Education budget nears agreement, more Broward school closings likely, 10th case of measles, and more

Education budget: Senate and House negotiators have substantially narrowed their differences on their K-12 education budgets, and a deal could be reached today. Senators agreed Tuesday to dedicate an extra $200.5 million for teacher raises, nearly matching the House’s $201.8 million. That difference had been the largest gap between the budgets. Per-student spending appears set at $8,958, which is about $240 more than in this year’s budget, as does the overall spending of $28.4 billion, an increase of $1.8 billion. Disagreements over some smaller programs still have to be reconciled. Negotiations continue today. Florida Politics. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida.

Also in the Legislature: A Senate committee approved a bill requiring schools to teach students the history of communism, potentially in all grades, starting in the fall of 2026. The bill now heads to a vote by the full Senate. The House version is also ready for a final vote in that chamber. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics. WMFE. Also receiving approval from a Senate committee Tuesday was a proposal that would allow six “patriotic” organizations to speak to students and pass out materials in schools. It has already cleared the House. Florida Politics. A bill raising the limits of how much school boards and other government agencies can pay in lawsuits has been approved and is now ready for a vote in the Senate. Current caps of $200,000 for payments to a single person and $300,000 if multiple people are involved in an incident would be increased to $300,000 and $500,000, respectively. News Service of Florida.

Around the state: Broward’s superintendent is now proposing to close far more schools in the fall of 2026 than the originally suggested five, a 10th case of measles has been confirmed in the state with nine of them in Broward, a judge has ruled that Pinellas charter schools are entitled to a share of revenue from a school tax referendum, Clay’s school board hires the sheriff’s office to provide school security, Broward’s school board approves a contract between teachers and the district, Hillsborough commissioners are considering dropping schools as a beneficiary of a community tax approved in 1996, and New College has hired a company started by a former Gov. Ron DeSantis spokeswoman to do promotional work for $15,000 a month. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: School Superintendent Peter Licata said last month that five schools could close by the fall of 2026 because of an exodus of students across the district. Tuesday, he said he now advocates closing a far larger number of schools at once. The district has released a list of 67 underenrolled schools, though officials have said that’s not a list recommended for closure. Licata’s proposal will be discussed at a March 20 board workshop. Sun-Sentinel. A 10th case of the measles in Florida was confirmed Wednesday. Nine of the cases are in Broward, and all involve children. At least seven of those cases are centered among students at Manatee Bay Elementary School in Weston. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. WSVN. WFOR. WLRN. Teachers will receive raises ranging from 3.65 percent to 4.56 percent under a contract agreement approved Tuesday by the school board. Starting pay also was increased to $50,266. The raises are retroactive to the start of the 2023-2024 school year. WPLG. WTVJ. An English teacher who also directs the debate team at Western High School in Davie has been arrested and accused of fraud. Police said Dario Camara, 41, failed to pay for thousands of dollars worth of food ordered from a catering company for debate functions in 2022 and 2023. Sun-Sentinel. WTVJ.

Hillsborough: County commissioners are considering stripping schools as a beneficiary of the Community Investment Tax when they ask voters to renew it in November. Since the tax was first approved in 1996, the school district has received $655 million, which it’s used to renovate schools, buy buses and more. School board member Lynn Gray called the potential loss “a severe blow,” and Superintendent Van Ayres said he plans to meet with commissioners and get involved in discussions to “stake our claim. … We want to be a part of this.” Commissioners will consider what to include in the CIT on March 6 and at subsequent meetings. Tampa Bay Times. Ayres also wants to ask voters in November to approve a special property tax to raise pay for administrators and teachers by $6,000. He said it’s needed to cut down the number of teaching vacancies, which is currently at 422. School board members still must approve his request. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA.

Polk: District officials and the union representing teachers have resolved their class-action grievance the union filed on Feb. 1. Thursday, teachers will start getting their negotiated pay raise retroactive to July 1. About half the district’s teachers were affected by a district mistake in calculating salaries since Dec. 22. Lakeland Now.

Pinellas: A judge recently ruled that a charter school did not receive its fair share of money generated by a tax referendum that voters have supported since 2004. Pinellas Preparatory Academy could collect almost $2 million from the school district, and 10 other charter schools are also suing to get their retroactive share of the special property tax revenue. “Essentially, we know we’ve lost the bulk of the case,” school board attorney David Koperski acknowledged. School board members will discuss how to deal with the challenges at a meeting March 20. Tampa Bay Times.

Pasco: The first formal challenge of a book was held earlier this week. Parent Rebecca Yuengling, who filed the complaint, presented her argument for the removal of The Letter Q from Gulf Middle School in New Port Richey. She called the book, which is a series of essays by 63 LGBTQ authors, inappropriate because it contained what she called “pornographic and sexually explicit content.” A recommendation from the 10-person committee is due in a week. WUSF.

