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Senate and House pass budgets, FAU trustee chair steps down, investigation of transgender athlete widens, and more

Chambers pass budgets: Members of the Senate and House have approved their respective state budgets, leaving legislators four weeks to negotiate the differences and pass a final spending plan by March 5 so the session can end as scheduled March 8. The differences amount to $392 million out of $115 billion-plus budgets. Major education-related differences that have to be reconciled are $90 million in K-12 spending, with the biggest item being a $200 million increase in the House budget for teacher raises while the Senate keeps the funding at current levels, and the House restoring an annual 3 percent cost-of-living increase for retired teachers and other state workers while the Senate opposes spending the $1.9 billion the bill would require. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Florida Politics.

Also in the Legislature: The Senate Finance and Tax Committee passed a bill that would require a two-thirds vote by school boards and city, county and special district governing boards to approve increases in property tax millage rates, which help fund public schools. Senators aligned it to the House bill by adding an amendment requiring a unanimous vote by governing boards with fewer than nine members if an increase of more than 10 percent in the millage rate is proposed or a three-quarters vote for boards with at least nine members. Florida Politics. Shorter sales tax holidays, such as the two back-to-school tax-free periods that each lasted two weeks this year, will be considered as legislators negotiate tax cuts that are expected to total less than this year’s $1.3 billion. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics.

Around the state: Florida Atlantic University trustees chair Brad Levine has stepped down from the leadership role two weeks after the Board of Governors issued a vote of no confidence in him, Miami-Dade school board members are asking the state for clarification on when parents need to sign permission forms for their children to participate in a school activity, Broward has expanded the investigation into a transgender student’s participation in middle and high school sports in violation of a state law, Clay schools announces their teacher of the year, and assistant principals in Okaloosa and Walton counties win national awards. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Parental confusion at being required to sign a permission form for their children to attend Black History Month events has prompted the school board to ask the state to more precisely clarify the circumstances under which permission forms are required. “So where do we draw the line, as relates to, these areas are consistent with instruction?” said board member Steve Gallon. Miami Herald. WTVJ. WPLG. A teacher at the Somerset Academy South Homestead Middle/High charter school has been arrested and accused of having inappropriate text conversations with a 16-year-old student. Josh Goodwin, 35, faces charges of offenses against a student by an authority figure, child abuse causing no great bodily harm, and stalking. School officials said he resigned his position. WPLG. WSVN.

Broward: District officials said the investigation into the Monarch High School employees who allowed a transgender student to play with the girls volleyball team, a violation of a 2021 state law, has expanded to the student’s participation in middle school sports. The student played volleyball and soccer at Lyons Creek Middle School during the 2021-2022 season, after the law took effect. Five employees at Monarch High were suspended or reassigned after the disclosure of the student playing volleyball, and Lyons Creek principal Vernicca Wynter and some assistant principals are also now under invesigation, according to reports. Sun-Sentinel.

Hillsborough: The growth of home-schooling is evident in Hillsborough County, which has the highest number of home-schooled students, 9,921, of any county in the United States. “It’s become so normal. It used to be not so much, but now it’s mainstream and its popular,” said Jen Holmstrom who, with her husband Daniel home-school their two daughters with the help of Tampa Bay Home Education Activities Team (HEAT), a resource organization in Brandon. “I was worried about the social interaction, but that’s why HEAT was awesome,” said Daniel Holmstrom. “We can have the social interaction and also have the schooling at home.” WTVT.

Palm Beach: Palm Beach Gardens Community High School is the first in the district to offer a course in artificial intelligence. Teacher Anastassia Gritsenko developed the curriculum after training with leaders from the University of Florida. In the class, students are taught how to identify AI and how to use it properly. Principal Jay Blavatt hopes to expand the program into a series of courses. WPTV.

Duval: A student at Sandalwood High School in Jacksonville was arrested this week and accused of hitting an assistant principal with his car. Officers said the student refused to allow a search of his vehicle in the school parking lot after he received a parking violation. When a truck arrived to tow the car, the student drove away, hitting the assistant principal in the legs. The administrator was not seriously injured. The student was arrested at home and charged with aggravated battery on a public or private education employee and leaving the scene after a crash on public or private property without rendering aid. WJAX.

