Social media bill under discussion, education budget, regulations on schools, aid for dropouts, and more

Social media bill: House Speaker Paul Renner said Wednesday that he has been in discussions with Gov. Ron DeSantis to try to work out their differences with a bill that would ban students under 16 from having social media accounts with platforms that use “addictive features.” HB 1 has been Renner’s top priority, and it has been passed by the House and Senate. But DeSantis questioned the constitutionality of the proposal and expressed a reluctance to infringe on parental rights. The governor has until Friday to sign or veto the bill. “We’re looking at alternatives and what we can do together,” Renner said. “So we’re still working together.” News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Florida Phoenix.

Education budgets: Senate and House negotiators reached an agreement Wednesday on overall preK-12 spending for the 2024-2025 fiscal year. Schools will get $28.4 billion, an increase of $1.8 billion, with per-student spending set at $8,959 per student, a $240 increase on this year. The deal was reached after the Senate agreed to the House’s provision of $202 million to increase funding for teacher pay, while the House accepted the Senate’s increase of $40 million for safe schools funding and $20 million for mental health funding. Negotiators meet again today to try to reconcile the few remaining differences, including how much to set aside for districts to adjust to student enrollment changes. Florida Politics. News Service of Florida.

Deregulating public schools: Members of the House unanimously approved a proposal Wednesday that would cut some regulations on public schools. Among other things, the measure would give districts flexibility in how they use federal money, waive exam or certification fees for certain teachers, and allow districts to post their proposed budgets online instead of requiring them to be printed in newspapers. The bill has already been approved by the Senate, but will require another vote after it was revised in the House. Two more deregulation bills have cleared the Senate and are awaiting votes in the House. News Service of Florida. Gray Florida Capital Bureau.

Also in the Legislature: Tuition and fees waivers would be available to high school dropouts who later want to pursue diplomas or workforce certifications at state colleges under a bill approved unanimously by the Senate on Wednesday. It still needs to be passed by the House before going to Gov. DeSantis. News Service of Florida. Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, has signaled her support for a proposal intended to cut “frivolous” book challenges in schools by imposing a $100 processing fee against people who don’t have children in the school district and have already made five unsuccessful challenges. The House is scheduled to take up the bill today. Florida Phoenix. Satanic Temple officials say if a bill allowing volunteer chaplains in school is approved, they “look forward” to participating. HB 931 has been approved by the House, and SB 1044 is ready for a vote in the full Senate. USA Today Florida Network.

Around the state: Brevard school board members reject a book review committee recommendation and vote to remove The Nowhere Girls from school bookshelves, three Pasco students get an audience with Superintendent Kurt Browning to try to talk him out of banning cell phones from schools in the fall, Palm Beach County school officials who said they didn’t have $30 million to build a black history museum at a high school suddenly found it, and Polk’s school district schedules five town meetings to discuss the impact of the law requiring later starting times for middle and high school students beginning in 2026. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Orange: Linda Sutherland, an advocate for children who won three terms on the school board and then worked 20 years as director of the Healthy Start Coalition of Orange County, died last weekend after being hospitalized for pneumonia. She was 71. Orlando Sentinel.

Palm Beach: Last August, district officials said they didn’t have $30 million to spend for a black history museum and resource library as part of the renovation of Roosevelt High School in West Palm Beach, and that the community would have to find the funds. The announcement drew heavy criticism from black leaders, who were already angry that the Roosevelt project had been delayed. But just weeks later, the school board approved a budget that included $30 million for the project. What changed, and why didn’t the district publicize the decision? Palm Beach Post.

Duval: District officials said they are working with school bus provider Student Transportation of America for answers about why a 6-year-old student was allowed to get off a school bus at the wrong stop in December even after the girl told the driver it was not her stop. NAACP leaders who were asked to help said they got no acceptable answers in their meeting with STA. “We are in agreement with NAACP regarding STA’s handling and response to this situation,” said a school spokesperson. “We have very high expectations for student safety, and in this instance, STA fell short of the mark. We will be working to facilitate a satisfactory response from the company.” WJAX.

Polk: Five town hall meetings will be held between March 25 and April 22 to discuss how the state law requiring later school start times, beginning in 2026, will affect the district. Right now, high schools generally start at 7 a.m., elementaries at 8 and middle schools by 9. But in 2026, middle schools won’t be allowed to start before 8 a.m. and high schools before 8:30. Polk officials say the changes will have an impact on school bus schedules, and changes to middle and high school start times are likely to affect elementaries too. Lakeland Now.

Pasco: Three students at Angeline Academy of Innovation in Land O’ Lakes who are opposed to Superintendent Kurt Browning’s announced intention to ban students from having cell phones in schools starting next fall asked him for an audience to listen to their objections. Browning took the challenge and met with the students and their teacher for an hour last week. He said they made “some valid points” and gave him a lot to think about as cell phone rules are considered. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: School board members rejected the district’s book review committee recommendation and voted to remove The Nowhere Girls, a book by Amy Reed focusing heavily on sexuality and rape, from schools. Four of the five board members voted to remove the book because of its sexual content. It’s the first time the board has disregarded a recommendation from the review committee. Florida Today.

Sarasota: Four Venice High School students and their bus driver were injured Wednesday when their bus was involved in an accident with a car, according to district officials. None of the injuries is believed to be serious. Sheriff’s deputies are investigating. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WFLA. WTSP. WTVT. WFTS. WWSB.

Opinions on schools: Florida’s HB 1 means well, but it creates more issues than it solves. Gov. DeSantis, already skeptical about it, would be right to veto it. Miami Herald. Doesn’t it make sense — especially in Florida, where thousands of students quit high school every year — to make it easier for high school dropouts to re-enter the education system and get qualified for jobs that pay a decent wage? Tampa Bay Times.

Avatar photo

BY NextSteps staff