31 Florida districts at high risk for budget cuts, special session, reopening schools and more

At-risk for budget cuts: About half of the nation’s 13,000 school districts, including districts within Florida, could be forced to make deep budget cuts because of the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent economic fallout, according to an Education Week analysis. Districts most at risk are those with large number of low-income residents, with heavy black and Hispanic student enrollments, and that get more than half their money from their states rather than local sources such as property taxes and special levies. Education Week. Thirty-one Florida counties are judged to be at high risk for budget cuts because they get between 50 percent and 81 percent of their funding from the state. Dixie and Holmes are the most vulnerable, at 81 percent and 80 percent, respectively. Ten districts that get 23 percent or less of their money from the state are judged at low risk. Monroe and Sarasota counties are the least vulnerable, at 12 percent and 14 percent, respectively. The rest of the districts fall in the moderate category, getting 30-49 percent funding from the state. Counties in this group include Dade, Broward, Pinellas and Orange. Education Week.

Special session: Any possibility for a special session of the Florida Legislature to deal with the impending budget crisis caused by the coronavirus outbreak will hinge on whether Congress decides to provide federal aid for states to cover lost revenue, Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Monday. State sales tax collections were down 25 percent in March, and are expected to plunge even further when April’s numbers are reported. About 80 percent of the state’s revenue comes from those taxes, and most of it goes to education and health care. The Legislature passed a $93.2 billion budget in March, but DeSantis has held off reviewing it. It takes effect July 1. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. Incoming Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Spring Hill, said Monday a special legislative session isn’t needed, though he may reconsider that position in June. He said the state’s $4 billion in reserves will see it through the budget issues caused by the virus. Fresh Take Florida.

Reopening schools: Four options for reopening Leon County schools have been offered by Superintendent Rocky Hanna to the school board. Schools could resume fulltime in August, or half the students could return to the classrooms, or half the students could return but go back home for online learning if the coronavirus erupts in a second wave, or students could continue to take classes remotely. The board will continue to discuss the proposal and set up a work group to plan out whichever option is chosen. Tallahassee Democrat. Twenty-one former state education commissioners release a blueprint for reopening U.S. schools in the fall. The 74. A poll shows that about 67 percent of U.S. parents favor schools remaining closed until there is no health risk to return. The 74.

Parochial schools and courts: The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Monday on two discrimination cases that could determine if teachers at parochial schools are exempt from the nation’s fair employment laws. The cases involve two California teachers who were fired. One claims age discrimination, and the other said she was fired after telling her supervisor she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. The schools are arguing that both teachers are essentially ministers, and therefore are not eligible for protection under federal employment laws. NPR.

Graduation plans: The Miami-Dade County School District has released its schedule for virtual graduation ceremonies June 8-16. The ceremonies will be streamed live. District officials said they also would hold celebrations at each high school if public health guidelines permit. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR. In-person Polk County high school graduations will be held June 6-20 at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, school officials have announced. Social distancing will be maintained, face masks will be required, no handshaking is permitted, and all graduates, their guests and school staff will have their temperatures checked. The ceremonies also will be shown on the district’s YouTube channel. Lakeland Ledger. The Brevard County School District has canceled its scheduled graduations in May and is looking at the week of June 22 for in-person graduation ceremonies, school officials said on Monday. Florida Today. Plans for graduation ceremonies have been announced for eight central Florida school districts. WESH. WFTV. Many Florida high school seniors said they would rather see commencement canceled rather than have virtual ceremonies. Florida Phoenix.

Summer school: Summer school for Pasco County students will be online and targeted at those students considered to be at-risk. “We want to make sure we aren’t moving kids from course to course with big learning gaps,” said Vanessa Hilton, the district’s chief academic officer. “The summer will really be focused on instruction.” Students in line for special attention are about 800 3rd-graders who haven’t mastered reading well enough to be promoted, 800 or so 8th-graders who are short of courses to move to high school, and about 3,000 high school students who failed a course and need to make up the credits. Tampa Bay Times.

Staying connected: An average of 95 percent of Citrus County students are staying connected with their teachers and schools, district officials have announced. About 825 of the district’s 15,000 students have struggled with getting online, and district employees have been reaching out to them to help . Citrus County Chronicle.

Money for charters: In March 2018, Manatee County voters approved an increase in property taxes to be used for higher teacher pay, expanding programs and to “support charter schools.” How much support is now the question the school board is reconsidering. Charlie Kennedy said enrollment has been going up in charter schools, so they should receive a larger percentage of the money generated by the tax. Enrollment in charters was 14.1 percent of the district’s total in 2018, but it’s up to 16.2 percent now. Charters receive 14.5 percent of the extra tax money. Bradenton Herald.

Property tax election: Sarasota County School Board members are divided about when to ask voters to renew an extra 1-mill property tax for the school district for another four years. The past pattern has been to hold a special election in the spring. But board members Bridget Ziegler and Eric Robinson are pushing to put the measure on the November ballot, arguing that it saves the district the estimated $350,000 cost of having a special election, and gives more voters a chance to decide on the renewal. Board member Jane Goodwin said she was concerned about changing what has been a successful formula, and that the cost is minimal for the return, estimated at $240 million. The issue comes up again at the May 19 workshop. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Metal detector for board: The Marion County School Board has tentatively approved the purchase of a walk-through metal detector at the entrance of the building where board meetings are held. A final vote on the $3,475 expense is scheduled at the board’s May 26 meeting. After walking through the detector, people will be checked again by school security employees with hand-held detectors. Ocala Star-Banner.

Notable deaths: Bill Malone, who stepped in as the interim Palm Beach County school superintendent for nine months in 2011 and was also a respected environmentalist, has died at the age of 77. Palm Beach Post.

Opinions on schools: Although challenging financial times will affect states’ ability to hold existing education funding levels steady and further invest in those funding formulas, policymakers should provide support and flexibility that allow school leaders to maximize state and local investments. Nathan Hoffman, The 74. It’s time for influential members of the U.S. Senate like Marco Rubio to start including schools and teachers in their discussions about the next federal aid bill. The future of our children – and of our economy – depends on them doing so. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. The coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated the value of education savings accounts. Jonathan Butcher, redefinED.