Federal aid for schools, budget assessments, new superintendent, district joins vaping suit and more

Federal aid for schools: The federal coronavirus relief package will provide $3 billion to K-12 schools in the United States, and $173 million of that is going to Florida, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced Tuesday. Governors will have latitude on how to hand out the money, though DeVos said it should be spent on “continuing education for students of all ages” while schools are closed and students are taking classes online. “Governors have the opportunity to truly rethink and transform the approach to education during this national emergency and ensure learning continues,” DeVos said. States will have to apply for the money, but the department said they should receive the money within three working days after applying. Politico. Tampa Bay Times. It will be at least another month before the state has a clear picture of how badly the coronavirus pandemic has affected state tax revenue, said Amy Baker, coordinator of the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research. “At this point, what we do know is far outweighed by the assumptions we would need to make,” she said. “There are still too many key questions for which there are no current answers. This would make any attempt to begin revising the estimates earlier than mid-May speculative, at best.” Meanwhile, Moody’s Analytics is predicting the crisis could wipe out the state’s reserves and force significant budget cuts. News Service of Florida.

New superintendent: Diane Gullett was the unanimous choice of the Marion County School Board to become the district’s first appointed school superintendent. “I am truly honored and humble and look for to work with all of you and the community,” she said after the selection was announced on Tuesday. Gullett, a deputy superintendent for Clark County School District in Las Vegas, was chosen over Heath Morrison, a division president with McGraw-Hill publishing in Charlotte, N.C. Gullett will replace Heidi Maier, who was elected in 2016 and whose term ends in November. In 2018, voters decided to switch to an appointed superintendent. Ocala Star-Banner. WMFE. Spectrum News 13.

District joins vaping suit: Pinellas County School Board members will join other districts in Florida and around the nation in suing a manufacturer of e-cigarettes. The Palm Beach, Brevard and Seminole districts are already among the nearly 100 in the United States suing Juul Labs for the damage e-cigarettes are doing to students and to recover the costs they’re incurring in dealing with the consequences of vaping. The number of students enrolled in the Pinellas tobacco clinic because of smoking offenses at schools has gone up 738 percent in the past two years, district officials said. Gradebook.

Sales tax hike on ballot: The Jacksonville City Council voted 18-1 on Tuesday to place a Duval County School District request for a half-cent hike in the sales tax on the November ballot. The school district said it needs the money to replace and repair schools. The tax is projected to generate about $1.2 billion over its 15-year life. The district and school board have battled since last year over putting the question before voters. The city council rejected the school board’s request, prompting the board to sue and leading to a settlement. WJXT. Florida Politics. WJAX. Florida Times-Union.

On schools reopening: Add the state’s largest teachers union to the groups urging Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to keep schools closed for the rest of this academic year. In a letter, Florida Education Association president Fedrick Ingram argued that the “potential damage” from reopening schools “far outweighs the inconvenience of continuing distance learning. … As much as our students and educators want the opportunity to be back at our schools, returning prematurely will threaten the safety and well being of all on campus.” Schools closed in mid-March, and are scheduled to remain shuttered through May 1. DeSantis recently broached the topic of reopening the school next month, saying, “We’re going to look at the evidence and make a decision. If it’s safe we want kids to be in school. … Even if it’s for a couple of weeks, we think there would be value in that.” Tuesday, DeSantis said he’s appointing a task force this week that will make recommendations for “Phase 2” of the crisis, including what to do about schools. News Service of Florida. Orlando Sentinel. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Politics. WKMG. Florida Phoenix. Volusia County Superintendent Scott Fritz told school board members on Tuesday that the district is making preparations to continue online classes through May 29. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Online learning concerns: Despite efforts to get all students a laptop and Internet access to attend online classes, a Palm Beach County School District report discloses that students from the poorest schools are taking part in those classes far less often than other students. The online participation difference is as much as 30 percentage points between schools, and seems to confirm fears that distance learning is increasing the socioeconomic learning gap. “The economics is an issue here. You’re talking about income, poverty,” said deputy superintendent Keith Oswald. “This shines a huge light on our next steps as a community.” Palm Beach Post. A study from the Oregon-based research nonprofit NWEA suggests that “current school closures due to the COVID-19 global pandemic could result in substantially lower achievement levels for students.” Florida Phoenix.

Graduation ceremonies: If graduation ceremonies can’t be held as scheduled at the end of May for Volusia County high schools, they will be rescheduled for the week of July 6, district officials announced Tuesday. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WKMG. WOFL. Duval County School District Superintendent Diana Greene said Tuesday that traditional graduation ceremonies are still on — for now. That’s also true for the Nassau County School District. In Columbia County, school officials said if the ceremonies can’t take place as scheduled they will be moved into the summer, even as late as August. WJXT.

More on the coronavirus: A Palm Beach County charter school principal who was recently diagnosed with the coronavirus has died. Reno Boffice, principal of the K-12 Palm Beach Maritime Academy in Lantana, died Tuesday. He was 61. Palm Beach Post. WPTV. WPEC. About 10,000 of the 32,000-plus laptops distributed by the state are going to students in the Florida Panhandle. In Liberty County, 77 percent of students will receive one, and Gadsden County students will also get one per household to attend online classes that begin this week. WFSU. WTXL. Teachers at the Plantation Key School in Islamorada collaborate on a YouTube video cover of the Bruno Mars song You Can Count on Me for school students. WPEC. School districts, organizations and individuals continue to feed low-income students while schools are closed. Florida Department of AgricultureFlorida Department of Education. WPEC. Fort Myers News-Press. Palm Beach Post.

New era board meetings: Brevard County School Board members met for the first time Tuesday under new rules that permit members to attend virtually and do not allow members of the public to attend in person. Comments from the public were recorded in advance and played for board members, and the meeting was televised and live-streamed. Florida Today. The St. Johns County School Board held its first virtual meeting using a conference call application. Residents were able to phone in with questions, and one parent urged the board to keep classes online for the remainder of the school year. St. Augustine Record. Lake County School Board members agreed to spend $14,000 that had been budgeted for the now-canceled Grad Bash celebration to a new fund that schools will use to throw parties for their senior students. Daily Commercial.

No school shootings reported: Last month was reportedly the first March since 2002 in which no school shootings were reported in the United States, according to a Washington Post reporter. Of course, most U.S. schools were closed for part or all of the month because of the coronavirus outbreak. The Hill.

Florida Virtual School: About 150 students in Alaska are now taking classes provided by Florida Virtual School under a $525,000 contract. The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development said it needed an online learning solution, and turned to FLVS after a recommendation from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. FLVS will lead online classes through June 30, then begin training Alaska’s teachers to lead the courses that will use the FLVS curriculum. Politico Florida.

Charter school change? A group that includes a former NFL player from Manatee County has applied to take over operation of Lincoln Memorial Academy, a charter school that was itself was taken over last year by the Manatee County School District because of the school’s deteriorating financial situation. Florida Prep Academies Inc. has applied to take over operation of the Palmetto school and rename it Lincoln Memorial Prep Academy. Brian Poole, who played football at Southeast High School and the University of Florida before joining the New York Jets, would be president of the school’s governing board. District officials said they’ll consider the application once legal issues are settled. Officials at the charter school sued the school board, alleging discrimination in the takeover. An administrative law judge backed the board, but the former school officials are appealing to a state court. Bradenton Herald.

Notable deaths: Cody Hughes, a former star athlete at Lakewood Ranch High School and a football and wrestling coach at several high schools in Sarasota and Manatee counties, has died at the age of 32. The cause of death was not disclosed. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Bradenton Herald.