Governor’s budget proposal out today, education choice, high school graduation plans and more

In the Legislature: Gov. Ron DeSantis will release his budget proposal for the 2021-2022 fiscal year today. The state faces a deficit of about $2.7 billion because of the coronavirus pandemic, and DeSantis’ proposal will be a starting point for the Legislature when its session begins March 2. Lawmakers have warned they’ll probably have to make cuts, with education and health care to be likely targets, as well as consider raising revenues through measures such as raising college tuition and requiring out-of-state companies to collect taxes on online purchases. Florida’s budget for this fiscal year is about $92 billion, but the pandemic’s effect on tourism has caused tax revenues to plummet. Politico Florida. Continuing to provide full funding for school districts despite enrollment losses will be a “tough sell” in the Legislature this year, warned state Rep. Randy Fine, R-Melbourne Beach, who is the education budget chief in the House. Projected enrollment in K-12 schools next fall is 78,745 below earlier projections, which would mean $613 million less for schools if full funding isn’t extended. Politico Florida. Public union employees such as teachers and police officers would have to specifically re-authorize deductions for union dues under a bill approved Wednesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Supporters said employees should have the final say on how their money is spent, while critics call it an attempt at “union-busting.” News Service of Florida. WJXT.  A bill to check the safety of drinking water in schools has been filed for the third straight year by state Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa. This year’s proposal would simply require a study to see how much lead is in the water, what the effect could be on children and how much money would be needed to fix the problem. Florida Politics. The FHSAA would be required to give schools access to public address systems for pregame prayers under a bill filed Wednesday by state Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-Doral. News Service of Florida.

Choice in Florida: About 45 percent of the state’s K-12 students attended a school of their choice during the 2019-2020 academic year, according to Florida Department of Education statistics. Charter schools drew the most students, 329,216, while open enrollment in 52 school districts attracted 266,693. Other categories that have more than 100,000 students were magnet programs at district schools (234,265), private schools (183,951 paying for themselves), career and professional academies at 424 high schools (136,437), tax credit scholarships for students to private schools (111,219), and home-schooling (101,309). Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the tax credit and four other state K-12 scholarship programs. redefinED.

Around the state: School districts are starting to plan traditional spring graduation ceremonies, the Duval, St. Johns and Putnam school districts select their teacher of the year, the FDLE will investigate the actions of an Osceola school resource officer who slammed a student to the ground, Volusia students won’t be able to change their learning options again this school year after Feb. 4, Marion County reports its first coronavirus case caused by contact in a classroom, parents in St. Johns County are calling the district’s dress code sexist and want it changed, and Clay school officials are moving ahead with a rezoning plan that will affect more than 600 students. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools, and colleges and universities:

Orange: Junior Reserve Law Enforcement programs are being started next fall at Jones and Lake Nona high schools, both to increase student interest in law enforcement careers and to try to improve relationships between officers and the black community. About 260 9th-graders have signed up for the programs, which will include classes taught by retired officers, field trips and mentoring. The program is a partnership among the school district, the Orlando Police Department, Valencia College and the Orlando Regional Realtor Association, which proposed the idea and will help pay for uniforms and field trips. Orlando Sentinel.

Palm Beach: A new STEM program opening next fall at Palm Beach Lakes High School got a boost this week with the donation of five drones from Florida Power & Light. Twenty students are expected in the first class and will learn how to fly the unmanned vehicles. Successful students will receive two drone operating certifications that are the same offered by the Federal Aviation Administration. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: Jim Schmitt, who teaches history and global perspectives and research at Mandarin High School in Jacksonville, has been named the Duval County School District’s teacher of the year. The other finalists were Kenneth Ford from Carter G. Woodson Elementary, Kimberly Parker from Lake Lucina Elementary, Jameea Jackson-Gaines from Richard Lewis Brown Gifted and Academically Talented Academy, and Nadine Ebri from Southside Middle. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. WJAX. Carol Slack, a teacher in the school district for 40 years before retiring from Crystal Springs Elementary School in 2010, has died at the age of 76. WJXT.

Polk: School board members are considering using about $27 million in federal coronavirus relief funding to bolster its reserves. The district received about $33.5 million and has spent $6 million on computers. Teachers are lobbying for the district to use some of the money for bonuses to those who are simultaneously teaching in-person and remote students. Lakeland Ledger. A former special education teacher and coach at Haines City High School has been arrested and accused of sexually battering a student repeatedly in a classroom closet. Wayne McKenzie Ricks II, 29, resigned Saturday and was arrested Tuesday. WKMG. WFLA. WTVT.

Lee: The school district is “absolutely committed” to in-person graduation ceremonies for the class of 2021, Superintendent Greg Adkins said this week. The ceremonies are planned June 4-6 in local arenas, with school football stadiums serving as backup locations. Graduations were drive-through events in 2021. Fort Myers News-Press.

Osceola: A school resource officer who slammed a student to the ground during an altercation this week at Liberty High School in Kissimmee is now under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Deputy Ethan Fournier is on paid administrative leave during the investigation. A video of the incident, posted on social media, shows Fournier taking the girl to the ground. Her head hit the floor and she appeared to be knocked unconscious. Orlando Sentinel. Associated Press. WKMG.

Volusia: Parents will not be able to switch learning options for their children after Feb. 4 for the rest of the school year, district officials said this week. “With the testing season approaching and schedules being adjusted for the new grading period, it is critical for student success that (the district) has consistency of learning for the next four months,” according to a district press release. Changes can be made only because of an extenuating circumstance, and school principals will make that judgment. About 77 percent of students are learning in schools now, and that is expected to increase next week when two groups of online learners are scheduled to switch. Daytona Beach News-Journal. The school board will reconsider its tentative decision to consolidate Osceola and Ortona elementary schools and build a new K-5 school on the Ortona site. The site is too small, some board members now believe, and is too far away from many students who would be assigned to it. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: School board members have unanimously approved raises for school administrators and other non-teaching employees. District administrators and hourly workers each get moved up a step on their salary scale, and school administrators get a 2 percent raise. The raises are retroactive to July 1, 2020, and will show up in the paychecks issued Feb. 26. Bradenton Herald.

Lake: A video has surfaced that shows a school resource officer using a Taser on a student during a fight in the Eustis High School cafeteria on Tuesday. The deputy said when he tried to break it up, one of the girls started punching him. The sheriff’s office is reviewing the incident. WFTV.

St. Johns: Alicia Pressel, who teaches four levels within the St. Johns County Career Academies program, the Academy of Environmental Sciences and Advanced Placement Environmental Science at Creekside High School, has been named the St. Johns County School District teacher of the year. The rookie teacher of the year is Lauren Woods, a middle-school math teacher at Valley Ridge Academy. Principal of the year is Tina Waldrop of Osceola Elementary, and the top assistant principal is Melissa Lime of Freedom Crossing Academy. St. Augustine Record. About 100 parents are campaigning to have the district’s dress code changed because they believe it’s sexist and it only has an impact on girls. Most of the policy is aimed at all students, but there are separate sections for boys and girls. The words “modest” and “distracting” are used in the section for girls, but not for boys. Paul Abbatinozzi, the district’s senior director for school services, say proposed changes have to go through the Student Advisory Council and the school board. WTLV.

Marion: The district’s first known case of coronavirus transmission in a school classroom has been reported at West Port High School, according to health officials. Up to now, according to school board members, all cases came from contact outside schools. Ocala Star-Banner.

