DeSantis says he’ll sign bill limiting book challenges and speeding charter conversions, and more

DeSantis pushes HB 1285: Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday he will sign a bill that limits school book challenges and speeds up the process of converting long-struggling public schools into charter schools. He hasn’t received HB 1285 from the Legislature yet, he said at a news conference in Escambia County, but will sign it quickly after it’s delivered to him. Non-parents would be limited to one book objection a month to prevent the process from being “politicized” by activists, he said. And the bill would require districts converting a struggling school to have a contract with a charter company by Oct. 1 in the final year they control the school so charters would have time to prepare a turnaround plan. “If you drag your feet for three or four years, that’s three or four years of students who aren’t getting the education they should be getting,” he said. Pensacola News Journal. WEAR. WJXT. WFTS. WPLG. WFSU. Florida Phoenix. Florida Politics. Gray Florida Capital Bureau.

Around the state: At least 16 candidates have applied for the Duval school superintendent’s job, Broward school board members meet today to discuss rescinding raises for teachers, Brevard schools send an email to non-teaching employees to gauge their interest in becoming a school guardian before the program has been approved by the school board, Pasco County parents are lobbying the school board to add flag football as a sports option for high school girls, and trustees of Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland have selected a new president. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: School board members are tackling three significant issues at today’s meeting: Whether to rescind $36.6 million in pay raises for teachers they approved in February; a proposed settlement paying charter schools millions as a proportional share from a 2018 tax referendum; and whether to fire general counsel Marylin Batista over her handling of the charter school payments issue. Sun-Sentinel.

Hillsborough: A teaching couple from California who grew disenchanted with “the ‘woke’ lies taught in most public schools” have moved to Tampa and opened an online Christian K-12 school, the Exodus Institute, with the motto “Exit Public Education.” Since opening in 2021, Kali and Joshua Fontanilla’s school has grown to 200 students, and they hope to eventually have 1,000. Washington Post.

Palm Beach: More than 25,000 district students have missed at least 15 days of school this year, prompting the district to begin filing truancy petitions. “It’s really when it gets to that point where, at the school level we’ve exhausted, at the district level we’ve exhausted all interventions, and the kids are still not coming to school. Then we’ve really got to take this step,” said Keith Oswald, the district’s chief of equity and wellness. WPTV.

Duval: At least 16 candidates had applied for the superintendent’s job as of the deadline late Monday, said school board member Lori Hershey. “I think it’s a very qualified pool and I do believe the board has an opportunity to make a selection within this pool,” she said. The board hopes to have a new superintendent by June 1. Among those applying is Christopher Bernier, who recently resigned as Lee County superintendent. WJAX. Florida Times-Union. IDEA Public Schools is renovating the former VyStar Credit Union headquarters for a charter elementary school that’s expected to open in the fall of 2025. Cost of the project to create the Compass Campus is $6.47 million, and it will become the third IDEA school in the county. Jacksonville Daily Record. A stray bullet from a gunfight went into a school bus carrying 30 students from the Young Kids in Motion Academy K-12 private school Monday. No one was injured. WJAX. WJXT. WTLV.

Pasco: Students and parents will lobby the school board at today’s meeting to add flag football to the district’s list of sports options for high school girls. Neighboring counties already offer it, and there were 9,066 players on 343 high school teams in Florida. “In Hillsborough County, they’ve been playing in high school for years,” said parent Shawn Millard, whose daughter Ariel will attend Hudson High next fall. “All the surrounding counties — Polk, Pinellas, Hernando — they’ve had flag football in high school for a while, too.” Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: An email was sent last week to district employees to try to gauge their interest in volunteering to become a school guardian. “BPS is partnering with the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office to bring the guardian program to our district,” the email read, and then asked people to volunteer by May 1 if they want to be trained to carry a gun at school. It caught school board members by surprise, since they have yet to approve the program. A district spokesperson said the email was simply to gauge which school employees would be interested. Only administrators, custodians, and non-classroom positions would be eligible to be trained to carry guns in school. WOFL.

Volusia: A school board member who asked the board to pay her $459 membership dues to the Florida Conservative Coalition of School Board Members has been turned down by her colleagues. Jessie Thompson is president of the board, and says it is nonpartisan. But its website said it’s only open to “conservative school board members.” The issue went to the school board because attorney Aaron Wolfe said there was no precedent for the board paying for an individual member’s dues to a partisan organization, and it was rejected in a 4-1 vote. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Collier: A water main break in east Naples on Monday has left nine schools under a boil water notice for the next 24 to 48 hours. Students at Calusa Park Elementary, East Naples Middle, Golden Gate High, Lely Elementary, Lely High, Manatee Elementary, Manatee Middle, Mike Davis Elementary and Parkside Elementary are urged to take a water bottle to school. WBBH. WFTX. WINK.

Lake: A robotics teacher at a district elementary school was surprised recently to receive a past due notice from the U.S. Small Business Administration for a loan in excess of $20,000 under a pandemic program that he says he never took. “I wasn’t sure if someone was trying to scam me to get me to send them money, or if someone stole my identity,” said Timothy Bunnell. Michael Horowitz, inspector general of the U.S Department of Justice, said about $64 billion was lost to imposters collecting payroll protection loans. WKMG.

Marion: Construction has begun on two elementary schools that are expected to open in the fall of 2025, and planning has begun for a high school projected to open in the fall of 2027. They’ll be the first new schools in the district since 2013, and are needed to address overcrowding, said district spokesman Kevin Christian. In the past 10 years, enrollment is up 9 percent. Borrowed money and proceeds from impact fees and sales taxes will be used for the construction. WUFT.

Okaloosa: About 60 district high school students got a lesson in financial education last week through a partnership between the school district and the Eglin Federal Credit Union. “The school district is grateful for the support of Eglin Federal Credit Union in facilitating financial education sessions to supplement the course curriculum,” said Superintendent Marcus Chambers. The state now requires all high school students, starting with this year’s freshman class, to pass a financial literacy class to become eligible to graduate. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Alachua: University of Florida officials’ proposal to institute a selective admissions process at the PK Yonge Developmental Research School is drawing criticism from members of the school community. The school now has a diverse enrollment, something that could change if admissions standards are increased. UF officials said they’re making the proposal to improve the school’s state ranking among high schools. The school’s advisory council will discuss the proposal at today’s meeting. Gainesville Sun.

Jackson: The softball coach at Sneads High School has been arrested and accused of having a sexual relationship with a juvenile. Deputies said Michael Mader has been charged with charged with lewd and lascivious battery on a victim over 12 but under 16 years old, and offenses against students by an authority figure. WCTV. WJHG. WMBB.

Colleges and universities: Florida Polytechnic University’s trustees have chosen G. Devin Stephenson as the Lakeland school’s second president, replacing the retiring Randy Avent. Stephenson, 71, has been president of Northwest Florida State College, a public two-year college in Niceville. Lakeland Ledger. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. Lakeland Now. The Federal Aviation Administration said it rejected a land deal between New College of Florida and the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport because it sees no value in the airport giving up the property instead of holding onto it and took issue with the property appraisal. New College leases the land and has 15 buildings on it, and wants ownership for campus expansion. If no deal can be reached before the lease ends in 2056, the property reverts to airport ownership. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Orange County’s value adjustment board has rejected a request for a tax exemption for a Windermere home owned by the family of Republican state Rep. Carolina Amesty. The family claimed the home deserved an educational tax exemption because Amesty’s father uses it for some Central Christian University business, but the board determined it was simply a private home. Orlando Sentinel. Fifty-six percent of the people who took the Florida bar exam in February passed, according to the Florida Board of Bar Examiners. That’s about the same rate who passed in February 2023. Tallahassee Democrat.

Opinions on schools: It has been almost 100 years since the 1925 Pierce v. Society of Sisters Supreme Court decision expanded the definition of public education to include options beyond schools operated by local governments, and families in several states are starting to experience the freedoms and opportunities that decision enabled. Extending these freedoms and opportunities to all families nationally is a huge political and operational challenge, but it is also a moral and societal imperative. Doug Tuthill, NextSteps. The rise of school district employee unions certainly squared with President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “disastrous rise of misplaced power.” This power, however, has gone into an inexorable decline. Matthew Ladner, NextSteps. Broward deserves a school board that is student-focused, not a few appointed board members doing the bidding of whatever Tallahassee regime is in power. Alfredo Olvera, Sun-Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff