Back-to-school tax holiday underway, education year in review, top educators and more

Tax holiday underway: The second back-to-school tax holiday approved last year by the Legislature began Monday and continues through Jan. 14. Clothes, personal computers and electronic equipment, school materials and learning aids are tax-exempt. State economists estimated that the two tax-free periods will cut state revenues by $126.8 million and local-government revenue by $33.8 million. Gov. Ron DeSantis also is proposing to hold two back-to-school tax holidays during the 2024-2025 fiscal year. News Service of Florida. Tallahassee Democrat. WPLG. WOKV.

Education year in review: If education in 2023 had to be summed up in a single word, it would be transformation. Florida passed a universal school choice law that made every student eligible for K-12 scholarships. The result was the largest single-year expansion of education choice participation in U.S. history. Also in the news were book removals and restrictions, battles over what could taught about race in classes, the conservative transformation of New College of Florida, school board turmoil and much more. NextSteps. Tampa Bay Times. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Education Week. WJXT. Florida Today. WTVJ. The 74.

Around the state: Broward school board members are considering expanding a four-day school week program and replacing sheriff’s deputies with a district police department, chronic student absenteeism could be targeted by lawmakers in the special session that begins next week, Orange County schools want to continue some pandemic-era programs but say money is an issue, lawmakers target chronic student absenteeism for the next legislative session, the Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco school district name finalists for their teacher of the year award, and a Charlotte County teacher is stabbed to death over the winter break. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A paramedic at Seminole Elementary School in Miami is credited with saving a 5th-grader who began choking on a taco at school before the winter break. Javier Montes De Oca performed the Heimlich maneuver to dislodge the food from the throat of 10-year-old Luis Salcedo. WTVJ. District schools will begin classes Aug. 15 for the 2024-2025 school year and conclude June 5 under an academic calendar approved recently by school board members. Students will get a full week off at Thanksgiving, the winter holiday is from Dec. 19 to Jan. 7, and spring break is March 24-28. Miami Herald.

Broward: The successful four-day-a-week schooling model at Pompano Beach High School soon could be expanded to other schools as an experiment to improve student achievement. Pompano Beach High adopted the 4-day-a-week, 8.5-plus-hour-a-day program in 1997, and is the district’s most academically successful high school. “Whatever they’re doing, whatever the magic sauce is, we need to go there and see what that is, because it’s working,” board chair Lori Alhadeff said at a recent meeting. Sun-Sentinel. School board members are being asked to consider a proposal to create a district-run school police force. If the plan is approved, the district would hire 400 officers to replace the 260 deputies now provided by the Broward Sheriff’s Office and city police departments by 2026. To help pay for the new force, the district could also end its 120-person school guardian program. The proposal will be discussed by the board at its meeting Jan. 9.  Sun-Sentinel

Hillsborough: Five finalists have been chosen for the district’s teacher of the year award. They are: Jaime Beulah, a special education teacher at Corr Elementary School in Gibsonton; Kimberly Feroli, a reading teacher at Gaither High in Tampa; Milca Lebron, a math teacher at Woodbridge Elementary in Tampa; Clayton Nylund, a science teacher at Blake High in Tampa; and Barbara Zimmer, a 2nd-grade teacher at Bay Crest Elementary in Tampa. Support employee of the year finalists were also announced: Collins preK-8 community school officer Billie Jo Nelson; Sumner High custodian Joshua Fuentes; Robinson Elementary special-needs paraprofessional Bridget Wells; and Temple Terrace Elementary secretary Maria Ortiz. The winners will be announced Feb. 1. Tampa Bay Times.

Orange: District officials say continuation of programs to help students that began during the pandemic are threatened by the end of funding from the federal government. Superintendent Maria Vazquez wants to keep intervention teachers, mental health counselors and other programs, but the district doesn’t have the $28 million it needs for them to continue. “If we are to look at any of these, they are going to come at the cost of cuts to another area,” she said. “The school board will need to make tough decisions,” said Doreen Concolino, the district’s chief financial officer. Orlando Sentinel.