Pinellas: School board members vote Tuesday on a proposed contract extension for Superintendent Kevin Hendrick. The board’s evaluation, released this week, showed Hendrick either meeting or exceeding expectations in all seven categories considered. Approval of the proposal would extend his contract until June 2028, though it has no provision for increasing his $290,000-a-year salary. Tampa Bay Times.

Lee: School Superintendent Christopher Bernier is one of four finalists for the superintendent’s job at the Omaha, Neb., Public Schools. Bernier was named Lee’s school superintendent in May 2022, but that November voters decided to switch the superintendent’s job from being appointed to being elected, and Bernier decided not to run. KMTV.

Sarasota: The Classical Academy, a private K-12 school, has been cited by a special magistrate for violating the county code for the 54 modular classrooms on its new campus. The school has until March 11 to remove the buildings or get permits, and could be fined $250 fine a day for noncompliance. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Escambia: Triumph Gulf Coast has approved a $7.4 million grant to Warrington Prep for the school’s workforce training program. The nonprofit organization hands out grants to communities affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. WEAR.

Clay: Robin Campbell, a science teacher at Wilkinson Junior High, has been selected as the school district’s teacher of the year. Also honored were Allison Sanders of Keystone Heights Elementary as rookie teacher of the year, and Philip Turturro, a school suspensions liaison at Doctors Inlet Elementary, as school-related employee of the year. Clay Today.

Okaloosa, Walton: Two assistant principals have been chosen as winners of national awards. Lucretia Waskow of Ruckel Middle School in Okaloosa County has been named the assistant principal of the year by the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and Hannah Gomillion of Van R. Butler Elementary School in Walton County is the National Association of Elementary School Principals’ assistant principal of the year. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Santa Rosa: A former bookkeeper at Martin Luther King Middle School in Milton is under investigation after school officials found money missing from several accounts last September. Rachelle McCary, who has not been charged, resigned Oct. 10, and the law enforcement investigation began a week later. Pensacola News Journal.

Hernando: A 16-year-old Springstead High School student has been arrested for having a gun on a school bus last month. Deputies said bus videos show students passing the gun back and forth on the bus Jan. 16. Two weeks later, at an apartment complex, a 17-year-old student was wounded when the same gun went off accidentally. The wounded student is expected to survive. WTSP. WTVT. WFLA.

Flagler: School board member Sally Hunt thinks board meetings are too long, and is questioning the time devoted to proclamations, district spotlights and public comments. Other board members defended the value of proclamations and highlighting achievements, but expressed some interest in revisiting the public commenting period. Currently, public comments about agenda items are heard at the beginning of meetings, and a second comment period at the end is open to any topic. Flagler Live.

Gadsden: Havana Magnet School and the Second Harvest of the Big Bend are teaming up to provide a food pantry for students and their families. Fresh produce, meat, canned goods and more are available for free. “Not only do we want to work with the parents, we want to work with the whole child, we want to work with the whole family,” said school principal Thelma Hickman. “It’s not about academics all the time. It’s about ensuring that the kids have what the need in order to be successful in all aspects of life.” WTXL.

Colleges and universities: Two weeks after the Board of Governors issued a vote of no confidence in him, Brad Levine has stepped down as chair of the Florida Atlantic University board of trustees. He will remain on the board. Levine has been blamed for problems with a presidential search that was suspended over “anomalies” in the process. Trustees then elected Piero Bussani, an attorney and corporate executive, as the new board chair. Politico Florida. Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel. WLRN. News Service of Florida. St. Petersburg College has announced plans to sell two properties. For sale are the 17-acre Allstate campus in south St. Petersburg and the 15-acre Health Education Center in Pinellas Park. St. Pete Catalyst.

Around the nation: While Florida leads the nation in the number of nursing students taking the exams they need to pass to become licensed, it lags the national average of students who pass those exams. Nationally, about 87 percent of students pass the tests and earn a license. In Florida, 76.75 percent pass the exam for registered nursing, and 74.87 percent earn a passing score on the test for vocational nursing. WBBH.

Opinions on schools: HB 1 is a legislative misstep with profound implications, not only infringing upon constitutional rights but also interfering with parental autonomy and the ability to educate children on navigating the digital landscape responsibly. Jeff Brandes, Tallahassee Democrat.

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BY NextSteps staff

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