State revenue down sharply, school projects in jeopardy, reopening schools, retentions and more

State revenue in freefall: The state’s revenues dropped $878 million in April, according to the latest Office of Economic and Demographic Research report of sales tax collection, corporate income tax, highway safety fees and corporate filing fees. Sales tax collections, which make up the largest part of the budget and provide most of the money for education, were down $598 million, or 24 percent below estimates. “The presence of coronavirus in Florida presented its most serious threat to the sales tax forecast, especially to those taxes collected from tourists,” according to the monthly revenue report. Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said he expects the losses will continue into May, but contends the state has made “sound financial decisions” that helped the state boost reserve funding. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. Brevard County school improvement projects are in jeopardy due to a projected drop of about $11.6 million in sales tax surcharge revenue through next February, district officials told the school board. Florida Today. States around the country are reporting tax revenue declines of 25-33 percent in April, said Michael Leachman at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, leading to predictions of a financial meltdown for public K-12 school districts. NPR.

Reopening schools: Escambia and Santa Rosa school district leaders are weighing the pros and cons of three options for reopening schools in the fall. They say the best-case scenario is that students simply return to schools. The worst-case, according to teachers, is a continuation of online learning. The third scenario, which is considered the most likely to happen, is to have most students return to schools and offer the option of virtual classes to students whose parents are reluctant to take the risk. Pensacola News Journal. Manatee County students can expect new rules on what they can wear and how they behave when schools reopen in the fall, according to district officials. The changes in the student code were part of a wide-ranging discussion on how best to proceed to safely have students in schools again. Bradenton Herald. Bay County schools are expected to reopen in the fall, but district officials are also planning to expand what is offered by the Bay Virtual School. Panama City News Herald. WMBB. WJHG. A task force will meet this week to discuss how to reopen Monroe County’s schools. Any plan will include the option for students to be schooled in-person or virtually, said Superintendent Theresa Axford. Key West Citizen. The Indian River County School District is planning on have students in classrooms with social distancing in the fall, though online learning is still an option. School officials are still considering personal protection rules, and how to get students to and from school in a way that complies with safety guidelines. WPTV. A survey shows that 30 percent of St. Johns County teachers are “uncomfortable” about returning to schools. WJXT.

Holding back: More than 75 percent of U.S. principals think the education disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic will lower student achievement, but 84 percent still are against having students held back, according to a survey by the RAND Corp. Instead, the principals point to options such as tutoring, summer school or supplemental courses to help students catch up next year. The survey also indicated that teachers used half or less of the material for online instruction that they would have used in-person, and that both principals and teacher said they expect to focus on students’ social and emotional needs when schools resume in the fall. Education Dive.

School closes: The St. Joseph Academy in Lakeland has announced it is closing after 82 years in business. The Very Rev. Timothy LaBo, pastor of the Catholic church associated with the school, said the coronavirus pandemic brought financial devastation that led to a “serious impact on our re-enrollment numbers.” There were 162 students in K-8 grades. More than 100 used scholarships from the state to attend. Those scholarships are administered by Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog. redefinED. Lakeland Ledger. WTVT. The economic downtown is a growing threat to Florida’s private schools. Politico Florida.

More on the coronavirus: The Martin County School Board has been asked to reconsider its decision May 12 to cancel the district’s summer camps, now that Gov. Ron DeSantis has lifted restrictions on holding them. TCPalm. Marion County School Board members have approved reimbursements for parents and students at schools who have been unable to get refunds from vendors for events canceled at Lake Weir and North Marion high schools. Ocala Star-Banner. The Flagler County School District is honoring past graduates who went on to work in the health-care industry or as first responders by posting their photos and bios on the district’s social media pages. Flagler Live. Tampa Bay area school districts, and Manatee County’s, are preparing their food distribution programs for the summer. WFTS. WWSB. English language learners lost critical classroom time when schools went to online teaching, and many districts are considering increasing online instruction and mixing it with in-person instruction when schools resume. Chalkbeat.

Free classes offered: Tallahassee Community College is offering up to six credit hours of online courses free to graduating high school seniors and rising juniors and seniors. Students must be a graduate from Leon, Gadsden or Wakulla counties, have a 3.0 high school GPA or college level ACT/SAT scores and they must complete the 2019-20 Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, or be a junior or senior from schools in those counties. The deadline to apply is June 3. Tallahassee Democrat.

Civics literacy test protested: A coalition of educators, families and nonprofits is appealing the Florida Board of Education’s decision to accept a multiple-choice test as an option to fulfill the state’s college-level civic literacy requirement. To pass, students would have to correctly answer just 60 of the 100 questions on the Florida Civic Literacy Test, which is an adaptation of the test given to immigrants who want to become citizens. No college classes would be required. Florida Phoenix.

Charter school approved: St. Lucie County School Board members have approved a five-year contract with the Renaissance Charter High School at St. Lucie, which would open in the fall of 2021. The approval was granted despite Superintendent Wayne Gent’s concerns about equity. The school is not required to provide transportation, which Gent said can lead to economic and racial disparities. TCPalm.

School expansions: Expansion projects have been approved at four Nassau County schools. Yulee High and Yulee Middle will get a new classroom building and other improvements, two classroom buildings will be added at Wildlight Elementary, and the parent pickup lane at Callahan Intermediate School will be extended. Fernandina Beach News-Leader.

Education podcast: Eric Hall, senior chancellor for the Florida Department of Education, talks with Step Up For Students president Doug Tuthill about ramping up virtual schooling, ways to prevent achievement gaps during online instruction, and how to realign resources to get technology into the hands of more families. redefinED.

Superintendent and politics: Okaloosa County school Superintendent Marcus Chambers has waded into national politics by posting a video on Twitter criticizing Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden for a remark last week. “I tell you, if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black,” Biden said in an interview. He later apologized, saying he “shouldn’t have been such a wise guy.” Chambers wondered how Biden could question someone else’s “blackness in times when we should be bringing the country together,” then added that he was “proud of my black heritage. I’m proud to be an American, and I’m proud to support President Donald Trump.” The Floridian.

Employees and the law: The assistant principal at Stanton College Preparatory School in Jacksonville is back at the school after charges of domestic battery and aggravated battery were dropped May 18. Sonya Elizabeth Rahming was reassigned to a job with no student contact after her arrest in April, but was reinstated at Stanton on May 20. Florida Times-Union.

School vandalized: Police are looking for a naked man who broke into Miramar High School in Broward County on Monday and caused about $100,000 in damage before leaving 22 hours later. He broke computers, painted graffiti on walls and flooded some areas of the school, police said. Miami Herald. WSVN. WFOR.

Opinions on schools: Should students be graded during the pandemic? Yes, because without some measure of how children finished the year, teachers will not be able to match instruction to each child’s needs. Jonathan Butcher, redefinED. What better gift could there be for the Class of 2020 than to launch them into a world where they can count on the rest of us being their “emotional support humans”? Frank Cerabino, Palm Beach Post.

Student enrichment: Students at the manufacturing academy at Pine Ridge High School in Deltona are making parts that will eventually be used in the International Space Station. They’re producing suitcase access doors, which were described by instructor Jim Maynard as “panels that allow the astronauts to interact with whatever’s inside the suitcases, whether it’s a piece of equipment or experiment.” WOFL.