Polk: A teacher at Sleepy Hill Middle School in Lakeland was arrested in December and accused of a burglarly that happened in June. Police said Janeira McCutchen, 26, was charged with burglary with battery, grand theft from a dwelling, and criminal mischief. WFLA.

Pinellas: Ten finalists have been chosen for the district’s teacher of the year award. They are: Deanna Barthel, a language arts and reading teacher at Clearwater Fundamental Middle School; Lisa Bitting, a science teacher at Palm Harbor University High; Sadra Bostick, a reading and math teacher at Ponce de Leon Elementary in Clearwater; Kristin Campbell, a kindergarten teacher at Sandy Lane Elementary in Clearwater; Karin David, a math teacher at East Lake Middle in Tarpon Springs; Debbie Georgia-Stein, a geometry and AP statistics at Gibbs High in St. Petersburg; Kristin Jennings, a 3rd-grade math and science teacher at Bay Vista Elementary in St. Petersburg; Gerard Madrinan, a music teacher and band director at Seminole High; Naomi Middlebrooks, a 5th-grade mnath teacher at Maximo Elementary in St. Petersburg; and Cole Pierce, a math teacher at Tyrone Middle in St. Petersburg. The winner will be announced Jan. 22. Tampa Bay Times. Gabriel Horn, White Deer of Autumn, a longtime K-12 teacher and college professor, indigenous peoples activist and author, has died in St. Petersburg at the age of 76. Tampa Bay Times.

Pasco: Three finalists have been chosen for the school district’s teacher of the year award. They are: Stephanie Bertig, who teaches digital media classes to sophomores and juniors at Kirkland Ranch Academy of Innovation in Wesley Chapel; LeAnne John, an agricultural science teacher at Zephyrhills High’s Agriculture Career Academy; and William Rutherford, a music teacher and band director at Gulf High. The winner will be announced Jan. 25. Tampa Bay Times.

Volusia: Hundreds more district students would be rezoned for the 2024-2024 school year than originally proposed, according to the latest district plan. Initially, about 900 students were expected to change schools. Now, that number has been increase to nearly 1,400. “We have some schools that are overcrowded and then we have other schools that are underutilized and we need to balance things out,” board member Carl Persis said. WESH. Campbell Middle School in Daytona Beach will become the district’s first community partnership school, which provides students and their families with health-care, clothes, meals and tutoring through a partnership with the University of Central Florida, a health provider and a nonprofit. WMFE. Hometown News Volusia.

Sarasota: Police have reportedly recovered a sex video made between school board member Bridget Ziegler and an unidentified woman while searching the cell phone and Google account of Ziegler’s husband. Christian Ziegler has been accused of rape by a woman who was involved in a sexual liaison with the Zieglers, but it’s not known if it’s the same woman in the video with his wife. Florida Trident. Sarasota’s public school enrollment is down by about 800 students this year, said district officials, who attribute the decline to the expansion of the program giving every Florida K-12 student the opportunity to get a voucher from the state to attend a private school or be home-schooled. The number of home-schooled children has gone up from 1,621 in the 2018-2019 school year to 2,810 last year. SNN. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Marion: East Marion Elementary School has become the district’s second community partnership school. The district received $80,000 from the state and the University of Central Florida to begin the program, which pairs education for students and their families with health-care and social services, as well as access to free food and clothing. WCJB. WMFE.

Escambia: A federal judge will allow the state to argue in support of the school board in the lawsuit brought by seven parents of schoolchildren, five authors, the publishing company Penguin Random House and the free-speech group PEN America for removing and restricting books in schools. They contend the board’s decision to remove and restrict books violates First Amendment and constitutional equal-protection rights. The state’s position is that the board’s “decision to remove certain books from Escambia County’s public-school libraries is government speech not subject to First Amendment scrutiny.” News Service of Florida. USA Today Florida Network.

Alachua: The school district’s latest rezoning plan would affect only elementary schools, officials announced Dec. 22. A final vote by the school board is expected Jan. 11, and approved the changes would take effect for the 2024-2025 school year. Main Street Daily News.

