Behind the push for teacher raises, scholarship donations, school construction and more

Impetus for teacher raises: Low teacher pay has been an issue in Florida that rarely received legislative attention — until this year, when Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a call for raising starting salaries to second in the nation and legislators have been trying to meet that challenge. Why the sudden change? Many are attributing it to increased support from the business community, which considers better teachers a key component to improving education and producing better workers, DeSantis’ popularity and election-year politics. Teachers are abandoning the profession and fewer college students aspire to become teachers, noted Craig Richard, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council. “It’s hard to recruit and keep good teachers if you are not paying them,” he said. And because it’s an election year, some Democrats think Republicans are trying to co-opt what has traditionally been regarded as their issue. But even if that’s the case, said Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, “I’m happy they are finally seeing value in our hard-working public workers.” State Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, added: “I do think the stars have aligned. I feel pretty good about getting it done this year.” USA Today Network. Tampa Bay Times. Wednesday marks the halfway point of this year’s legislative session. News Service of Florida.

Scholarship support restored: One of the companies that recently withdrew its support for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program has reversed its decision. Officials at Fifth Third Bank, which is based in Ohio, said their decision to resume donations came after a meeting with the AAA Scholarship Foundation, which helps administer the program along with Step Up For Students. AAA has agreed to meet bank officials yearly and create a process to help scholarship students better understand policies of the schools in the program. Fifth Third pulled out after newspaper reports alleged that some private schools that receive scholarship money were discriminating against LGBTQ students. Legislators from both parties praised the bank for its decision. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. redefinED. Orlando Sentinel. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. Florida Politics.

School construction questions: In 2014, Broward County voters approved an $800 million referendum to repair roofs, air-conditioning systems and more at schools. Five years later, renovations have been finished at just nine of the district’s 233 schools, and the program is $436 million over budget. And now district officials acknowledge that the program that was supposed to conclude in 2021 may not be finished until about 2030 due to a shortage of roofers. Meanwhile, a $1.1 million kitchen for the culinary program at Western High School in Davie that started in 2018 and was supposed to be completed in 2022 was fast-tracked and opened Friday. “The bond was supposed to be about the most critical needs first,” said Nathalie Lynch-Walsh, vice chair of the district’s Facilities Task Force. Sun Sentinel.

Academic standards: The Common Core standards will be eliminated from Florida K-12 schools this week, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran announced Friday. He is recommending that the state Board of Education approve the new Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking standards, also known as B.E.S.T., at its meeting Wednesday. Common Core academic standards were adopted by the state under then-Gov. Jeb Bush a decade ago, but have come under increasing criticism from the left and right for their focus on student testing and their impact on decision-making at a local level. A year ago, Gov. Ron DeSantis called on the Florida Department of Education to create a new set of standards. The proposed math and English language arts standards were announced Jan. 24 and revealed in full a week later. Emphasis on civics and American history, financial literacy and a reduction of statewide assessments are also a part of the new standards. Associated Press.

School start times: Monroe County School Board members are expected to decide Tuesday if they will change start and end times at five Key West and Lower Keys schools because of work that is scheduled to begin April 16 on the only bridge on and off the islands. Four of the schools would begin and end 30 or 45 minutes earlier, and one’s schedule would move to 75 minutes later in the day. Key West Citizen.

Discipline alternatives: Lake County school officials say a program creating discipline alternatives is working so well that suspensions have been eliminated at one school. The Positive Alternative to School Suspension Program began in August as an experiment to recognize misbehaving students early and give them a structure to alter their behavior before schools would consider suspensions. Students talk with other students in the program in a group setting or individually about behavior modification, and they help establish ways to make amends. Daily Commercial.

Employee honored: Davina Perez, the student services secretary and coach at Lehigh Senior High School, has been named the Lee County School District’s school-related employee of the year. Fort Myers News-Press.

