Bill would streamline state’s K-12 scholarships, school satisfaction survey, top teachers and more

In the Legislature: The state’s K-12 scholarship program would be streamlined from five programs to two and flexible spending options would be added under a bill filed Thursday in the Senate. S.B. 48, sponsored by state Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, folds the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship and Hope Scholarship programs into the Family Empowerment Scholarship, and merges the McKay and Gardiner scholarships for students with special needs into a single program that will bear both names. Enrollment caps and eligibility criteria remain largely unchanged. Families could also choose to receive scholarship money in education savings accounts, which would allow them to buy pre-approved services and equipment as well as pay for private school tuition. “During the past year, our scholarship families let us know that they wanted programs that were easier to understand and simpler to navigate,” Diaz said. “They also told us that they wanted more flexibility so they could give their children access to high quality education while continuing to keep them safe during the pandemic. This bill represents our effort to respond to those concerns and improve all our school choice programs by making them more family friendly.” If the bill passes, the changes would take effect next fall. Democrats who oppose the expansion of school choice vowed to “fight like hell” against the bill. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the scholarships. redefinED. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Politics. Capital Soup. A bill was filed Thursday that would strip in-state college tuition benefits for undocumented immigrants. H.B. 6037, sponsored by state Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, would repeal a 2014 state law extending the benefits to undocumented students who attended a Florida high school for three years and had graduated in the past two years. Florida Today. Florida Politics.

School satisfaction: Families of private school students are happier with the performance of their schools during the pandemic than public school parents are, according to a new survey from the publication Education Next. Private school students are more likely to be learning in-person, and parents report lower levels of learning loss and lower negative impacts on the student’s social, emotional and physical well-being than parents of public school students, the survey found. Researchers also concluded there is no “evidence that greater use of in-person learning contributed to the spread of the virus across the United States.” redefinED.

Around the state: Teachers of the year were named in the Hillsborough, Polk, Pinellas, Sarasota and Alachua school districts, Escambia County teachers and the school district settle their dispute over pay raises, a Broward principal could be suspended or demoted after being accused of making unwanted sexual advances to an employee, a Volusia school advisory committee is recommending the school move on from its Indian logo and mascot, and former Florida House speaker Will Weatherford was appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to the University of South Florida Board of Trustees. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: The district will provide coronavirus vaccinations for employees over the age of 65 on Saturday, by appointment only. WSVN. The principal at Driftwood High School in Hollywood could be suspended or demoted after he was accused of making unwanted sexual advances to a campus security officer at least four times between December 2018 and August 2020. Steven Williams was reassigned in August to a district administrative job while the district investigated the charges. A committee of district administrators unanimously recommended Williams be demoted, but it was overruled by Superintendent Robert Runcie’s chief of staff, Jeff Moquin, who suggested a 10-day suspension instead. Several school board members said they weren’t comfortable with that recommendation and voted to put off any decision until next month, after the case is further reviewed by district staff. Sun Sentinel. WPLG. WTVJ. A Davie private school student has won honorable mention for photography from the National YoungArts Foundation for an exhibit chronicling the life of her brother, who died of a burst aorta before he was a year old. Sheina-Ruth Skuy-Marcan is a 16-year-old sophomore at David Posnack Jewish Day School in Davie. Miami Herald.

Hillsborough: Laura Meehan, a music specialist at the Caminiti Exceptional Center in Tampa, has been named the Hillsborough County School District’s teacher of the year. She’s been at the school for five years. Others honored in a virtual ceremony Thursday night were Ida S. Baker diversity educator of the year Chardae Duffy, the library media specialist at the Woodson PK-8 Leadership Academy; and instructional support employee of the year Michael K. Helton, nutrition services manager at Dawson Elementary. Tampa Bay Times. Hillsborough County School District. An elementary school teacher has been arrested and charged with manslaughter after allegedly falling asleep and leaving her 8-month-old son unattended in a bathtub at their home in Plant City in September. When Yesica Boxtha, 23, a teacher at Burney Elementary School, returned to the bathroom, Mateo Montoya was unresponsive and later died at a hospital. Drowning was determined to be the cause of death. Boxtha is on leave pending a district investigation. Tampa Bay Times. WTVT.

Palm Beach: Students in the county’s Catholic schools who have traveled on planes will have to get a negative coronavirus test before returning to school or quarantining for 10 days if they aren’t tested, diocese school Superintendent Gary Gelo told parents in a letter this week. Sun Sentinel. WPTV.

Polk: Maude Graham, a 3rd-grade teacher at Rosabelle Blake Academy in Lakeland, has been chosen as the Polk County School District’s teacher of the year. Lisa Gill, a paraprofessional at Jesse Keen Elementary School in Lakeland, was selected as the district’s school-related employee of the year. There were seven finalists for each award. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: Sarah Painter, a 5th-grade teacher at Eisenhower Elementary School in Clearwater, has been named the Pinellas County School District’s teacher of the year. She’s been a teacher in the district since 2003. Also honored with “emerging teacher” awards at Thursday’s virtual ceremony were Patricia Wing of John Hopkins Middle School and Kourtney Chavez of James B. Sanderlin K-8. Tampa Bay Times. Pinellas County School District.

