Education bills: Both legislative chambers approve a sweeping K-12 education bill. If signed by Gov. Rick Scott, the bill would create the Hope Scholarship for students who are bullied or the victims of violence, give money to 3rd-graders to pay for tutors to help them pass the state reading test, require every school to prominently display the state motto “In God We Trust,” decertify teachers unions when membership falls below 50 percent of eligible employees, place restrictions on local school districts’ ability to close charter schools, and use sales taxes from commercial properties to expand the Gardiner and tax credit scholarship programs, among other things. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the Gardiner and tax credit scholarship programs. Associated Press. News Service of Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel. redefinED. Gainesville Sun. Politico Florida. GateHouse. Here’s a breakdown of what’s in the nearly 200-page education bill. redefinED. Both chambers also pass the higher education bill, which permanently boosts the amounts students can receive if they qualify for Bright Futures scholarships, among other provisions. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. GateHouse. Other school choice issues are up for votes this week. redefinED.
School safety bill: The Florida Senate narrowly passes the school safety bill, but only after senators strip the provision to arm teachers. Instead, districts that choose to participate in the $67 million marshals program can have other personnel – such as custodians or principals – trained and armed. Another $97 million would be set aside for more school resource officers. Overall, the bill provides $400 million for school safety, including $69 million for mental health assistance.into mental health and school safety programs, $18.3 million for mobile crisis teams working with the Department of Children and Families and the schools and $500,000 for mental health first aid training. The bill also bans the sale of bump stocks, raises the legal age to buy a firearm from 18 to 21, and imposes a three-day waiting period on the purchase of all rifles and shotguns. Miami Herald. Palm Beach Post. Sun-Sentinel. GateHouse. Tallahassee Democrat. Associated Press. WLRN. House leaders express disappointment over the Senate’s decision to not arm teachers. Politico Florida. Sheriffs say the amount set aside for arming school personnel is too much, and the amount for more school officers is too little. Tampa Bay Times. The Broward County School Board is expected to approve an agreement today to add school resource officers at four more schools. Sun-Sentinel. Monday is the first day for every Manatee school to have a resource officer. Bradenton Herald. Bay County School Superintendent Bill Husfelt says everything the Legislature is talking about is for next year. “I’m worried about today,” he says. “I have called the governor’s office several times and suggested they put the National Guard out in front of schools that don’t have armed security, since they’re already being paid.” Panama City News Herald.
School shooting: Prosecutors begin presenting evidence to a grand jury today against school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz. Sun-Sentinel. The Broward County School District will conduct a formal review of how it handles students like Cruz. Sun-Sentinel. The Legislature’s education bill contains an exemption of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students from state testing this year. The school also would retain its A grade for the eighth straight year. Sun-Sentinel. Associated Press. Families of four of the slain students lobby for the passage of gun safety laws. “Our message is simple: We must be the last families to lose loved ones to mass murder in a school,” said Ryan Petty, whose 14-year-old daughter Alaina was killed in the Feb. 14 shooting. Sun-Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Former FBI Director Louis Freeh has shown an interest in heading Broward County’s independent investigation of the school shooting. Sun-Sentinel. One of the shooting survivors announces his intent to sue the Broward County School District, the sheriff’s office and others to help cover the costs of his recovery. Miami Herald.
State loses funds: Florida loses $18 million from the federal government to help physically and mentally disabled students because it missed a deadline to get the program started. The Department of Education blames the lack of vendors and professionals, while vendors say the state’s flawed process and rollout were the problems. Florida Politics.
New school’s problems: School officials say the first year for the K-8 OCPS Academic Center for Excellence in Orlando’s Parramore neighborhood has been marked with multiple problems. They cite behavior issues and the departure of teachers and the school’s first principal for the problems, which have contributed to the loss of nearly 90 students. Wendy Ivory, who was appointed principal in October, says recent changes are starting to work. The school is the first in the historically black neighborhood in 47 years. Orlando Sentinel.
