Florida schools roundup: Tax breaks, medical marijuana rules and more

House tax package: The Florida House is expected to introduce a $332.7 million tax relief package today. About 46 percent of the total – $154 million – would come in the form of credits for companies that contribute to the tax credit and Gardiner scholarship programs. Another $74.5 million would be for a 10-day sales tax holiday for back-to-school purchases of clothes, school supplies and technology, and three separate seven-day periods for buying hurricane supplies. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit and Gardiner programs. News Service of Florida.

Medical marijuana: The Broward County School District is working on a policy to deal with students who are approved to use medical marijuana. Students would not be allowed to carry the drug or store it at school, but parents or a caregiver could come to campus to administer it as long as they have medical clearance. School staff would not be permitted to handle the drug. Palm Beach County allows the drug to be administered by nurses, who are supplied by the county health department, while Miami-Dade prohibits medical marijuana on campus, citing the conflicts in state and federal laws. Sun-Sentinel.

Turnaround schools: Polk County school officials choose a Kentucky company to begin operating six persistently struggling schools this fall if they don’t get a school grade of C or above from the state this year. Educational Directions would charge the district at least $387,500 per school for the first year, then $225,000 to $250,000 per school for each additional year. The school board will vote on the recommendation Feb. 27. Bartow Middle, Garner Elementary, Griffin Elementary, Kathleen Middle, Lake Alfred Polytech Academy and Lake Marion Creek Middle have each received grades of D or F for the past three years, prompting the state to require the district to close them, turn them into charter schools or hire an outside company to operate them. Lakeland Ledger.

Charter schools: Two charter school company have submitted applications to open in Tallahassee in 2019, and an existing charter is asking the Leon County School District for a five-year extension of its contract. Superintendent Rocky Hanna says the expansion of charter schools is heartbreaking to him. “Every single kid that walks away from our schools walks away with that $7,200 (per-student funding). And arts and music programs in public schools will be the first to go,” Hanna says. “I don’t know how to stop it.” Tallahassee Democrat.

Avossa’s resignation: A provision in the contract of Palm Beach County School Superintendent Robert Avossa requires him to give 180 days’ notice before he can resign without getting the approval of the school board. Avossa gave four months’ notice when he announced last week that he was resigning to work for a company that publishes newsletters, books and online publications. Board members meet today. Palm Beach Post.

Contract agreement: The Brevard County School Board approves a contract agreement between the district and the teachers union. Teachers rated as highly effective will get a raise of $875, or about 1.8 percent, and teachers who are rated effective will get $600, a 1.3 percent hike. All 4,500 teachers will get a $200 bonus. The agreement will cost the district about $5.4 million. Florida Today.

Dwindling enrollment: The Washington County School District is expected to continue its downward enrollment trend, according to Florida Department of Education projections. The district is forecast to lose 85 students in the next school year. “It is very concerning,” says Superintendent Joseph Taylor. “We have lost several hundred over the past five or six years.” Holmes County Times Advertiser.

Addressing disparities: A community group calls for making equity and excellence for all Alachua County students a public priority. Other priorities outlined by the education team of Gainesville For All include reducing segregation in school populations, courses and programs, and increasing school officials’ training to more  effectively teach minority students. Gainesville Sun.

Personnel training: Educational experts urge school districts to not forget about noninstructional personnel when it comes to training. Citing successful programs in Florida, experts say training can turn paraprofessionals into teachers and help staffers recognize abuse and provide emotional support to students. Education Dive.

School board elections: Matthew Fitzpatrick announces his candidacy for the Orange County School Board chair. He joins District 6 board member Nancy Robbinson and Robert Allen Prater in the election to succeed Bill Sublette. Orange County is the only district in the state with a directly elected chair position, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Apopka Voice.

Policy changes: The Hillsborough County School Board is considering a series of policy changes, including an end to suspensions for students in kindergarten through 2nd grade, a cap on top school officials’ travel expenses, reversing the 18-month waiting period for changing a school name, and ending the classification of homeless for children waiting for a foster assignment. Tampa Bay Times.

Substitute shortage: The Brevard County School District’s shortage of substitute teachers prompts the district to consider hiring an outside company to provide the service. Hiring Kelly Services would cost the district about $5.2 million a year, which is about $1.2 million more than the district pays for subs now. Some school board members want to consider other ways to boost the substitute pool, such as offering free lunch or access to school health clinics. Florida Today.

New school buses: The Manatee County School Board approves the purchase of 16 new school buses at a cost of about $1.9 million. Now the district has to find people to drive them. School officials say they have an ongoing shortage of bus drivers. “We are failing our students because we can’t get them to school,” says Superintendent Diana Greene. Bradenton Herald. The Manatee board also approves the appointment of a Citizen Financial Advisory Committee to provide oversight of the district’s spending. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Student hit by car dies: Melani Rivera, the 16-year-old Western High School student hit by a car while walking to her Davie school bus stop last week, has died. The 100-year-old driver was not cited. Miami Herald.

Administrator arrested: Kyle Ritsema, 35, an assistant principal at Cypress Creek Middle High School in Pasco County, is arrested by the U.S. Marshal’s Office on undisclosed federal charges following a Homeland Security investigation. WFLA.

School workers accused: Former NBA player Anthony Bowie has been accused of exposing himself to a female co-worker at Goldsboro Elementary School in Sanford. Bowie, 54, has helped run physical education classes at the school since 2010. He’s been on paid suspension since November, when an investigator’s report was submitted to school officials. Bowie denies the accusations. Orlando Sentinel.

Students arrested: A 6th-grader is arrested for taking a loaded handgun to Ransom Middle School in Cantonment. The gun was confiscated and the student arrested while exiting a school bus. WEAR. Pensacola News Journal. Two students are arrested for fighting at Glenridge Middle School in Orlando. Police used pepper spray to break up the fight, and five students had to be treated by firefighters. Orlando Sentinel.

Opinions on schools: Is there anyone in the Legislature with the guts to stand up to the state bully, House Speaker Richard Corcoran? John Romano, Tampa Bay TimesPolitiFact’s recent ruling on a teachers union ad criticizing House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s education bill, H.B. 7055, incorrectly asserts that state scholarships divert money from public schools and that accountability for private schools is “weak and ineffective.” Ron Matus, redefinED. The real causes of school crowding in Boca Raton are the new popularity of Boca Raton’s public schools, the new Boca Raton and the hostility to public education in the Florida Legislature. Randy Schultz, Sun-Sentinel. Our youngest learners weren’t meant to wear labels assigned by judgmental adults. Bethany Burnett, Sarasota Herald-Tribune. A statue of Florida educator Mary McLeod Bethune deserves to be in the National Statuary Hall. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The latest trend in cutting down on school suspensions is to have a parent accompany the child for a day in school. The awkward prospect seems to be inspiring the desired effect of fear, dread and even cooperation. Finally, we’re onto something. Terri Friedlander, Tallahassee Democrat. With applications to universities soaring, now is the time to require more high school math and science for admission. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: Land O’Lakes High School seniors Ariana Rao and Stutee Acharya finish second in the nation in the WordWright Challenge, a reading competition for high school students. The school’s 10th-grade team finished sixth. Tampa Bay Times. The Palmer Trinity Middle School robotics team from Palmetto Bay is ranked first in Florida, 11th in the United States and 20th in the world. Miami’s Community Newspapers.

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BY NextSteps staff