Next steps logo

Voucher payment problems persist, ‘late start/early release’ school proposal in Polk, and more

Voucher payment complaints: Complaints about late school voucher payments are increasingly being directed at Step Up For Students, the nonprofit organization that helps administer the scholarships and hosts this blog. After delays in receiving payments, some parents are starting a social media campaign against SUFS to bring their frustration to the attention of legislators, who will meet in special session Nov. 6 to consider adding money to meet the rising demand for the scholarships. Cited in the campaign are poor customer service and SUFS’ decision to reimburse parents for expenses using cards issued by US Bank, which doesn’t have branches in Florida. “We acknowledge that not everyone has received the level of service they expected,” said SUFS spokesman Scott Kent. “We take that very seriously and are working overtime to resolve every one of these issues as quickly as possible.” Tampa Bay Times.

Around the state: Polk Superintendent Frederick Heid is proposing to offer eligible students the option of starting school an hour later or leaving an hour earlier, Hillsborough’s school board will decide Thursday whether to promote interim superintendent Van Ayres to the permanent position, a review of state school districts’ requirements for substitute teachers shows that most districts require only that a sub have a high school diploma, hundreds of Alachua parents are lobbying the district to provide information in languages other than English, a 7th-grade Miami-Dade teacher has been taken out of the classroom after calling Israelis “baby killers,” and Florida State University trustees approve borrowing up to $265 million to make improvements at Doak Campbell Stadium. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A 7th-grade teacher at Aventura Waterways K-8 Center has been removed after telling students to pray for Palestine and calling Israelis “baby killers.” A district spokesperson said the teacher “has been removed from the school, and will not be permitted contact with students, pending the outcome of an investigation.” WPLG.

Hillsborough, Tampa Bay area: Hillsborough school board members are scheduled to vote Thursday on a proposal to name Van Ayres as the permanent superintendent. Formerly the district’s deputy superintendent, Ayres, 49, was appointed as interim superintendent in June when Addison Davis resigned. “Everyone seems pretty happy with him,” said board attorney Jim Porter. “So I think the idea was, let’s just give some certainty to the district by taking away the ‘interim’ title.” Tampa Bay Times. Hillsborough and Pinellas schools are expanding dual-language lessons, with an eye on making more students bilingual and closing achievement gaps for students who are still learning English. Tampa Bay Times. Harriet Foundas, who was the principal at West Shore Elementary School in Tampa for 32 years before retiring in 2008, died of an aortic aneurysm Oct. 9. She was 79. Tampa Bay Times.

Polk: Superintendent Frederick Heid is proposing to offer eligible students the option of starting school an hour later or leaving an hour earlier. “Late Start/Early Release” is program Heid started as a superintendent in Illinois that he said was highly successful. Students would have to, among other things, have a 2.0 or higher grade point average in core subjects, be on track to graduate on time, have a good attendance record, and provide their own transportation. Benefits would include lowering class sizes and freeing teachers to replace subs in other electives or required classes, Heid said. School board members must approve the proposal, which would start next fall. Lakeland Now.

Sarasota: Carmen Larson of Sarasota Middle School has been chosen as the state’s counselor of the year by the Florida School Counselor Association. She’s now eligible for the national School counselor of the year award for the 2024-2025 school year. WWSB.

Alachua: Hundreds of parents are demanding that the school district provide information in languages other than English. “It’s a right that any parent, any student in the school district can request,” said Adriana Menendez with Rural Women’s Health Project. “They have the right to receive translation services. They should be able to receive information in their language.” District spokeswoman Jackie Johnson said new initiatives are in the works or are being considered. “We instituted the Language Line program that allows us to communicate with parents by phone or through Zoom in 200 plus languages including American sign language, so we’re getting a lot of use out of that,” she said. WCJB.

Flagler: School board attorney Kristy Gavin will be allowed to enter into negotiations with Superintendent LaShakia Moore and board chair Cheryl Massaro to move into a newly created position of staff attorney. Board members have been threatening to fire Gavin, and said if negotiations on the new job fail they will move to fire her for cause. Flagler Live. A 14-year-old student at Indian Trails Middle School in Palm Coast was arrested Friday after being accused of threatening classmates with a knife. Sheriff’s deputies said after school employees broke up a fight before school started, the student who was arrested pulled a knife from his backpack and “raised it above his head in a threatening manner towards other students present.” WOFL. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Colleges and universities: Florida State University trustees have approved borrowing up to $265 million to make improvements at Doak Campbell Stadium. If the proposal is approved by the Board of Governors and the Florida Cabinet, work would begin Dec. 6 and is expected to be completed in time for the 2025 home opener against Alabama. Tampa Bay Times. Renovations totaling $30 million have begun on nursing facilities at Northwest Florida State College in Niceville. Work on Building 420 is expected to be complete before the end of 2024. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Substitute standards: A review of state school districts’ requirements for substitute teachers shows that most require only that a sub have a high school diploma. State law sets a high school diploma and completion of a training program in district policies and procedures as minimum eligibility requirements as well as pass a background check, but districts are free to set higher standards. With the statewide shortage of available substitutes, most choose not to. Pensacola News Journal.

School security mapping: State school districts are getting funding from the state to develop gridded maps that will “facilitate efficient emergency responses.” Districts will share $14 million allocated by H.B. 301, which was approved by the Legislature earlier this year. Maps would include detailed labels for classrooms, utility areas, common spaces, offices, walkways and more. Tallahassee Democrat.

Around the nation: Florida and five other states have instituted four of five “best practices” for public school open enrollment, but 34 others follow just one or none of those practices. Best practices include free access to all public schools, statewide within-district open enrollment, statewide outside-district enrollment, and transparent reporting by districts and the state education agency. The only practice Florida does not follow is transparent reporting by the state education agency, according to a recent Reason Foundation analysis called Public Schools Without Boundaries. Reason Foundation. Boys across the United States continue to graduate high school lower rates than girls, according to researchers who say the gap has lifelong consequences. Associated Press.

Opinions on schools: It’s essential to recognize that the microschool movement is likely never going to reach consensus on some fundamental beliefs about what education ought to look like. That’s a feature, not a bug. Travis Pillow, reimaginED. One aspect of private school vouchers that can get lost in the debate is the fact that voucher programs are fundamentally un-American. Forcing taxpayers to pay for religious education is contrary to the first individual right guaranteed by the First Amendment: the right to a secular government. Ryan D. Jayne, Orlando Sentinel. We shouldn’t expect an unbundling of school to happen en masse or right away. Instead, we should expect greater unbundling in schooling relative to what we’ve had. That’s a step forward for customization, given that we didn’t have much unbundling before at all. Michael B. Horn, Christensen Institute. Cronyism is flourishing in Florida’s college and university campuses. Sun-Sentinel. If we abandon founding principles of American democracy, which include allowing dissent and protecting free speech, then the terrorists surely win. A capable, strong university makes room for all, is a safe space for debate — and is never an instrument to quash freedoms. Fabiola Santiago, Miami Herald.

Avatar photo

BY NextSteps staff