Budget projections squabble, Hillsborough’s financial worries, coronavirus aid package and more

Revenue projections spat: State economists are fighting over revenue projections that will be used to settle on a budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year. Economists working for Gov. Ron DeSantis are pushing for more optimistic forecasts for sales tax and corporate income tax collections, theorizing that tourist revenues will recover quickly now that coronavirus vaccines are becoming available. But economists for the Office of Economic and Demographic Research and the Department of Revenue have a more conservative outlook, and said there’s not enough evidence of the rebound in corporate income taxes that the governor’s office is predicting. The two sides couldn’t resolve their differences, and will meet again today. Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, has warned that budget cuts are coming, and singled out education. “Clearly, that is a place where we spent a lot of resources when we had times of plenty. And now that we’re in times of lean, that’s something we’re going to have to look at,” he said last month. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida.

Coronavirus aid package: Congress has come to an agreement on a $908 billion coronavirus relief package that includes $82 billion for K-12 schools, colleges and universities. About $54 billion would go to K-12 schools, $23 billion to colleges and universities, $4 billion to governors for the emergency education relief fund, and almost $1 billion for Native American schools. The bill also includes an expansion of federal Pell Grants, simplification of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and payments of $600 to most Americans. A vote is expected today. Associated Press. The Hill. Washington Post. New York Times.

Coronavirus in schools: The Florida Department of Health reported 4,256 new coronavirus cases last week in K-12 schools, colleges and universities, bringing the total number of cases since Sept. 6 to 38,151. More than 3,900 of last week’s cases were in K-12 schools, and about 2,900 of those were of students. Florida Phoenix.

Around the state: Hillsborough community leaders gathered last week to discuss the deteriorating financial condition of the school district, more than 20,000 Palm Beach County students haven’t made adequate progress learning online and are likely to be placed back in classrooms for the second semester, a national digital privacy nonprofit said the Pasco sheriff is violating federal education privacy laws by using student data to identify potential future criminals, more districts are reporting increases in coronavirus cases, and Gov. DeSantis has appointed Russell Hogan to fill a vacancy on the Sumter County School Board. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade, Broward, Monroe: Coronavirus cases continue to rise in south Florida school districts. The Miami-Dade district has had 2,641 confirmed cases since schools reopened Oct. 5. Broward has counted 1,173 since the first day Oct. 9, and Monroe has confirmed 137 since schools resumed in August. Miami Herald.

Hillsborough: More than a dozen community leaders met last week to discuss the dire financial condition of the school district and the possibility that the state could put the district into receivership. The district is expected to fall below the 3 percent requirement of reserve funds in reserve this month, and is projected to show a negative balance by the end of May. Superintendent Addison Davis will present a corrective plan at a Jan. 12 workshop session. While the state has given no public indication that it’s considering a receivership for the district, the word came up in last week’s meeting. “The word receivership hasn’t been tossed around previously,” said education advocate Damaris Allen. “That’s what caught my attention.” Tampa Bay Times.

Palm Beach: About 22,000 county students learning remotely but not making adequate academic progress could be be heading back into classrooms in the second semester unless their parents object, according to district officials. And if the district can find another 3,300 students who have not made an appearance online or in schools, they also will be assigned to classrooms. Palm Beach Post. A former teacher at Boca Raton Middle School has her teaching license suspended for six months by the state for making disparaging remarks to students. Susan Oyer threatened to inform immigration about some students, and told others that she was “surprised your parents haven’t thrown you to a wall,” among other things. She resigned last spring as part of a settlement that prohibits her from working for the district again. In addition to having her license suspended, Oyer must pay a $1,000 fine and take a course on classroom management if she wants to teach again. Sun Sentinel.

Duval: Cassie Peniza, a senior at Frank H. Peterson Academies of Technology in Jacksonville, has been handing out “kindness bags” since last year as a way to honor school shooting victims. The bags contain treats, and pictures and facts about victims. She handed out 600 this semester, and followed up with wall posters about suicide, gun violence and bullying. WJAX.

Polk: A father whose disabled 13-year-old daughter was beaten into unconsciousness by another student at Lake Gibson Middle School last month said the district is refusing to allow her to transfer to Berkley Prep, a charter school in Auburndale, or Jewett Academy, a public school in Winter Haven. Gregory Lemire said the district advised him to apply for a Hope Scholarship for bullied children, but he refused to do so unless the girl could go to one of his two schools of choice. District officials declined to comment. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: A school district employee has been arrested and accused of possessing and sharing more than 18,000 images of child pornography. Charles Daniel Paul, 32, had been the food services manager at Belleair Elementary School, but resigned after his arrest. Officers said they don’t think any of the pornographic images were of students at the school. Tampa Bay Times.

