 U.S. colleges for quality and affordability in a magazine’s annual rankings. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Members of the school board voted this week to change the book challenge process. The new policy will require board members and district staff to be notified when a book challenge results in reassignment or removal. It also requires the district to provide “related training” to staffers who deal with challenges. Board members, and many in the community, were unhappy last month when three books and the poem recited at President Biden’s inauguration were put off-limits for elementary students after one parent complained they were inappropriate for students. District staff will work on a new policy and present it to the board at its August meeting. Miami Herald.

Orange: School board members are to vote soon on a proposed policy that would ban students’ use of cell phones during the school day, including at lunch and recess. Board member Angie Gallo said the district is still trying to figure out how the policy will be enforced. A public hearing will be held before a final vote is taken. WOFL. A middle school’s new approach to dealing with behavior issues has led to a sharp decline in the number of discipline referrals and fights among the 10 percent of students who cause most of the trouble, according to school officials. After spring break, Piedmont Lakes Middle School principal Fred Ray decided to use “mediation teams” to respond to students’ bad behavior, listen to students explain why they were upset, and temporarily delay any discussion about consequences. Ray said the drop in discipline problems allowed students to focus more on academics. Orlando Sentinel.

Palm Beach: The school board filed notice Thursday that it is asking the Florida Supreme Court to decide if the district has to pay $40 million in tax revenues retroactively to charter schools. In 2018, voters approved a district tax hike that specifically stated that no funds would be going to charter schools. Two charters sued, and a court agreed they were entitled to a share of the tax money. Those payments began in 2021. In March, an appeals court further ruled that the charters should get funds from the tax retroactively, from the period between 2018 and 2021. Palm Beach Post. Florida’s public employees relations commission has determined that a former school district police chief wrongly promoted 10 detectives who hadn’t passed the required knowledge test in 2020, and is ordering the district to withdraw the promotions and apologize. The chief, Frank Kitzerow, told the commission the promotions were about “expediency” and that he was under pressure to quickly hire 150 officers to protect students in schools. Palm Beach Post.

Lee: Officials at Gateway High School in Fort Myers have changed the student dress code for the school year that begins in August, and will no longer allow students to wear shorts or leggings. A district spokesperson said the changes were made because “too many students were violating the school’s dress code last year (and) taking valuable time away from the classroom.” WFTX.

Pasco: The state’s decision to reject African-American history course textbooks has put the district in the middle of a debate. Earlier, the district had announced its intention to pursue exemplary status from the Florida Department of Education for the teaching of black history, and appointed a task force to work on a curriculum. But the state’s rejection of the textbooks and its delay in announcing new standards led the district to forego buying new texts, and instead build a curriculum from a variety of sources. That decision has led to criticism from the task force. “There are a lot of teachers out there uncomfortable right now. They don’t know what to teach,” Terry Nelson, a retired educator and national consultant on multiculturalism, told the board. “I ask that you equip our teachers with the tools that they need.” School board members will decide how to proceed at a future meeting. Tampa Bay Times.

Santa Rosa: Several speakers at the most recent county commission meeting voiced complaints about books in schools that they say contain obscene material. One commissioner offered a resolution to urge the district to remove the books, but other commissioners reminded the speakers that it wasn’t their place to intervene. “I don’t think the school board should tell the commissioners how to operate and I don’t think we need to tell the school board how to operate,” said commission chair Colten Wright. School Superintendent Karen Barber said the district’s policy aligns with state law that requires challenged books to be removed from school shelves within five days and remain off until the challenge is resolved. So far, only six books have been formally submitted for a review. WEAR.

Walton: Enrollment growth has led to more hiring and more openings at the school district. “So far for this year alone, for the 2023-2024, the upcoming year, we’ve already hired 63 new instructional personnel,” said Candy Bodie, director of human resources. “Right now advertised, we have 29 instructional positions still open.” She said the district also needs bus drivers and workers for a variety of other jobs. WJHG.

Madison: District lines for school board members now follow the same lines as districts for county commissioners. The changes were recently approved by both school board and commission members as a way to more evenly divide the population and maintain two minority-majority districts. Residents whose districts have changed will be notified. Greene Publishing.

Colleges and universities: The University of Florida is the only state university and one of just 34 in the country to be chosen as a “5-star college” for quality and affordability in the annual rankings by Money magazine. Mainstreet Daily News. New education laws pushed through by Republicans and the conservative takeover at New College are emboldening other states to poach Florida’s college administrators. Two search consultants said firms across the country are heavily recruiting from Florida and Texas for leadership openings. “Over time, there could be a very distinct pattern of academic migration to certain states over others,” said Paul Rubin, an assistant professor who specializes in higher-ed policy at the University of Utah. Chronicle of Higher Education. Tiffany Holmes has been named the vice president of academic affairs at Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota. She had been the interim provost at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The  University of Central Florida has received a pledge of $10 million from AdventHealth and Orlando Health to help build a $70 million home for UCF’s College of Nursing in Lake Nona. Orlando Sentinel.

Finding Title IX info: Finding information explaining how a parent or child can report that a student has been sexually harassed, assaulted or discriminated against is difficult on the vast majority of the 67 state districts’ websites, according to a recent review. Only 14 districts made the information easily found and understandable, even though they are required by federal law to publish the information on their websites. Fort Myers News-Press.

Opinions on schools: The education budget, vouchers, changing demographics and the culture wars will present headaches on many fronts for the next Hillsborough school superintendent. That’s why a fresh perspective of what it takes to run America’s seventh-largest school system will benefit the next superintendent and all of Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay Times. We are heartened that advocates are aware of, and working to address, the challenges of implementing education savings account programs. Their efforts will not make headlines or choice advocates’ Twitter feeds. But they will determine whether this moment in education reform will prove as transformational as we hope. We cannot understate its importance. Nicole Stelle Garnett and Michael McShane. The 74. What is happening at New College — as it moves away from the mediocrity, intolerance and group-think that have come to dominate much of modern American university culture — gives us hope that we might just save American higher education. Robert Allen Jr., Tampa Bay Times.

Avatar photo

BY NextSteps staff