State issues schools reopening guidance, federal aid criteria change benefits existing charters and more

State’s reopening guidance: Florida’s schools have been given the go-ahead from the state to fully reopen in the fall, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday, because there was no substitute for face-to-face learning and keeping students home prevents parents from returning to work and therefore the economy from restarting. The state’s 143-page plan recommends social distancing as much as possible, extensive school cleaning, avoiding sharing books and supplies, possibly having students wear masks on school buses, converting large spaces like gymnasiums and cafeterias into classroom space and more. But DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran stressed that the decisions on how to best reopen schools will be left to each school district, and several have already chosen to ease back into in-person schooling. DeSantis also announced that nearly $1 billion in federal aid will be used to address learning loss, bolster early education programs and chip away at closing the achievement gap that has worsened during the coronavirus pandemic. “Going after the achievement gap in the way he is, is a game changer,” Corcoran said. News Service of Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Miami Herald. Sun Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. Orlando Sentinel. Tallahassee Democrat. Politico Florida. WFSU. WFLA. WTVT. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Florida Today. Space Coast Daily. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Flagler Live. Florida Politics. Florida Phoenix. Associated Press. WJXT. WFOR. Spectrum News 13WTLV. WFTV. WSVN. WTXL. Students who were already at-risk have been probably been disproportionately affected by remote learning, according to the report, and DeSantis has set aside $64 million to improve reading skills for struggling K-5 students. WKMG. Private schools are in line to receive about $15 million, and the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program could get up to $30 million if corporate contributions continue to decline. That money is part of the $173.6 million in federal aid that can be used at the governor’s discretion. redefinED.

Help for existing charters: Florida will be allowed to repurpose $10 million in federal aid to help existing charter schools buy equipment for remote learning, U.S. assistant education secretary Frank Brogan has told the state Department of Education. The federal aid was earmarked to help start new charter schools, but Florida and several other states asked permission to redirect it. In his request, Florida Education Commissioner Corcoran wrote, “Essentially, as public schools face a growing crisis from the threat of COVID-19 and increasingly plan for virtual instruction for the foreseeable future, the FDOE wants to equip all Florida charter schools that meet the federal definition of a charter school, to the extent possible, with a one-to-one student-to-device ratio.” Charter advocates have said there weren’t enough new charter schools being created to spend all the money set aside for help fund start-ups. Chalkbeat.

The impact of charters: The presence of charter schools does not negatively affect students at nearby traditional public school, according to a new study by the Manhattan Institute, a New York-based think tank that champions free-market issues such as school choice. Marcus Winter, a senior fellow at the institute, found that charter schools have either a positive impact or no impact on the academic performance of students at traditional public schools. Winters acknowledged it’s possible that’s due to the presence of charters forcing traditional public schools to respond in ways that boost achievement. redefinED. Manhattan Institute.

Looking for federal aid: American schools are in dire financial shape because of the coronavirus, and educators are anxiously waiting to see if Congress is able to pass another stimulus bill and, if it can, how much will be earmarked for education. A Learning Policy Institute analysis said plummeting tax revenues and rising expenses add up to K-12 schools and universities being $230 billion short of covering expenses over the next two years. Educators are asking Congress for $250 billion from the next stimulus package. Chalkbeat.

Grading states on finances: Florida received an overall grade of D-plus in the school finance installment of Education Week’s Quality Counts 2020 rating of the states. The grade was calculated from school spending patterns and the equity in the distribution of funding across the districts in each state. The state was given an F in spending for how much funding it committed to education, but was first among the states with an A-minus in equity as measured by the way funds are distributed among districts. Education Week.

More on the coronavirus: Anti-racism education will be required for all incoming freshmen and transfer students, the University of North Florida announced Thursday. Whitney Meyer, who had been working in the president’s office, has been named the school’s new position of vice president of diversity and inclusion. WJXT. Florida Times-Union. More than 75 percent of Citrus County parents are comfortable with their children returning to school in August, according to a school district survey. Citrus County Chronicle. In Bay County, 70 percent of parents want their children to return to schools, but school officials think as many as 25 percent of student will choose to continue with remote learning. WJHG. Polk County school officials are asking parents what steps they think should be taken to reopen schools safely. Lakeland Ledger. Lake County school officials are disputing a social media post claiming schools won’t open in the fall, releasing a statement that reads, “While there are still some uncertainties about next school year, we do expect to reopen in the fall with safety protocols. Exactly how that will look remains to be seen.” Villages-News. Hillsborough County Superintendent Addison Davis talks about reopening schools, cleaning, busing and more. Gradebook. Bay County students will continue to get free breakfasts and lunches during the 2020-2021 school year. Panama City News Herald. Parents of Lake County students who register with the district may now pick up meals without having the student present. Daily Commercial. Martin County school leaders are asking the community to help make masks for students and school employees. WPTV.

Hope Scholarships: Florida education officials expect that proposed changes in the reporting requirements of bullying incidents in schools will lead to more students applying for the Hope Scholarships. Districts would have to regularly report how many Hope notification forms they’ve given to parents. State law already requires them to give out the forms when incidents are reported, but many parents say they learned about the program elsewhere. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, administers the scholarship program. redefinED.

District drops food contract: The Lee County School District has canceled its contract with Oakes Farm to provide school lunches because of Facebook posts made by the farm’s owner. Protesters called for the district to cut ties with the farm after owner Alfie Oakes wrote that the coronavirus and the Black Lives Matter movement were hoaxes, and that George Floyd was a “disgraceful career criminal.” Fort Myers News-Press.

PTA meeting hacked: About 230 parents were tuned into a Pasco County School District meeting discussing plans for reopening schools when they were Zoom-bombed. Racist rants and pornographic images filled computer screens until the meeting was shut down. Tampa Bay Times.

Personnel moves: Barry Brown, who was an assistant principal at St. Petersburg High School, has been appointed principal at Gibbs High School, also in St. Petersburg. He replaces Reuben Hepburn, who is on medical leave. Tampa Bay Times.

School elections: Three people are in the race to become Bay County school superintendent. Bill Husfelt, who currently holds the job, has been in office 12 years. He’s being challenged by retired educator Judy Vandergrift and math teacher Frank Luke. WJHG.

Bond rating declines: The Fitch Ratings credit rating agency has given an AA- score to a $40 million Escambia County School District bond issue to build a new elementary school, and downgraded the outlook from stable to negative due to the uncertainty over potential budget cuts. Fitch Ratings.

Heat-related training: The Hillsborough County School District has announced a series of measures to prevent heat-related tragedies, and that it is paying $987,255 to the family of Hezekiah Walters as a result of his heat-related death a year ago Thursday. Walters, 14, collapsed and died during spring football workouts at Middleton High School. The district will require cooling tubs and an athletic trainer at every high school, and training for coaches and student-athletes on how to recognize and treat heat-related illnesses. Tampa Bay Times. WUSF.

Junior Olympics site: The Brevard County School Board is supporting placing the 2020 Amateur Athletic Union Junior Olympics Games at Satellite High School. The AAU was interested in Viera High School to host the track and field events, but board members are concerned that improvements now being made at Viera could be completed before the games begin during the last week in July and continue into the first week in August. Florida Today. Florida Phoenix.

Opinions on schools: Police unions have blocked reform attempts. So have teachers unions. Is that why they’ve been so silent? Mike Antonucci, The 74. As a black teacher who educates black students, I call up the Miami-Dade School District to join the global fight against racial oppression. Kalyn Lee, Miami Herald.