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Bills on property taxes, state budgets, corporal punishment move in Legislature, and more

Property tax bills: Abolishing property taxes that fund schools and other government agencies would be studied under a bill that was cleared Wednesday by the House Ways and Means Committee. The idea is to replace property taxes with a “consumption tax” added to the sales of goods and services. If the bill is approved, the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability would study the impact of the change and issue a report on its feasibility by Feb. 1, 2025. State Rep. Ryan Chamberlin, R-Belleview, the sponsor of the proposal, said, “I believe it’s time.” Critics say it’s a bad idea to rely on a single source of revenue that could decline during an economic recession. Florida Politics. Property taxes could be raised only by a two-thirds vote of city and county taxing agencies under a bill approved Wednesday by the House Local Administration, Federal Affairs and Special Districts Subcommittee. News Service of Florida.

Senate, House budgets set: Senate and House appropriations committees reviewed and approved their state budgets for the 2024-2025 fiscal year during Wednesday’s session. The Senate’s budget is $115.9 billion, with about $28.3 billion going to preK-12 education, and the House’s is $115.55 billion with $28.4 billion for students and schools. Both call for spending $8,937 per student, an increase of $218 over the current year. The House would set aside $1.25 billion to improve teacher pay, which is $202 million more than this year, while the Senate would boost the baseline funding for schools as a way to increase salaries. About $3.9 billion would go to the 12-school university system in the Senate proposal, while the House is proposing $4.3 billion for higher education. Floor votes are expected next week in each chamber. Reconciliation negotiations then begin, with an agreement needed by March 6 to allow for the required 72-hour “cooling off” period before legislators can vote on the budget and end the session as scheduled March 8. News Service of Florida. USA Today Florida Network. Florida Politics.

Also in the Legislature: A bill that would put restrictions on the use of corporal punishment in schools was approved Wednesday by the House Education Quality Subcommittee. HB 439 would require schools to have parental consent to paddle or strike students, and would ban corporal punishment on students with special needs or who are homeless. About a third of the state’s 67 school districts still allow physical discipline. News Service of Florida. Florida Phoenix. Florida Politics. A proposal that would allow private and charter schools to place cameras on school buses to ticket drivers who illegally pass school buses was approved by the Senate Transportation Committee. But an amendment was added that would allow the companies installing the cameras to receive part of the revenue generated by the tickets. Critics of the change argue that it could incentivize ticketing. Florida Politics.

Around the state: A federal judge has dismissed lawsuits filed by two university pro-Palestinian groups against the state’s attempts to have them disbanded because the universities haven’t enforced the state’s order, Nassau County district officials have removed 34 books after determining they violated state law because they depict or describe sexual conduct, Volusia’s teachers union is the latest to face possible decertification for not meeting the state membership threshold, and Taylor County school officials announce the district’s teacher of the year. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Superintendent Jose Dotres talks about the district’s graduation rate of 90.3 percent, its agenda to continue academic improvements, how he relates with politicians without getting caught up in various narratives, and his decision to retire in 2027 instead of June. District Administration.

Hillsborough: The mother of a Tampa magnet school student has filed a lawsuit against the school district and Tampa Heights Elementary Magnet School. The suit claims the girl was sexually assaulted multiple times during the 2020 school year because of negligent supervision by her teacher. It further contends the mother wasn’t aware of the assaults until the Department of Children and Families opened an investigation in April 2022. Legal Newsline.

Pinellas: A former music teacher at Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg was arrested Wednesday and accused of shooting a man. Police said Jacob Woodside Merrett, 35, shot the man several times in a “domestic-related incident,” causing life-threatening injuries. Merrett taught music at Lakewood High and was the chair of the performing arts department for more than a decade, until October 2022, and until two months ago was a teacher and music director at the BLI Institute, a private performing arts microschool school for children ages 5 to 16 in Pinellas Park. Tampa Bay Times.

