DeSantis’ proposed budget would increase K-12 spending, free online books now available, and more

DeSantis’ optimistic budget: Amid predictions of significant cuts in next year’s state budget because of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Ron DeSantis is proposing a $96.6 billion budget that’s more than 4 percent higher than this year’s. His proposal forecasts a strong recovery for the state’s economy this year but also leans heavily on federal aid. He wants to spend $22.8 billion on K-12 education, a $285.5 million increase over last year, with an additional $233 per student to boost that spending to $8,019. Also included is $550 million for improving teachers’ salaries, $110 million for school mental health programs, and a $56 million eight-day back-to-school sales tax holiday. “For those who are saying education is going to get whacked, we’re showing, no,” DeSantis said. His plan would cut back higher education spending by $22.5 million, and state colleges would lose $19 million. But the proposal does not include an increase in state university tuition, an idea that has been suggested by legislative leaders as a way to help close an anticipated deficit of $2.7 billion. The budget recommendation now heads to the Legislature, which will discuss it in committee meetings next week. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Governor’s office. Politico Florida. Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WTXL. WPTV. WFSU.

In the Legislature: Children’s literacy in Florida got a boost Thursday with the unveiling of a free online program that makes books available for elementary school students, and the filing of a bill that would send free printed books to the homes of K-5 students who are reading below grade level. House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, set improving children’s literacy as one of his goals for the legislative session that begins March 2, saying, “We all believe that access to books is something that could change a child’s life.” The free online program is called Reading IQ, and is available through a partnership with the education company Age of Learning. It will provide 5,000 books online for children between the ages of 2 and 12 for a year. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Politics.

Around the state: Teachers of the year have been named in five school districts, and several districts also selected their principals and support employees of the year, attendance at sporting events in the Polk County School District will be limited to 25 percent of capacity because of coronavirus concerns, over-65 school employees in Sarasota are eligible to be vaccinated Sunday, Marion’s school board will consider doubling the hourly pay for temporary school bus drivers due to chronic shortages, and a new elementary school is being proposed in Nassau County. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools, and colleges and universities:

Orange: Stewart Parker, who teaches Advanced Placement human geography at Winter Park High School, has been chosen as the Orange County School District’s teacher of the year. The other finalists were Jessica Benscoter, instructional coach at Stone Lakes Elementary School; Jesse Cohen, theater teacher at Innovation Middle; Richardo Delfosse, a civics teacher at Lockhart Middle; and Laura Stile, 4th-grade teacher for English/language arts at Dream Lake Elementary. Also honored at this week’s virtual ceremony were principal of the year Jennifer Bellinger of Oak Ridge High, assistant principal of the year Rebecca Yedvobnick of Ridgewood Park Elementary, and support person of the year Lydia Folks, a school secretary/bookkeeper at the Blankner K-8 School. Orlando Sentinel.

Palm Beach: Rachel Capitano, the principal at Don Estridge High Tech Middle School in Boca Raton since 2017, has been selected as the Palm Beach County School District’s principal of the year. Justin Arnone of Palm Beach Central High School was named the assistant principal of the year. Palm Beach Post. WPTV.

Polk: Attendance at school sporting events will be cut to 25 percent of capacity starting Monday. The decision came a day after the CDC reported that two Florida wrestling tournaments were coronavirus superspreader events that resulted in 79 positive cases and one death. One of those tournaments was in Polk County. WTVT.

Lee: Hundreds of books thrown into a dumpster by a private school were rescued by parents on Wednesday and later handed out to students who wanted them. Officials at the private Crestwell School said they were clearing out the old books to create a STEM lab, and hadn’t been able to find a home for them. WINK. WBBH. An 8th-grader at Caloosa Middle School in Cape Coral has been arrested and accused of having a loaded handgun in his backpack at school. The 14-year-old boy was charged with possessing a firearm on school property and possession of a concealed weapon. Fort Myers News-Press. WINK. An administrative assistant at the Florida SouthWestern Collegiate High School in Fort Myers has been arrested and accused of stealing $87,000 over the past five years. Deputies said Lisa Ann Betz, 60, collected funds for school events and was supposed to deposit them at a bank. Fort Myers News-Press. WFTX.

Brevard: Karrie Hieber, a 12th-grade English teacher at Cocoa High School, has been named the Brevard County School District’s teacher of the year. Samuel Taswell, a network support technician at Golfview Elementary Magnet School in Rockledge, was named the school employee of the year. Principal of the year was Christopher Reed of Endeavour Elementary, and the assistant principal of the year was Terri Kulaga of Rockledge High. Florida Today.

