DeSantis’ education agenda, school choice case, court backs Duval board, bonuses unpaid and more

DeSantis on education: While raising the salaries of starting teachers to $47,500 was a centerpiece of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ State of the State message, it wasn’t the only educational issue he discussed. He also touched on school choice and vouchers, vocational education, replacing the Best and Brightest educator bonuses program, charter school achievement, replacing the state’s academic standards and expanding civics education. Here are his words from the speech about his educational ambitions. Gradebook. DeSantis and lawmakers got some good news Wednesday when state economists revised their revenue estimates for the year upward by $306 million. News Service of Florida.

School choice court case: Oral arguments are Jan. 22 in a U.S. Supreme Court case that could remove state barriers to public money going to private schools. In Espinoza vs. Montana Department of Revenue, the Montana Supreme Court struck down a tax credit scholarship program, ruling that it violated the state constitution’s ban on religious schools receiving public funds. Union leaders fear a reversal of that ruling will expand educational vouchers and privatization of schools. Choice advocates say the exclusion of religious education options for families is unconstitutional. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer a tax credit scholarship program in Florida. Politico.

Board’s outside counsel okayed: A circuit judge has ruled that the Duval County School Board did have the authority to hire outside counsel to represent it in a lawsuit against the city of Jacksonville. The dispute centered around the city council’s contention that the school board is part of the city’s consolidated structure and, therefore, could not hire an outside counsel to sue the council over its refusal to approve the board’s request to put a half-cent sales tax referendum on the ballot. The board said it needs the money to repair and replace its aging school buildings. Circuit Judge Gary Wilkinson rejected the city council’s position, calling school boards “constitutional, independent county governmental entities, with implementing powers as set forth by the Legislature.” Florida Times-Union. WJXT.

Educator bonuses unpaid: Indian River County teachers who were expecting their performance pay bonuses from the school district before the winter break are still waiting, and new Superintendent David Moore is apologizing for the delay. More than 1,000 teachers are scheduled to receive bonuses ranging from $360 to $596 as part of the union contract with the district. But the district still hasn’t finished evaluating student test scores from the 2018-2019 school year, which are used to determine who receives the extra pay. TCPalm.

Medical marijuana user fired: Marion County School Board members have upheld the district’s firing of an employee who used prescribed medical marijuana to treat his post-traumatic stress disorder. Mike Hickman, 50, who had been the student services manager at Belleview High School and is a military veteran, was fired when he tested positive for marijuana use after being hurt breaking up a fight at the school in November. Ocala Star-Banner.

Charter system considered: Worried about the poor academic performance of the city’s schools, Panama City commissioners say they may consider switching to a charter school system. “I got to tell you I don’t know what the answer is but I think it’s going to have to be radical,” said Panama City Commissioner Jenna Haligas. Other options discussed include allowing city employees paid time to mentor at schools, and hiring an assistant superintendent to work with Bay County school Superintendent Bill Husfelt. “I believe the city of Panama City wants to help our students and our community continue to recover and we welcome them as partners,” said Husfelt. WJHG.

School safety panel sued: The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission is being sued for allegedly violating state law by adjourning one of its meetings before the public could speak and holding the meeting in an inaccessible location. The suit was filed in Tallahassee by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of March for Our Lives Florida, the Florida Student Power Network, Dream Defenders and individual students. An attorney for the commission, which was investigating the school shooting and making recommendations for changes, had no comment. Barbara Petersen, president emeritus of the First Amendment Foundation and an expert on the state’s open meeting laws, said she wasn’t sure the law was violated, but argued that the commission had a moral obligation to hear from the public. Associated Press. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics.

Sales tax revenue up: Adding a half-cent to the sales tax has paid off for St. Johns County schools. The initiative, passed four years ago and ending Dec. 31, 2025, is projected to generate $22 million for the district this fiscal year instead of the anticipated $13 million. The district is using the money to build new schools and repair old ones, and officials said they intend to ask voters to renew it. St. Augustine Record.

New schools planned: Two new elementary schools are planned in Collier County. Both Golden Gate and Golden Terrace elementary schools have two buildings that are more than 500 yards apart. The plans call for each school’s second building to be transformed into a new elementary school. Naples Daily News.

District’s anti-vaping proclamation: The Orange County School Board adopted an anti-tobacco proclamation this week that specifically focuses on vaping, declaring that they want to end “all use of tobacco products” by students. The move coincided with the announcement by county doctors and health officials of a community forum Jan. 27 to combat vaping. Orlando Sentinel.