Personnel moves: Indian River County school Superintendent David Moore has named Scott Bass as deputy superintendent, supporting principals and overseeing the human resources department, and Richard Myhre as assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. Bass is the former superintendent of the Glades County School District, and Myhre was the executive director of Just Read, Florida! for the Department of Education. TCPalm.

Employees and the law: A 1st-grade teacher in Duval has been arrested after deputies said she tried to buy methamphetamines and have them delivered to her at Jacksonville Heights Elementary School. Valerie Lee Prince was caught in an undercover operation set up by Clay County deputies. Prince has been suspended pending the district’s investigation. Florida Times-Union. A former Pinellas County school bus driver has been acquitted by a jury of charges that he sexually abused a 13-year-old girl in 2015. Ernest Williams, 62, was arrested in 2018. He knew the girl through her family, not his job. Gradebook.

Teacher under investigation: A St. Lucie County teacher has received a verbal warning from the school district after asking two female 5th-graders during class if they were dating. One of the girl’s mothers complained, launching an investigation that led to the warning for the unnamed teacher at Northport K-8 in Port Saint Lucie. The mother has decided to home-school her daughter. WPTV.

Students and the law: A video of a verbal confrontation between a Pasco County high school student and a school resource led to the officer threatening to shoot the student. The student, who was trying to leave school for an orthodontist appointment, was held up by the officer, who accused him of being truant. As the student tried to maneuver his truck around the blocked lane, the officer said: “You’re gonna get shot you come another f—ing foot closer to me.” The 17-year-old student was suspended, then expelled and sent to an alternative program. School officials had no comment on whether the officer was disciplined. Tampa Bay Times. Two Volusia County students are facing criminal charges after posting a TikTok video showing them deliberately tripping a third girl. District officials said disciplinary action was taken against the two, but the parents of the girl who was tripped have said they want to press criminal charges. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Opinions on schools: The private school voucher brigade of the school choice army has campaigned under a banner emblazoned with Zip Code Should Not Determine The Quality Of A Child’s Education. The creation and now proposed expansion of the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program is proof positive this is all about supercharging private school voucher expansion, not combating the effects of poverty in education. Mac Stipanovich, Tampa Bay Times. Florida lawmakers deserve credit for placing a higher priority on funding school-based mental health services. Citrus County Chronicle. Students who suffer from anxiety, bullying and discrimination need school options. Matthew Ladner, redefinED. We hope the critics of the Florida Tax Scholarship choose to broaden their view and understand that their anti-discrimination efforts, however well-intentioned they might be, will adversely affect thousands of minority children whose only desire is a better education, and ultimately a better life. Lakeland Ledger. The message from Gov. DeSantis’ plan to raise starting teacher salaries is very clear. Veteran teachers are disposable. And if I were a new or incoming teacher, I’d think long and hard about that before deciding to make my career in a Florida classroom. Mike Thomas, Tampa Bay Times. Changing the school funding formula is way overdue. It has grown too complex. It penalizes many coastal counties through a part of the index formulation that’s supposed to account for “amenities” like beaches that allow employers to pay less because these are nice places to live. The current formula flunks the fairness test. Mark Lane, Daytona Beach News-Journal. Here’s why a college professor cares about students skipping a physics course in high school. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

Student enrichment: Navya Tripathi, a sophomore at Buchholz High School in Gainesville who won a national award two years ago for her computer work mapping the impact of Hurricane Irma, has been honored again, this time for her work tracking the drug epidemic. Gainesville Sun. Windy Hill Middle School in Clermont was one of just 170 in the United States named as an AVID National Demonstration School. AVID, which stands for advancement via individual determination, is a college readiness system aiming to close achievement gaps. Daily Commercial. Students at Naples Park Elementary School have a “breathe and stretch” room to participate in yoga before and during school. WBBH. The chorus at Lincoln High School in Tallahassee has been selected to perform the world premiere of a composition by composer Rachel Fuller, who is the wife of Who guitarist Pete Townshend. WFSU.