Volusia: Two Holly Hill School students, 12 and 13 years old, face charges after one of them was found with two BB pistols at the school Thursday. Holly Hill police officers said one of the students also shot another student in the locker room on Wednesday, but the victim wasn’t injured and didn’t report the incident. The shooter has been charged with aggravated assault. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WKMG.

Manatee: A memorial walkway with a granite stone and a bench under a tree has been dedicated at Lakewood Ranch High School to all the students who died before they could graduate. The project, called the Mustang Memorial Walk, was initiated by the Powers and Coyner families. Their sons, 17-year-old Chase Coyner and 15-year-old Matthew Powers, died in a car crash in 2018. Bradenton Herald.

Lake: Shannon Clark, a 4th-grade teacher at Eustis Heights Elementary School, was named the Lake County School District’s teacher of the year at a ceremony Thursday night. Daily Commercial. A school resource officer’s use of a Taser on a student this week has been ruled justifiable by the Lake County Sheriff’s Office. Deputy Billy Brown’s actions were “lawful and within agency policy,” according to the department. He used the Taser after being attacked by a 15-year-old student while he was trying to break up a fight in the Eustis High School cafeteria. WKMG. WFTV. WMFE.

Sarasota: All school district employees over the age of 65 are eligible to be vaccinated against the coronavirus Sunday at Sarasota Square Mall. The one-day event was coordinated by the district and county health officials. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Marion: The school board is considering nearly doubling the hourly wages of temporary school bus drivers to address a worsening shortage that is leading to children being late for school or skipping. The district has 270 bus drivers, and on most days up to 10 percent miss work. With the recent coronavirus surge, though, that absentee rate has doubled. So the board will consider raising the pay for temps from $8.89 an hour to $15.35, which is the starting pay of a newly hired full-time bus driver. Ocala Star-Banner.

Escambia, Santa Rosa: Five Born Learning Trails have been or are being installed in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. The trails each have 10 signs with tips for parents on things they can do to engage their preschool children in learning, plus activities to help the children get ready for kindergarten. Completed trails are in Milton, Jay and Century, and the other two should be finished in about two months. The trails are a project of the United Way of West Florida and its partners. Pensacola News Journal.

Leon: Several schools were damaged when a severe storm swept through Tallahassee on Wednesday. FSU High School, John Paul II Catholic School and the Tallahassee Classical School had signs, banners and trees knocked down. The power and phone service were interrupted, but no one was injured. WTXL.

Bay: The school district has honored retired teachers Beth and Ed Deluzain with a shared teacher of a lifetime award. It’s the fifth year the award has been given out, and the first time it’s been shared. Both were English teachers in the district, Beth for 34 years and Ed for 18. Pensacola News Herald.

Charlotte: Jenee Mora, a science teacher at Lemon Bay High School since 2003, has been chosen as the Charlotte County School District’s teacher of the year. Kathleen Skavroneck, who works at Deep Creek Elementary, was named the district’s support employee of the year. Charlotte Sun.

Flagler: Khady Harmon, a physics and chemistry teacher at Matanzas High School, has been named the Flagler County School District’s teacher of the year. Chuck Coates, a project manager with plant services, was selected as the district’s employee of the year. Flagler County School District. An 11-year-old student at the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School in Palm Coast has been arrested and accused of making threats against the school. Deputies said the boy told a classmate Tuesday that he was planning to blow up the school and shoot other students the following day. He later told deputies he was joking. Flagler Live. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Nassau: A new elementary school has been proposed for a 17-acre site in the Amelia concourse/Nassauville area to accommodate the county’s growth. School district officials are checking the suitability of the soil and traffic access. The next step would be to submit the request to the state for approval. WJAX.

DeSoto: Irene Cerna, a 5th-grade teacher at West Elementary School, has been selected as the DeSoto County School District’s teacher of the year. The rookie teacher of the year was Morgan Kotwicki, and Annetta Jeanne Hezlitt was picked as the school-related employee of the year. Charlotte Sun. DeSoto County School District.

Around the nation: K-12 schools across the United States saw a 66 percent increase in the number of safety issues — such as suicide attempts, drug and alcohol use and violence toward others — in the first three months of the 2020-2021 school year compared to the same period a year earlier, according to the school security management system Gaggle. K-12 Dive.

Education podcasts: Clint Bolick, an associate justice on the Arizona Supreme Court and a longtime advocate for education choice, talks about commonsense principles for creating a K-12 education system, education savings accounts, how the pandemic has magnified the achievement gap between students of different socioeconomic backgrounds, and more with redefinED executive editor Matthew Ladner. redefinED.

Opinions on schools: Students can change the world through schools that support creativity. Hailey Scheinman, Orlando Sentinel.