Anti-Semitism policy: The Charlotte County School Board has approved a proposal to add anti-Semitism to the school district’s bullying and harassment policy. That policy also prohibits harassment and discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender and disability, among other protected classes. Charlotte Sun.

Employee honored: Tamra Ingrassia, a food service specialist at Belcher Elementary School in Clearwater, has been chosen as the Pinellas County School District’s support employee of the year. Tampa Bay Times.

Personnel moves: The Volusia County School District has hired three new administrators from other Florida school districts: Carmen Balgobin from Osceola County as deputy superintendent for teaching, leading and learning; Joseph “Mark” West from Hillsborough County as chief of human resources; and Clint Griffin from Orange County as chief of information technology. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Clay County School Board members will meet in an emergency session Friday to discuss what they might do to try to keep Superintendent Addison Davis if he’s offered the job as Hillsborough County superintendent. Davis is one of seven finalists. The Hillsborough school board is picking its two or three finalists today. Clay Today. WJXT.

Mental health instruction: Escambia County students in grades 6-12 have begun their state-required five hours of instruction about mental health issues. Superintendent Malcolm Thomas said both age-appropriate online and in-person classes are being used. WEAR. Bay County School District officials also announced their plans to provide the state-required five hours of mental health education to students. Panama City News Herald.

School choice: Pasco County families will have 10 days to apply for their school choices for the 2020-2021 school year, from Jan. 21-31. A second round is expected to be held after Hudson Elementary School closes this summer and its students have been assigned to other schools. Tampa Bay Times.

New school board room: The Washington County School Board has a new meeting room, in the cafeteria of the former Kate E. Smith Elementary School in Chipley. Washington County News.

School bus crashes: The driver of a pickup truck was killed when he drove into the back of a Hernando County school bus near Weeki Wachee on Wednesday. The bus driver had stopped during a turn to allow a pedestrian to cross, and the truck slammed into the back of the bus. Forty-eight students were on the bus, and 10 were taken to a hospital for treatment. WFLA. Tampa Bay Times. A Fort Myers driver and two Lee County students were taken to a hospital for treatment after the man turned in front of the bus in Lehigh Acres. Fort Myers News-Press.

Ex-teacher’s trial delayed: The trial of a former Manatee County teacher accused of child pornography possession has been delayed until March. Ex-Lincoln Middle School teacher Quentin Peterson’s trial was supposed to start Wednesday, but the defense got the delay to prepare for photos police found on an iPhone. Bradenton Herald.

Employees and the law: An employee at a Boca Raton day-care center was arrested after allegedly picking a misbehaving 3-year-old boy up, dropping him to the floor and then breaking his leg when she knelt and her knee landed on his. Estefany De Los Angeles Acosta, 24, was fired by the Early Learning Academy and arrested four days later. Palm Beach Post. WPTV.

Opinions on schools: The fact that so many teachers traveled to the state capital to protest against even an implied threat of being fired shows the divide that remains between the state and teachers. Joe Henderson, Florida Politics. With Gov. Ron DeSantis riding high in the polls, I suspect legislators will come up with serious money for raises to teachers and probably extend them to non-classroom professionals. Bill Cotterell, Tallahassee Democrat. The Florida Prepaid College Board announced it’s lowering prices — something way overdue because families no longer wanted to buy what Florida was selling. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. In a recent op-ed column in the Sun Sentinel, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders made the several claims about educational choice: Each year almost $1 billion on state money goes to private schools instead of public schools; these private schools operate with little to no accountability; in many cases, their students’ math and reading skills have declined. These claims are misleading, at best. Jon East, redefinED. Sanders also stated in that column that, “In Florida children are required to take their first standardized test within 30 days of beginning kindergarten and Gov. DeSantis wants to extend that requirement to preschoolers.” We rate that half-true. PolitiFact Florida. No school the day after Halloween would be a treat for parents, students and teachers. Before you dismiss the idea, consider that the school year is already filled with days off that have nothing to do with religious or national holidays. Naples Daily News. Parents and school districts don’t need another day off the day after Halloween, another top-down rule from Tallahassee to tie school administrators’ hands even more. TCPalm.

Student enrichment: Sarasota Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School has received a $250,000 donation from the Gail Baird Foundation to refurbish its media center. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The 24-member chorus from Hartsfield Elementary School in Tallahassee will perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City during a trip Feb. 27 through March 2. Tallahassee Democrat. The Gulf County School District will use a grant from Triumph Gulf Coast Inc. to add equipment to the district’s welding program at Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School. Port St. Joe Star.