Top education issues for session, figuring bus schedules for new school start times, and more

In the Legislature: Among the 10 significant issues to watch for the 60-day legislative session that begins Jan. 9 are K-12 public school deregulation, financial penalties for college students who support “foreign terrorist” organizations, restricting students’ access to social media sites, and educational funding in the budget. News Service of Florida. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposed $114.4 billion budget includes a request for $19 million to fight at least 14 lawsuits. About $5 million of that would go to the Department of Education. “The department has had a significant increase in the number of cases it has had to address,” reads the proposal. “This initiative will provide the funds needed to address the legal costs.” WKMG. Bills that would allow students 16 and 17 years to work 30 or more hours a week, and work at heights over 6 feet off the ground, have been filed for the session. WUSF. A companion bill has been filed in the Senate that would prohibit flying flags with a political viewpoint in schools and other public buildings. The House version was filed last month. News Service of Florida. State tax collections topped projections by 6.9 percent in November, according to state economists. Tax revenues fund state education spending. News Service of Florida.

Around the state: Later school start times go into effect in the fall of 2026 but many large school districts are working now on the logistics of such issues as bus schedules, Gov. DeSantis said Tuesday that if he’s elected president he’ll call for a nationalized standard for the teaching of history and social studies, the mother of a Brevard County high school student who was sexually harassed by his football teammates has announced her candidacy for a school board seat, an Osceola school board member won’t face criminal stalking charges, Flagler’s school board attorney remains on the job despite a Dec. 31 deadline to switch jobs or be fired, and the number of U.S. school shootings fell in 2023 but was still the second-most since 2018. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Tampa Bay area: A new law that changes school start times doesn’t go into effect until the fall of 2026, but Pinellas and Pasco school officials are already working on the details. Transportation is expected to be the biggest issue that has to be resolved. Pinellas board chair Laura Hine said creating a bus schedule that will get high school students to school at 8:30 a.m. without starting middle schools very late and having elementary students at bus stops in the dark will be “painful.” Tampa Bay Times.

Central Florida: Osceola and Volusia school districts return to classes today from the winter break, while Lake and Marion resume Thursday, Brevard and Seminole on Monday, Orange and Flagler on Tuesday, and Sumter on Jan. 10. WKMG.

Brevard: The mother of a Viera High School student who was sexually harassed by members of the football team in August has announced she will run for a school board seat. Avanese Taylor is challenging incumbent Matt Susin for the District 4 seat. “The things that happened here in Brevard have completely changed my trajectory,” she said. The incident was investigated by the school district and the sheriff’s office, but the state attorney has not said if charges will be filed. Taylor’s son transferred to another school. Florida Today. WOFL.

Osceola: School board member Jon Arguello will not face criminal stalking charges, according to a spokesperson from the state attorney’s office. In February 2022, a county resident accused Arguello of harassment and unethical behvaior. An outside investigation ordered by the school board concluded Arguello violated school board policies on harassment. The St. Cloud Police Department also investigated, and recommended stalking charges be lodged against Arguello. But prosecutors determined Arguello’s comments were protected political speech and closed the case. West Orlando News.

Flagler: School board attorney Kristy Gavin is still employed, even though a Dec. 31 deadline imposed by a board majority has come and gone without her changing jobs to become a school district attorney working for the superintendent. Board members approved the new job description, but negotiations between Gavin and Superintendent LaShakia Moore continue. The next school board meeting is Jan. 23. Flagler Live.

Jefferson: The county’s K-12 school improved its grade from the state to C this year after decades of mostly D and F grades. That’s earned school principal Jackie Pons an invitation to join a panel of principals at schools that have just exited state oversight in offering tips to leaders at schools still in the program. ECB Publishing.

Colleges and universities: Florida Tech has launched a new program that could pay tuition and fees not covered by merit-based and need-based scholarships and other federal and state funds for some Brevard County students. “Even though a student may be Bright Futures eligible, they get great state funding to go to a private university, there’s still a gap. There’s still an affordability gap,” said Brian Ehrlich, Florida Tech vice president for enrollment, about the new Brevard Boundless Opportunity Grant program. WESH. Valencia College’s Osceola campus has received a $4.1 million grant from the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund to train students to become semiconductor and robotics technicians in just 22 weeks. WKMG.

Education in the campaign: Gov. DeSantis said Tuesday that if he’s elected president, he’ll call for a nationalized standard for the teaching of history and social studies. “I think we will create a model curriculum for American civics,” he said in an interview with an Iowa TV station. “We’ve got to teach people about what it means to be an American,” he said. “We’ve got to teach them about the founding principles of this country.” Iowa’s caucuses are Jan. 15. Florida Politics.

Around the nation: Thirty-seven U.S. school shootings were recorded in 2023, down 27 percent from 2022. But it was still the second-highest total in the five years records have been kept. Twenty people died in the shootings last year, and 42 were injured. Education Week. A “soft launch” of the revised U.S. Department of Education Free Application for Federal Student Aid form last weekend was marred with technical glitches that allowed the form to be available for only short periods of time. CNBC. Since the pandemic, millions of rural U.S. students face educational loss, economic issues, unemployment and mental health problems, according to a new report. The 74. Harvard University President Claudine Gay resigned Tuesday, saying “it has become clear that it is in the best interests of Harvard for me to resign so that our community can navigate this moment of extraordinary challenge.” New charges of plagiarism have been lodged against Gay, and she has been under attack for her response to antisemistic incidents on campus. New York Times. Politico. Associated Press.

Opinions on schools: It’s another Happy New Year for educational freedom. Matthew Ladner, NextSteps. The Florida Senate’s push to reduce regulations for K-12 schools might improve the preparation of students for college STEM majors. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. The battle for the future of higher education in America puts incumbents fighting to preserve a deeply illiberal, hateful, discriminatory status quo vs. reformers seeking a return to traditional liberal education. If you want to understand why we in the reform movement get so much hatred from the incumbents, look no further. Bruce Abramson, Orlando Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff