Florida schools roundup: Budget discussions, motto mandate and more

Budget and Bright Futures: Florida House leaders introduce what they call an austere state budget of about $85 billion, which is about $2.5 billion less than Gov. Rick Scott has proposed. One of the areas the House would cut back on is higher education spending, in part by not expanding the coverage to 75 percent of tuition and fees for “medallion scholars” in the Bright Futures program, which the Senate has approved. Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole, says the cuts are intended to force colleges and universities to use their stockpiles of unspent funds. News Service of Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. The proposed House budget also includes a spending boost of $100 per K-12 student, a provision that would eliminate a requirement that the 300 lowest-performing schools use the extra funding they get from the state to add an hour per day of reading instruction, and would allow any district in the state to participate in the principal autonomy program. Gradebook. Politico FloridaredefinED. The House budget includes a specific cut of $381,000 for Broward College that is directly related to the college’s decision to pay the outgoing president his $381,000 salary for a year after he leaves, calling it a paid sabbatical. WLRN.

Motto at schools: The motto “In God We Trust” would have to be prominently displayed on every school building in Florida under a bill that receives unanimous approval from the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee. The measure was filed by Rep. Kimberly Daniels, D-Jacksonville, and Rep. Mel Ponder, R-Destin. The phrase became part of the seal on the state flag in 1868, and was adopted as the state motto by legislators in 2006. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. WCTV. Gradebook.

Personalized learning: A bill that would make the personalized learning pilot program available to all state school districts is approved by the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee. If approved by the Legislature, the bill would broaden the use of the mastery-based learning method, which allows students to advance to higher levels in subjects when they can demonstrate mastery of a topic. The bill would also give districts the freedom to decide how to award course credits. redefinED.

Financial literacy: A bill requiring completion of a financial literacy course to graduate from high school is approved by the House PreK-12 Quality  Committee, but with a significant tweak – the language making the course a requirement has been replaced with language calling for an “opportunity” to take the course. The Senate has unanimously passed its version of the bill which has been a longtime goal of Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange. Gradebook.

VPK extension: A bill that would allow children an extra free year in the Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Program is approved by a House education committee. VPK was established in 2004 and enrolls more than 160,000 children. redefinED.

Sales tax hike: The Lee County School Board agrees to puts a sales tax hike request to the voters in a special election May 15. The board is asking for a half-cent more in the sales tax, which would raise more than $500 million over 10 years for school construction and upgrades, technology and more. The expected cost of holding the election is about $887,500. Fort Myers News-Press.

NAACP warns district: The Lee County branch of the NAACP is warning the school district to address racial disparities in discipline this year or face a lawsuit. The group says the district’s policies lead to more disciplinary action against minority students than whites. It wants the district to abolish suspensions and emphasize rehabilitation and restorative justice instead. Fort Myers News-Press.

District sued: A transgender student in Volusia County is suing the school district, saying its discriminating policies are causing him mental distress, embarrassment and unnecessary suffering. The student, referred to in the suit as John Doe, claims the district is violating Title IX and his 14th Amendment rights by forcing him to use separate bathrooms and locker rooms while at school. WKMG.

Teacher evaluations: Teacher evaluations in the Palm Beach County School District vary widely from school to school, with some ratings all their teachers “highly effective” and others giving few that designation. Often, teachers complain, there is little or no explanation why schools differ on what constitutes an “effective” or “highly effective” teacher. The ratings are critical for teachers because they determine pay raises. Palm Beach Post.

Educators honored: Cathy Felty, media specialist at Margaret K. Lewis School, is the Bay County School District’s teacher of the year. WJHG. Five Hernando County teachers are finalists for LifeChanger of the Year awards handed out to 17 educators annually since 2006 by the National Life and the National Life Group Foundation of Montpelier, Vt. Travis Bruns and Doug Poteet of Pine Grove Elementary, Luz-Sahari Cruz and Randy Smith of Springstead High, and Ian Wald of Nature Coast Technical High. Tampa Bay Times.

Florida among least educated: Florida is 29th among the states in a ranking by WalletHub of the most and least educated states. States were ranked by educational attainment, school quality and achievement gaps between genders and races. Florida ranked 7th in quality of education, but 37th in education attainment. Palm Beach Post. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Board member questions: Members of the Seminole County School Board say they plan to write a letter to member Jeffrey Bauer, who has now missed the past 11 months of meetings, to ask whether he plans to participate on the board. Bauer, 49, had a stroke in June 2016 and has missed every meeting since Feb. 28, 2017. He continues to draw his $41,040 salary and receive health insurance. Orlando Sentinel.