Lee: A family is suing the Southwest Florida Christian Academy after an accident during a physical education class at the school in 2019 left their 14-year-old son with a spinal injury that has limited his motion. The family’s attorney said the boy was injured when he and a student were play-fighting without supervision from the teacher who was talking on a phone at the time. WINK.

Volusia: The Edgewood Jr./Sr. High School advisory council unanimously recommended Thursday that the Merritt Island school retire its Indian nickname and logo. That recommendation now goes to district leaders for consideration, said school principal Jaqueline Ingratta. If it’s approved by them, the school’s student government association will research replacements. Florida Today.

Manatee: Pay raises for district administrators and other employees will be considered by the school board at next Tuesday’s meeting. Among the recommendations are a one-step raise on the salary level for hourly employees, 2 percent raises for school administrators, and a one-step boost for district administrators. The district approved raises for teachers and paraprofessionals two weeks ago, and is continuing negotiations with the union representing bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians and others. Bradenton Herald.

Collier: The Naples Classical Academy has consummated a deal to buy Fogg’s Nursery as a site to build a K-12 charter school in North Naples. Groundbreaking is Jan. 29, and the school is expected to open in August to 800 students in grades K-10. The 11th grade will be added in the second year and 12th grade the year after that, taking total enrollment to 1,200. Naples Daily News.

Sarasota: Kari Johnson, a kindergarten teacher at Fruitville Elementary School, has been named the Sarasota County School District’s teacher of the year. The other finalists were: Samantha Miller, a design teacher at Sarasota Military Academy Prep; Emily O’Brien Swope, a 4th- and 5th-grade language arts teacher at Alta Vista Elementary; and Becky Satterly, a math teacher and dropout prevention coordinator at Booker High. The district’s innovation award went to Stephanie Vlahakis, the positive behavior specialist at Wilkinson Elementary School. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Marion: School board members are considering two programs as a replacement for the Sanford Harmony social emotional learning program for K-5 students. Sanford Harmony, a free program, was dropped because of the way it depicted gender norms. Under consideration are the Caring School Community program, which carries a one-time cost of $200,000, and ReThink SEL, an online program that costs about $100,000 a year. Districts are required to provide a program that helps students manage emotions, show empathy and build healthy relationships. WMFE.

Escambia: The school district and the teachers union have reached an agreement on a new contract. The sides had been at an impasse for months over salaries for veteran teachers, but agreed to a deal late Wednesday night. Teachers on levels 1 through 9 of the salary scale will earn $43,500. Teachers between levels 10 and 16 will earn $43,900; those between 17 and 26 will be paid $44,100; and those between 27 and 28 will earn $44,500. Teachers at levels 29 through 67 will earn an $1,100 raise, those between 68 and 114 will earn a $1,300 raise; and those at level 115 and above will get a $1,500 raise. The agreement must be approved by union membership and the school board. Pensacola News Journal. WEAR.

Leon: School board members are considering donating a nearly 4-acre property near Swift Creek Middle School on the eastern side of Tallahassee to the state so it can be preserved as an American Indian burial site. “The site is really notable because it encapsulates about 12,000 years of Florida precolonial history,” state archaeologist Joshua Goodwin recently told the school board. If the donation is approved, a makeshift hut on the property known as known as the Bill’s Trail art lab will have to move. The lab, created by John Kalin, offers craft projects such as stone painting and making bracelets to students and others. Tallahassee Democrat.

Alachua: Nicole Harris, who has taught English and history at Gainesville High School for the past eight years, has been named the Alachua County School District’s teacher of the year. The other finalists were Mackenzie McNickle, who teaches math for gifted 2nd-graders through 5th-graders at Stephen Foster Elementary in Gainesville; and Amy Beres, who teaches music at Howard W. Bishop Middle in Gainesville. Gainesville Sun. Alachua County School District.

Gadsden: Shanks Middle School in Quincy is reopening today after being closed since Wednesday after a water line broke. Until water tests can be analyzed, the school will supply bottled water for students and staff, and meals will be brought from another school. WTXL.

Baker: A 17-year-old senior at Baker County High School is in stable condition after collapsing during tennis practice on Wednesday. Family members said Ryne Jacobs’ heart stopped. A coach gave him CPR until a deputy and paramedics arrived. WJXT.

Colleges and universities: Former Florida House speaker Will Weatherford has been appointed by Gov. DeSantis to the University of South Florida’s board of trustees. Weatherford, 41, was a state representative from 2006-2014 and is the managing partner of Weatherford Capital. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Politics.

Education podcasts: In a conversation with redefinED managing editor Donna Winchester, Step Up For Students president Doug Tuthill breaks down how the proposed S.B. 48 will help public education align with the world of choice, the impact the bill would have on choice in the state, and how choice supports a version of unionism that empowers educators and supports entrepreneurship. redefinED.

More on graduation rates: Here are more reports on high school graduation rates in districts around the state. Pensacola News Journal.

Opinions on schools: Possible federal legislation to forgive student loans could help those in financial trouble to continue their academic careers. Valencia College president Sanford C. Shugart, Orlando Sentinel.