Seminole: District officials have settled a lawsuit brought by a former Oviedo High School football player who said he was sexually assaulted by teammates in a hazing ritual in 2019. The player, who was 14 at the time, alleged negligent supervision by coaches. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed. WKMG.

Volusia: The district’s teachers union is the latest in the state at the risk of being decertified because it hasn’t reached the state’s required level of membership. It must have 60 percent of its potential members paying dues to retain certification. Union leaders say they’re falling short because of the change in the law that forbids union dues from being withheld through payroll deduction. There is a recertification process if it’s determined that the union is below the threshold. WFTV.

St. Lucie: The district ranks 52nd in the state in math proficiency, and is making improvement a priority. “We have to do better at math if we want to get to where we want to go. It’s a nut that we have to figure out how to crack,” Superintendent Jon Prince told the school board this week. School leaders will prioritize math during the second semester by closely monitoring data from the district office, focusing on student subgroups that aren’t meeting district expectations, and adding resources for teachers. TCPalm.

Escambia: School board members are considering changes in the student handbook to help cut down on the number of fights in schools. Escambia reported more than 500 fights to the state during the 2020-2021 school year, more than 61 other state districts. Attempts to cut down on the violence include adding a new anger management courses districtwide, and adding metal detectors. WEAR.

Nassau: Thirty-four books have been removed from school library shelves after the district determined they violated state law because they depicted or described sexual conduct. Among them are The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky and The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. WTLV. School board members said changes in where maintenance department vehicles are being kept, made in August, are adding more than two hours of travel time to the average day of each department worker. District officials and a union representative said they were not aware of the situation. Board attorney Brett Steger said the matter is an issue to be fixed between the district and the union. Fernandina Beach News-Leader.

Taylor: Ashley Taylor, a 1st-grade teacher at Callahan Elementary School, has been chosen as the school district’s teacher of the year and will now compete for the statewide honor. The other finalists were Callahan Intermediate School 5th-grade teacher David Harris, Fernandina Beach High drawing, painting and Advanced Placement teacher Joy Keith, Southside Elementary 2nd-grade teacher Trayce LeClair, and Yulee High English teacher Brandi Heath. Nassau County Record.

Education in the courts: A federal judge has dismissed lawsuits filed by two university pro-Palestinian groups against the state’s attempts to have them disbanded. Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker said Wednesday that University of Florida and University of South Florida officials have not enforced Chancellor Ray Rodrigues’ order to punish the groups, so the groups have not been affected. American Civil Liberties Union attorneys representing the UF students had asked the court to require to state to acknowledge the order will not be enforced. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. Fresh Take Florida.

Principals honored: Fifteen principals have been chosen to receive the principal leadership award from Florida TaxWatch, a nonprofit government watchdog and taxpayer research institute in Tallahassee. They are: Herb Bennett, Charlotte Harbor School in Charlotte County; James Bray, Steinhatchee School in Taylor County; Beth Myers, Riviera Elementary School in Brevard; Gail Pasterczyk, Elbridge Gale Elementary in Palm Beach County; Angela Whiddon, W.E. Cherry Elementary in Clay; Linda Bartberger, Round Lake Charter School in Lake; Saili Hernandez, Somerset Academy Bay Middle, Miami-Dade; Nancy Holley, Roulhac Middle in Washington; Rosemarie Maiorini, Challenger K-8 School of Science and Math in Hernando; Annessia Powell, GRASP Academy in Duval; Nicole Howe, Team Success: A School of Excellence in Manatee; Terry Huddleston, Branford High in Suwannee; Lauren Myers, Okeechobee High in Okeechobee; Diane Showalter, Franklin Academy, Pembroke Pines campus in Broward; and Eric Willis, Liberty County High in Liberty. Florida TaxWatch. WCJB.

Opinions on schools: When Florida lawmakers weighed in with a proposal to regulate children’s social media access this year, they managed to wind up in a strange spot: trampling the very parental rights they supposedly have been vigorously defending these last few years. Miami Herald.

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BY NextSteps staff

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