Florida schools roundup: Hope, Gardiner scholarship bills, spending and more

Hope Scholarship: With some Florida school districts saying they’re confused by the law that offers state scholarships for bullied K-12 students, state Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, has filed a bill intended to clarify the rules and further expand the scholarship. S.B. 1410 would remove school districts from making any decisions about a student’s eligibility for a Hope Scholarship. Instead, parents would go directly to the scholarship funding organization for an application and simply have to report a bullying incident to be eligible, with no verification required. The bill would also offer the scholarships to students from private schools. Gradebook. redefinED.

Gardiner Scholarship: Two bills are filed that would expand Gardiner Scholarships for students with special needs and make it simpler for parents to renew them. H.B. 1051, filed by Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff, R-DeLand, and S.B. 1380, sponsored by Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, would allow parents to submit applications when their child turns 3, and use the scholarship to pay for tuition and fees associated with art, music or theater programs. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the state’s Gardiner, Hope, tax credit and reading scholarships. redefinED.

School spending: State Sen. Manny Diaz also files a bill that would require school districts to spend 80 percent of the money it gets from the state’s main funding formula in classrooms. Teacher salaries, supplies and technology would qualify. Gov. Ron DeSantis made the proposal during his campaign in 2018. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics.

School security: Hernando County’s two charter schools have yet to hire armed guards, putting the school district out of compliance with the state law requiring guards in all schools. Tampa Bay Times. Three Monroe County School Board members express concerns about the progress being made on security in schools. Key West Citizen. The Florida Chamber of Commerce launches the Institute for a Safer Florida to help “enhance school and workplace safety.” Florida Politics. The Capitolist.

Charter schools: Four charter schools want to open in Polk County in the next two years, and two of them would be dual-language schools aimed at some of the nearly 10,000 county students who speak Spanish. Mi Escuela Montessori has plans for a K-6 school in south Lakeland, Mulberry or Bartow, and BridgePrep Academy wants to open a K-8 school in Lakeland. Both are targeting August 2020 openings. Lakeland Ledger.

Board tension: The tension among Lee County School Board members spilled into this week’s meeting, with board member Gwyn Gittens and Superintendent Greg Adkins exchanging words about transparency. Gittens supported board member Betsy Vaughn’s call for the district to hire an auditor to look into the spending for the district’s maintenance department. The motion was defeated 4-3, and led to the acrimonious exchange. Gittens said she feels offended when she’s told to “stay in her lane” when asking questions, and Adkins said she’s “down in the weeds of the business of the district rather than at a policy level.” Fort Myers News-Press.

Medical marijuana: Palm Beach County school officials have drafted a policy to allow medical marijuana to be administered to students at schools. Only parents and caregivers would be permitted to administer the drug to students, who would have to be listed in the state registry and have patient identification cards. The school board is expected to vote on the proposal in April. Sun Sentinel.

Textbook purchases: The Volusia County School Board approves the purchase of math textbooks for elementary schools, despite the proposed end to the Common Core standards on which the books are based. But it’s delaying, at least for now, a decision to buy new books for language arts. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

High school start times: Orange County school employees are researching how  Hillsborough County and Seattle changed high school start times, and what it cost. Superintendent Barbara Jenkins told school board members this week that we are still having discussions and going through development and research on this matter, and we’ll have more discussion of it in the near future.” Orlando Sentinel.

Contract deal approved: The Hernando County School Board approves a contract agreement between the district and the teachers union that gives teachers a 3.5 percent pay raise. District and school administrators will get a 2 percent raise, and other employees will receive performance-based increases. Tampa Bay Times.

Personnel moves: Mildred Murrman-Dudley, an assistant principal at Central High School, is named the principal at Eastside Elementary School. She’ll replace Mary LeDoux, who’s retiring in July after 36 years in education. Tampa Bay Times.

Board and radio station: Members of the Miami-Dade County School Board decide not to sell the license of their public radio station, WLRN. Instead, the board will either change the community advisory board or create a nonprofit group to manage the station and ensure its editorial independence, The district and station have had a contentious relationship for years. Miami Herald. WLRN.

Storm relief: The board of Triumph Gulf Coast, which handles grants with money from the settlement for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, approves a request for hurricane disaster relief in Gulf, Franklin, Bay and Wakulla counties. Most of the money will go to local government agencies, including school boards, for revenue shortfalls caused by  property losses from the storm. Port St. Joe Star.

Physics classes: The number of Florida public high schools with 1,000 or more students that don’t offer any physics courses is up from 31 last year to 36 this year. Bridge to Tomorrow.

School being evicted: The troubled Barnabas Christian Academy is being evicted from its Port St. Lucie offices on Saturday for failing to pay its rent. The school has been investigated recently by the state for its practices and finances. TCPalm.

Student-teacher relationships: Two Seminole Ridge High School employees have been arrested this school year for having sex with students, and principal David Campbell says he is adding warnings against such activities to his interviews with prospective employees. Palm Beach Post.

Administrators appeal firings: Two former Okaloosa County School District officials are appealing their firings by Superintendent Marcus Chambers. Henry Kelley, who headed the School District Foundation, says Chambers “exceeded his delegated and statutory authority” in firing him because former superintendent Mary Beth Jackson was”wrongfully suspended” by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Andy Johnson, who was the program director of Student Services, Discipline and Athletics, says he has suffered a loss of income and a smear on his character. The school board will hear the appeals. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Employee arrested: An Manatee County School District teaching assistant is arrested and charged with child abuse after he allegedly threw a ball into the face of an autistic student at Rogers Garden-Bullock Elementary School in Bradenton. Quintin Bradley, 40, was trying to quiet the crying 5-year-old. A teacher, Vicki Hampton, allegedly witnessed the incident but did not report it, and charges against her are pending. Bradenton Herald. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WFLA.

Student treated: A student at Marathon High School in the Florida Keys is treated for an Oxycodone overdose at the school. The student was given the pain-killer by another student who had a prescription for it. Key West Citizen. Keynoter.

Opinions on schools: The goal of a statewide grand jury should be to highlight shortcomings in school security and recommend reforms that can be embraced by students and parents, teachers and principals, local school districts and the Legislature. Tampa Bay Times. Legislators shouldn’t chip away at the standards Florida has set for all students, particularly in science, writing and math. The trade isn’t worth it, and it isn’t needed to advance career education. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Getting all St. Johns County kids to school on time is chess, and getting them all to school at the time the parents would prefer is 3-D chess. This defines the problem the district is currently taking up: the least, worst way to get the students to and from these schools. And, unfortunately for district administrators, there’s no right answer. St. Augustine Record. Personalized education funding could deliver a much more diverse array of learning opportunities and respond to the evolving needs of all students, including those with complex learning needs. Travis Pillow and Paul Hill, The 74. Florida’s decision nearly 20 years ago to offer free PSAT tests to all high school sophomores set off a chain reaction that led to enormous gains in academic achievement. Patricia Levesque, The 74.

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BY NextSteps staff