Escambia: Closing the achievement gap between black and white students, increasing students’ learning proficiency and uniting the county to support all students are his three primary goals, Superintendent Timothy Smith told the community at a CivicCon appearance this week. “We have a responsibility to make the opportunity of education accessible to all and effective for all kids,” said Smith, who became the district’s first appointed superintendent in November. Pensacola News Journal. Some students who live in a neighborhood a half-mile from Beulah Middle School are being bused across the street to the middle school because of a lack of sidewalks they can safely use. That’s putting a strain on the district’s busing, since there’s also a shortage of drivers. Pensacola News Journal. District music students will have new instruments to experiment with, after a grant from a local orthodontist allowed the district to buy 165 exotic Latin America instruments such as a tropical rain stick, a guiro and a cabasa. WEAR.

Clay: School board members have tentatively agreed on a rezoning plan that will change boundaries for Oakleaf High, Tynes Elementary and Lake Asbury Junior High schools. More than 600 students would change schools if the proposal is approved at the March 4 meeting. “It’s not going to be fun,” said board chair Mary Bolla. Clay Today.

Leon: High school seniors won’t have proms again this spring, but the district is planning graduation ceremonies that will allow students to walk across a stage and receive a diploma. Commencement exercises will be held at Gene Cox Stadium, with one high school a day. Each student will receive four tickets. The school board also approved donating $25,000 to a coronavirus vaccination education campaign, and to hire a staff attorney who will be paid between $45.18 and $75.30 an hour. Tallahassee Democrat.

Flagler: An 18-year-old student at Matanzas High School has been arrested and accused of sending written threats to kill. The boy recorded a rap song in which he threatened to kill a dean who had disciplined him a week ago, and that official’s wife. WKMG. Flagler Live.

Citrus: District officials are beginning to plan for traditional graduation and prom ceremonies, but will have backup plans in case the coronavirus surges later this spring. “I believe it is our intent to have a face-to-face graduation,” Superintendent Sandra Himmel said at a meeting this week. “But I’m not prepared to make a decision today on the parameters for graduation.” School board members also want to see volunteers and mentors back on campuses as soon as possible. Citrus County Chronicle.

Putnam: Alexis Strickland-Tilton, an agriculture teacher at Palatka High School, has been named the Putnam County School District’s teacher of the year. Mellon Elementary paraprofessional Jennifer Rawski was selected as the school-related employee of the year, and human resources department executive secretary Jackie Smith was chosen as the district-related employee of the year. Palatka Daily News.

Colleges and universities: The main academic building at the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida State University will no longer carry the name of Francis W. Eppes, president John Thrasher announced this week. Eppes was a slave owner. FSU will also ask the Legislature to allow it to remove the name of former Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice B.K. Roberts, a segregationist, from the from the main academic building at the College of Law. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL. A surge in coronavirus cases has prompted Florida Gulf Coast University to close a pool, cancel lakeside activities and offer tests to asymptomatic students who live on two floors of a dorm. Fort Myers News-Press. Kathryn Hyer, a USF professor, associate director of its School of Aging Studies and director of its Florida Policy Exchange Center on Aging, has died in Tampa of a rare cancer, cholangiocarcinoma. She was 67. Tampa Bay Times. The Florida Board of Governors have recommended that Shilen Patel, the CEO of the HealthAxis Group, and Melissa Seixas, a vice president at Duke Energy Florida, be appointed to the board of trustees at the University of South Florida. They must be approved by the Florida Senate. Tampa Bay Times.

Around the nation: Educators and other advocates think that President Joe Biden’s and Democrats’ plan to cut child poverty will also improve student performance. “Reducing childhood poverty is a good thing to do in its own right, and I think it’s going to help these kids do better in school and beyond,” said Michael Petrilli, president of the Fordham Institute, a center-right education think tank. “We should do it.” Chalkbeat.

Opinions on schools: Even as teachers unions are keeping children out of classrooms, education choice can ensure they learn anyway. Jude Schwallbach, redefinED. Fears that teachers unions will be taking over the U.S. Education Department are overblown. The Biden presidency will not be a golden age for anyone, unions or reformers. What it will be is a gradual return to normalcy in terms of the economy, human interaction and bare-knuckled partisan political battles. Mike Antonucci, The 74.