State tax projections improve but coronavirus aid won’t help much, pandemic thoughts and more

State budget outlook: Economists for the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research have issued slightly more favorable general revenue projections for the rest of this fiscal year and the next, but have not improved their forecast as much as the governor’s office would like. Citing gains by businesses outside the tourist industry, the economists cut the projected deficit between now and June 2022 by about $2.1 billion, or 39 percent of the original $5.4 billion deficit projection. They forecast the tourist industry to continue to struggle through 2021, and project Medicaid costs to be $1.2 billion higher than expected. General revenue, which includes sales taxes and corporate income taxes, provides much of the money to fund schools. Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, warned against taking the numbers too positively and said education funding could be trimmed. And little help is coming from the federal government. The coronavirus aid package sets aside $82 billion for K-12 and colleges and universities, but includes no direct aid for state and local governments. News Service of FloridaOrlando Sentinel. Politico Florida. FutureEd. Tampa Bay Times. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Chalkbeat.

Around the state: Mother and daughter teachers at a private school in Duval County died within days of each other of complications from the coronavirus, a simple writing assignment about the effect of the pandemic on students at a Pasco County private school has produced wisdom and humor, a Manatee school board member signs an affidavit saying the board relied on falsified information when deciding to take over a Palmetto charter school, more districts are reporting that students learning online are receiving failing grades at much higher rates than those in classrooms, a tentative contract agreement is reached between the Volusia County School District and its teachers, and the Brevard teachers union is asking the school board to honor two black teachers who lost their jobs and lives over their civil rights activism. 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: Officials from the Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe school districts said they do not expect to require students and employees to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, even after the vaccines become widely available next year. That choice will rest with students’ parents. Miami Herald.

Orange, central Florida: A high percentage of central Florida students taking classes online are failing or struggling, according to officials in the Orange, Osceola and Seminole school districts. In Orange County, officials said a “large portion” of the struggling students are online learners. In Osceola, 27 percent of remote-learners received a D or F on their report card and in Seminole, the number of online learners making adequate progress in language arts was 6 percentage points lower than for students in classrooms. “We are concerned at some of the struggles being experienced now due to the pandemic,” said Orange Superintendent Barbara Jenkins. “Where we were concerned previously … we are doubly concerned now.” School districts in south Florida have also reported a “COVID slide” among online learners. Orlando Sentinel.

Palm Beach: The number of F grades handed out to county K-12 students in the first quarter was nearly triple that from the same period a year ago, according to district officials. Administrators blame the widespread use of online learning, with many students tuning out and others unable to get online to take classes. Less than a third of middle and high school students are learning in classrooms, and most teachers are responsible for students learning both in-person and online. “We’ve had academic dips with kids in distance learning, definitely an increase from when we were all in brick and mortar (classrooms),” said deputy superintendent Keith Oswald. “Obviously there are numerous new challenges.” Palm Beach Post. The school district is proposing to build an elementary school in Boca Raton that will house nearly 1,000 students and open by late 2022. Boca Raton city commissioners are voting next month on transferring ownership of a 15-acre parcel for the school. The school is called 05-C, and would provide relief for overcrowding at Calusa and Verde elementary schools. Sun Sentinel. A middle school teacher has been arrested and charged with punching a 17-year-old boy in the face after a dispute in a parking lot Saturday in Palm Beach Gardens. Joey Santiago, 41, a math teacher at Jupiter Middle School, has been charged with child abuse with battery, burglary with battery and simple battery. Palm Beach Post. WPTV.

Duval: Mother and daughter teachers at a private school in Duval County have died of complications from the coronavirus. Marilyn Foshee, an 81-year-old preschool teacher at Trinity Christian Academy in Jacksonville, died last week. Her daughter, 44-year-old Julie Foshee-Knowell, who was the preschool director, died several days later. Both contracted the virus during the Thanksgiving break. WJXT. WJAX.

Pasco: A simple assignment for an 11th-grade English class at the Academy of the Lakes private school in Land O’Lakes quickly expanded to the whole school. The challenge was to answer, in six words, this question: How are you doing with the pandemic? Among the responses: Through our pain, we experience happiness; Alexa, change bedroom TV to Netflix; 12 years alive, 1,200 years home; Before isolation, I loved being alone; and It will be over in time. “All of a sudden, this lesson in diction and syntax became a platform for their voices,” said Kim Vreeland, the teacher who initiated the assignment. “What the children had to say is truly profound.” Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: Teachers union officials are urging the school board to honor two black teachers who lost their jobs in 1946 because of their civil rights activism in civil rights and their lives in 1951 when a bomb exploded under their bed. Harry and Harriette Moore were educators who lived in Mims and have sometimes been called the “first martyrs” of the modern civil rights movement. The union is calling on the board to posthumously reinstate them as teachers and include their story in the school curriculum. Board members said they generally support the idea, but have concerns that there could be legal consequences. Florida Today.

Volusia: The school district and its teachers union have tentatively agreed on a contract that increases starting teacher pay by $4,700, to $44,335, bumps any teacher not already making that up to that level, and provides a 2.5 percent increase to other veteran teachers who are already making $44,335 or more. “Is it the perfect deal? No,” said union president Elizabeth Albert. “But it’s a deal that will move us further along the road.” The agreement must be approved by teachers and the school board. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: School board chair Charlie Kennedy has signed an affidavit stating that the board relied on falsified evidence when it took control of Lincoln Memorial Academy in 2019. The Palmetto charter school received a water shutoff notification in June 2019, which prompted the board to cite financial mismanagement and seize control of the school. But the water bill was only 17 days delinquent, not the 45 the board was told. The city blamed a typo. Kennedy’s affidavit supports the federal civil rights complaint former school officials have filed against the district. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Leon: School officials said students won’t be required to get the coronavirus vaccination before the beginning of the next school year because the current vaccines are recommended only for children over the age of 16, and because the Florida Department of Health and Florida Department of Education determine what viruses students must be immunized against. Tallahassee Democrat.

More on the coronavirus: Teachers have been designated as “frontline essential workers” in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s plan for distributing coronavirus vaccinations. Those workers are defined as those “who are in sectors essential to the functioning of society and are at substantially higher risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2,” and are recommended to be immunized in Phase 1B, along with people over the age of 75. States may choose or ignore CDC guidance in creating their priority orders for vaccinations. WJXT. Education Week.

Testing concerns: Another request from educators and civil rights leaders to make statewide assessment tests optional has been rejected by the Florida Department of Education The letter was sent last week and received Friday by the DOE, which responded: (The Florida Department of Education) “fully intend[s] to stay the course with these assessments. We must remain committed to ensuring that their families are fully informed about their children’s educational needs — for us to advocate otherwise would be immoral and irresponsible,” said spokeswoman Taryn Fenske. “Districts and schools have been assessing students this entire school year, safely, and we will continue forward with these tools that inform students’ growth and the ways in which teachers guide instruction.” WLRN.

Spring education plans: Twenty-seven school districts have now gotten their spring semester education plans approved by the Florida Department of Education. Getting sign-off from the state since Monday were the plans for the Collier, Pasco and Putnam 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.