Santa Rosa: District officials and the union representing teachers remain at an impasse over a new contract. Teachers are asking for a pay hike of 5.04 percent, while the district is offering 3.04 percent. Union officials said the district’s offer doesn’t compensate for a spike in health insurance premiums and the wage compression caused by increases in starting salaries. Negotiations resume Jan. 16. Pensacola News Journal.

Charlotte: Jennifer Crumrine, a 4th-grade teacher at Sallie Jones Elementary School in Punta Gorda, was stabbed to death last week. Deputies have arrested her 23-year-old son Connor, and accused him of stabbing his mother in the neck after she said she was taking him to a mental institution. His two sisters were injured when they tried to protect their mother, deputies said. Grief counselors will be at the school today for students and employees. WFTX. WINK. WBBH.

Flagler: A 1st-grade teacher at Belle Terre Elementary in Palm Coast resigned Dec. 21 after a school resource officer said she smelled of alcohol at the end of school Dec. 18. Cara Plummer, who had taught at the school since 2015, was escorted from the school and driven home by her son, according to records. Daytona Beach News-Journal. A Matanzas High School teacher who was arrested last month for shoplifting has been reinstated after taking a plea deal and agreeing to enter a pretrial intervention program. Anthony Zaksewicz has been a teacher at the school for 17 years. Flagler Live. A new sensory room has been opened at Rymfire Elementary School in Palm Coast, one of nine the district plans to open this academic year with the help of federal money. Sensory rooms are calming areas for students with autism and other special needs. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Colleges and universities: Florida State University trustees approved the filing of a lawsuit against the Atlantic Coast Conference in a bid to leave the conference without paying a $572 million penalty. The suit contends the conference has “persistently undermined its members’ revenue opportunities” and damaged FSU. Tallahassee Democrat. Politico Florida. Orlando Sentinel. Tampa Bay Times. WFSU. News Service of Florida. New College of Florida President Richard Corcoran is disputing reports that the school wants $400 million from the state for capital funding. He said the request is $227 million from the state and $173 million from other sources. Florida Politics. Attorneys for the state asked a federal judge to dismiss lawsuits from pro-Palestinian student groups at the University of Florida and University of South Florida that contend the state’s order to deactivate their groups violates their First Amendment rights. A hearing has been set for Jan. 26. News Service of Florida. Florida International University has put a “pause” on hiring workers from China, Cuba, Venezuela, Russia, Syria, Iran and North Korea as a way to comply with a new state law. Miami Herald.

In the Legislature: Legislators could tackle the problem of chronic absenteeism in schools when the 60-day session begins Jan. 9. Recently release data shows that almost 21 percent of Florida students missed 21 or more days of school during the 2021-2022 academic year. Chronic absenteeism “is prevalent among all races and among students with disabilities,” say state health officials. In a recent hearing, House Education Quality chair Dana Trabulsy, R-Fort Pierce, said that members “have not heard the last of chronic absenteeism in this committee.” News Service of Florida. Polls suggest Gov. DeSantis’ presidential prospects are declining, but both Republican and Democrat legislators expect him to drive the agenda in the session. Orlando Sentinel.

Opinions on schools: Education is the most important and expensive thing the state does. Legislators ought to be very skittish about relaxing measurements of student achievement. Bill Cotterell, Tallahassee Democrat. No matter how sympathetic local leaders’ motives are in wanting to protect teachers from the wrath of the state and its book-banning fanatics, school districts should stop capitulating. Sun-Sentinel. Putting teachers unions in a potentially never-ending cycle of trying to retain certification is exactly the type of pain the new state law appears to seek to inflict. In Florida, opposition to the party in power comes with a high cost. Miami Herald. Substantive issues were drowned out by the ruckus raised by culture warriors over imaginary problems in Florida schools in 2023. Fred Grimm, Sun-Sentinel. In his 2019 interview for the Indian River County School District’s superintendent’s job, David Moore vowed to use data to improve academic performance. He was hired, and his approach is working. Laurence Reisman, TCPalm.

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BY NextSteps staff