Brevard: School board gave the go-ahead Tuesday for Challenger 7 Elementary School to begin a year-round schedule in the fall. The school was one of several approved for the state pilot program. Its school year will begin July 22 instead of early August and will end in May, with teachers and students having a month-long vacation in June. There would be two-week breaks in the fall and spring, and the school would join other public schools in closing for holidays. A final calendar also will have to be approved by the board. WESH. WKMG.

Osceola: Construction is underway on three new schools needed to accommodate strong growth in enrollment. The district has gone from 69,118 students in 2019-2020 to 81,173 last year, an increase of more than 17 percent. Superintendent Mark Shanoff said keeping up with that growth is the district’s biggest challenge. Two K-8 schools are being built in Kissimmee and one in St. Cloud, and are expected to open this fall. WKMG. WESH. A 12-year-old student at Discovery Intermediate School in Kissimmee was arrested and accused of threatening to shoot a classmate. The boy’s mother called authorities after finding messages on her son’s cell phone. WOFL.

Clay: School board members have agreed to pay the sheriff’s office $1.1 million a year to handle security in the district’s schools, starting in the fall. Last November, the board voted to disband the district’s police force, four years after the district department was created. “The pluses are we have depth of services. We have depth of capabilities. We have depth of personnel. We have our radio channels,” said Sheriff Michelle Cook. “If there’s a crime, we have crime scene technicians. We have all of those capabilities in place.” WJAX.

Leon: A new intervention program has been introduced at Sabal Palm Elementary School in Tallahassee to help alleviate the negative consequences of high absenteeism of kindergarten students. Rewind teacher Sheena Thomas works with students who have missed days to get them caught up so they can return quickly to their classrooms. Absenteeism has declined 15 percent since the program started, and principal Shannon Davis wants to incorporate Rewind into future school years and offer the idea to other schools. WTXL.

Okaloosa: School board members have agreed to spend $3.7 million for a 7.66-acre property in Crestview where the district wants to build a north campus of Okaloosa Technical College. OTC director Jon Williams said advanced manufacturing and production technology, welding, electronic technology, automotive service, plumbing and advanced cybersecurity programs will be located on the new campus. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Bay: Forty-three percent of the district’s students have missed 10 percent or more school days this year, prompting school officials to launch a March into Success initiative starting Friday, says Superintendent Mark McQueen. “They miss critical instruction that’s taking place, which all instruction basically builds on itself as you go through the academic year,” said McQueen. “In essence, they have weaker foundations to build on in the later courses that are being taught.” Principals and teachers will work closely with parents to do what they can to improve attendance. WMBB.

Citrus: The state of the school district was presented to the school board Tuesday by Superintendent Sandra Himmel. The 15,889-student district’s state school grade was a B, an improvement from a C the year before. Almost 85 percent of students graduated in 2023, a decline from 86.5 percent. Average daily attendance improved to 90.5 percent, and students performed at roughly the same level in state standardized math and English tests. Citrus County Chronicle.

Colleges and universities: New College of Florida has hired a Tallahassee company headed by Taryn Fenske, a former spokeswoman for Gov. Ron DeSantis and a political action committee that supported his presidential campaign, to do promotional work for the small Sarasota college. TMF Communications has been receiving $15,000 a month since last July, said a college spokesperson. Miami Herald. Winfred Phillips, who arrived at the University of Florida in 1988 as dean of engineering and was also senior vice president and chief operating officer and more before retiring in June 2023, has died at the age of 83 from cardiac arrest. Gainesville Sun. WCJB.

Black history curriculum: Black faith leaders and educators urged state officials Tuesday to reconsider their black history curriculum, and remove language that suggests enslaved people “developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” The group offered their own version of black history for the state’s use. Peggy Aune, a vice chancellor for strategic improvement, accepted the offering and thanked the group for coming. Rev. R.B. Holmes, of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee, was critical of Gov. Ron DeSantis, saying, “I think that it is somewhat disrespectful that the governor would not sit down with constituents to listen to their pain, their history and their concerns.” Tallahassee Democrat.

Opinions on schools: If the Florida Department of Health wants to curb the spread of measles, it must stop its anti-vax pandering and take the outbreak much more seriously. Palm Beach Post. Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo is gambling with the health of children by telling parents or guardians it’s their decision whether to send their unvaccinated children to a Broward school where nine cases of the measles have been confirmed. If he’s wrong, this could put at least one community at widespread risk over the next few weeks. Orlando Sentinel. Societal forces are creating pressure for new value networks in education. If existing conventional schools find a way to adapt to these realities, it will likely be because they find ways to connect to entirely new value networks created by entrepreneurs working outside it. Travis Pillow, NextSteps.

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BY NextSteps staff