Recruiting teachers: St. Johns County school officials will focus on diversifying their teaching ranks in the next round of recruiting. About 86 percent of the district’s students are white, but 93 percent of the teachers are. St. Augustine Record.
An access problem: Florida International University officials are concerned about access in case of an emergency. FIU shares the only road to and from the university with three public schools. Miami Herald.
Teacher’s rights: What can teachers say and do on their own time? The case of Citrus County teacher Dayanna Volitich will be closely watched. She was removed from the classroom after it was revealed she hosted a podcast espousing white nationalist views. She denies she’s a white nationalist, and says the podcast was political satire. Tampa Bay Times.
Robo moms: Move over, soccer moms. Robo moms are now a thing, with parents cheering on their children as they build robots in school competitions. “This is more intense than football,” says robo mom Evelyn Amoros, who co-coaches her son’s Immokalee High School robotics team. Naples Daily News.
Principals removed: Fernandina Beach High School principal Spencer Lodree resigns after confessing to taking money from ticket sales at a school basketball game, according to Nassau County Superintendent Kathy Burns. Lodree had been the school’s principal since 2014. Florida Times-Union. Laura Burgess has been removed as principal of College Park Elementary School in Ocala for failing to promptly notify the Department of Children and Families after a kindergarten teacher acknowledged injuring a student. Burgess was transferred to Sparr Elementary School. The teacher, Teresa Kaham, received a three-day suspension, and school dean Doris Tucker received a written reprimand. Ocala Star-Banner.
Personnel moves: Troy Thompson, assistant principal at Emma E. Booker Elementary School, is named principal at Lamarque Elementary School. He begins April 2. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
Coach arrested: The head baseball coach at Leesburg High School is arrested on possession of marijuana charges. Turner R. McClain, 50, told police the drugs were either taken from a player or belonged to a coworker. McClain, who is not a teacher at the school, is banned from the school campus until the investigation is complete. Daily Commercial.
Contract negotiations: The Sarasota County School Board and its teachers vote today on whether to accept the recently negotiated two-year contract. Teachers with highly effective ratings would get a 4.25 percent hike, with most of the rest getting 3.25 percent. Other employees would get a 3.75 percent boost. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The contract agreement between the Volusia County School District and its teachers union expires June 30, and school officials are bracing for another round of contentious talks. Daytona Beach News-Journal.
School threats: Pasco County School Superintendent Kurt Browning reaches out to students on social media, urging them to not jeopardize their future by making threats – facetious or otherwise – against their schools. Gradebook. An 8th-grader is arrested for leaving a threat on a bathroom wall at Tarpon Springs Middle School. Gradebook. Two more students are arrested in Volusia County for making threats against schools. Daytona Beach News-Journal.
School bus crash: A motorcyclist is killed when he’s hit by a school bus in Duval County. Sheriff’s deputies say the school bus turned left into the path of Randell Boyer, 35. WOKV. WJXT. WJAX.
Opinions on schools: The Senate voted Saturday to defeat a proposed ban on the sale of assault rifles, then immediately held a moment of silence to honor the Douglas High students and personnel who were killed by a shooter firing an AR-15 assault rifle. That says it all. Tampa Bay Times. Legislators refuse to ban assault weapons, so voters should be given the chance. Orlando Sentinel. School districts should discard the goofy security ideas and get down to the basics: Get highly trained deputies into the elementary schools, and replace locks and keys with real security. Lauren Ritchie, Orlando Sentinel. In the end, Florida senators rolled over and played dead. On guns. On education. On integrity and responsibility. John Romano, Tampa Bay Times. Eliminating daily physical education from our schools presents a danger to students. DeVoe Moore, Tallahassee Democrat.
Student enrichment: The St. Johns Virtual School has grown from 45 students in 2008 to 2,500 this school year. St. Augustine Record. Emily Surak, a junior at Plant High School in Tampa, organizes a talent show to raise money for suicide prevention awareness. WFLA.