Pasco: The use of student data to identify potential future criminals by the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office is a violation of its contract with the school district and of the federal education privacy law, according to a legal analysis by the Future of Privacy Forum, a national digital privacy nonprofit. The sheriff’s office has culled student grades, absences, disciplinary records and even friends to create a list of about 420 potential future criminals as of November. School officials had no comment on the group’s analysis, and the sheriff’s office said it “continues to stand by this program that keeps students safe.” Tampa Bay Times.

Volusia, Flagler: One hundred new coronavirus cases were reported last week in the Volusia and Flagler school districts. Volusia had 71 cases, and Flagler 29. Since Sept. 6, 825 cases have been counted. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

St. Johns: The school is following the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and cutting the coronavirus quarantine period from 14 days to 10. The latest changes in protocol are causing some confusion in the district and for parents, district officials said. “Every time the CDC makes a change, it’s very hard to shift gears,” said Melissa Kledzik, the district’s director of health services. “It takes a little explaining to parents.” St. Augustine Record.

Sarasota, Manatee: Both the Sarasota and Manatee school districts recorded their highest weekly totals of coronavirus cases last week. Sarasota had 61 students and 19 employees test positive, sending 1,074 people in quarantine. Manatee counted 57 cases. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lorenzo Liberti, a sophomore at Lakewood Ranch High School in Manatee County, has been named a GoFundMe “kid hero”  of the month for raising money for homeless veterans and health-care workers. Liberti was inspired to act after meeting and talking with a homeless veteran last year. Bradenton Herald. An employee in the Sarasota County School District’s communications department has been arrested and accused of possessing child pornography. Stanley Roderick Fetsch, 42, is a broadcast cable technician on the school district’s Education Channel. He’s been placed on leave. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Escambia: Quarantine protocols for students and district employees will change during the second semester. Starting Jan. 25, students will be allowed back at school on their 11th day of quarantine if they don’t have coronavirus symptoms, or even the eighth day if they have tested negative on the sixth day or later. But students who were exposed still must quarantine for 14 days from extracurricular activities. WEAR.

Leon: Principals have submitted wish lists of projects they would like to see started at their schools through the capital outlay program. Most include classroom renovations and covering walkways. A capital outlay committee will review the requests and make recommendations. About $48 million a year is set aside for capital projects, but about 50 percent of it pays off existing debt and such things as maintenance, transportation and the purchase of technology such as Chromebooks. Tallahassee Democrat.

Walton: The school district will receive a $3,846,000 grant from the Triumph Gulf Coast board to create information technology and health care certification programs such as nursing and phlebotomy. Triumph was set up to distribute money received in a settlement after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 to stimulate economic development in the eight northwest Florida counties most affected. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Sumter: Businessman Russell Hogan has been appointed by Gov. DeSantis to fill the vacancy on the Sumter County School Board created by the July death of Jennifer Boyett. Hogan, 46, is the president of R. Hogan Construction in Bushnell. Florida Politics.

Spring education plans: Twenty-four school districts have now gotten their spring semester education plans approved by the Florida Department of Education. Getting sign-off from the state since Friday were the plans for the FAU Lab School, Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, Lafayette, Lee, Marion, Pinellas, Polk, Seminole, St. Lucie and Wakulla school districts. Plans from each district were due last week to be reviewed and approved by the state, or sent back for revisions. Florida Department of Education.

In the Legislature: House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, has announced appointments to education committee and subcommittees. One new wrinkle is the selection of a whip to manage education issues. Rep. Alex Andrade, R-Pensacola, will count votes and work on communicating key issues among the 78 members of the GOP caucus. Tampa Bay Times. News Service of Florida.

Around the nation: President-elect Joe Biden has had a close relationship with teachers unions. How might that affect his decisions on key education decisions? Politico.

Opinions on schools: Home-schooling, once a “fringe” concept, is now firmly embraced by the mainstream, and will continue to be a safe haven for parents looking to provide stability for their children. John Edelson, Sun Sentinel. The Legislature should provide the means for school districts to recoup taxpayer dollars if a charter school is built with public money and the building is later sold. Susan Aertker, Florida Times-Union. I believe in school choice. But I also believe in accountability. And there’s no good reason to let publicly funded schools hire unqualified teachers — or hide that information. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. A new study confirms that alongside reopening schools, which science shows are not sources of significant coronavirus transmission, school choice policies can help heal the mental health crisis plaguing youth. Brad Palumbo, Washington Examiner.