School getting outside operator: The Marion County School Board votes to hire an outside company to operate Evergreen Elementary School if it doesn’t receive a C grade from the state this year. Evergreen has received grades of D or F from the state for the past five years. Superintendent Heidi Maier had recommended the school be closed if the grade didn’t improve. Ocala Star-Banner.

Police investigations: The Broward County School District is proposing changes in its discipline policies. Among other things, teachers who are late or rude to their bosses would no longer be subject to an investigation by school police officers. Sun-Sentinel.

Contract negotiations: The Polk County School Board approves a contract that calls for pay hikes of 2 to 3.5 percent for teachers and 2 percent for paraprofessionals and education support employees. The agreement will cost the district about $10 million a year. Lakeland Ledger. Hourly workers in the Manatee County School District take to the streets to protest the 10 cents an hour pay raise proposed by the district. Bradenton Herald.

Bullying policy questioned: Several Bay County parents criticize Surfside Middle School principal Sue Harrell and Superintendent Bill Husfelt for the district’s response to bullying complaints. A 12-year-old student at the school, Gabriella Green, committed suicide Jan. 10 after being cyberbullied by two students who were later arrested. “Gabbie Green didn’t have to die,” said Stephen Strout at Tuesday’s school board meeting. “If you feel they followed the proper procedure, the procedure needs to change.” Panama City News Herald.

School start times: The Pinellas County School District is considering pushing high school starting times back 15 to 25 minutes this fall, from the current 7:05 a.m. to 7:20 or 7:30. Elementary and middle school start times would probably remain the same. Melissa Gallivan, the parent who started a petition to move back beginning times for high-schoolers, calls the proposal “unacceptable. By making this proposal, the district is rejecting the substantial body of scientific, medical, and education research that has found that high school should start no earlier than 8:30,” she says. Gradebook.

School name change: When Cahoon Elementary School combines with Van Buren Middle School in the fall it will sport a new name – the Carter G. Woodson K-8 School, named for the scholar who is responsible for the creation of Black History Month. Gradebook.

Money for charter: The Sky Academy Englewood charter school will now receive the same amount of money from the Sarasota County School District as other county charters, the school board agrees. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Choice enrollment: The Broward County School District has already received more than 21,000 applications for schools of choice, with two weeks remaining to sign up. Palm Beach County is expected 37,000 applications. Its deadline was extended a week, and is now Feb. 2. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post.

Proposed land swap: The Manatee County School Board is considering a land swap proposal from a developer that would allow the construction of two schools in the eastern part of the county. Bradenton Herald. The board also approves the appointment of a citizen financial advisory committee to review district spending. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Backing immigrants: Broward County School Board members say they will support a resolution to support district parents, students and staff members from Haiti, Africa and nations ravaged by conflict and natural disasters. Board chairwoman Nora Rupert says the resolution is motivated by vulgar remarks from President Trump about some immigrants. Sun-Sentinel.

Tracking a teacher: Students from Francinelee Hand’s 1961-62 3rd-grade class at Sabal Palm Elementary in Miami track down the teacher they could never forget for a reunion to thank her. Hand, now 80, says she was surprised to hear from her students. “This is astonishing to me and very rewarding to me because when I started teaching, teaching was an honorable profession,” she said. Miami Herald.

New superintendent: Jacquelin Collins is named superintendent of the Cape Coral charter school system. She had been interim superintendent of the four-school, city-operated district since last April. Fort Myers News-Press.

Complaints policy revise: The Sarasota County School Board revises its policies on how complaints against the superintendent or board members are handled. Complaints against the superintendent will be shared immediately with board members, who will then consult an attorney on choosing someone to lead the investigation. Complaints against board members will be shared with the chair and vice chair. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Whistleblower outed: The author of a website often critical of several Hillsborough County School Board members is Jason Ferger, claims board member April Griffin. Griffin also accused fellow board member Melissa Snively of helping to create the site. Gradebook.

Ex-administrator sentenced: A former administrator at the McKeel Academy and Kathleen Middle School is sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty to stealing more than $100,000. Ginger Collins, 46, also must pay $105,275 in restitution to the schools during her three years on probation after she’s released from prison. Lakeland Ledger.

Student missing: A 6th-grader from the Manatee School for the Arts in Palmetto is reported missing. Gianna Silipo was last seen walking off campus after school. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Opinions on schools: If Florida wants its middle school students to perform better in math, the state has to start taking math more seriously. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: More than two-dozen northwest Florida high school seniors earn nominations to one of the nation’s military academies. Northwest Florida Daily News.