Bills on scholarship streamlining and parental rights to retain children advance, voting lessons and more

Scholarship bill passes:bill that would streamline the state’s K-12 scholarship programs and add flexible spending options for parents was approved Wednesday by the Senate Education Committee on a 6-4 vote along party lines. Republicans argued that bill would simplify the application process for parents, while at least one Democrat called the bill a “death knell to public education.” The proposal 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. Families would also receive the 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. S.B. 48 now heads to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education. If the bill is approved by the Legislature this spring, the changes would take effect next fall. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the scholarship programs. News Service of Florida. redefinED. Orlando Sentinel. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. WJXT. During Wednesday’s discussion, Osceola County School Board member Jon Arguello spoke to the Senate Education Committee in favor of S.B. 48, shown here word-for-word, then responded to questions about his statement from state Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, also shown here word-for-word. redefinED.

Also in the Legislature: Parents who think their children need to repeat a grade because of learning losses during the pandemic would be given that authority under a bill unanimously approved Wednesday by the Senate Education Committee. S.B. 200, sponsored by state Sen. Lori Berman, D-Boynton Beach, would allow the parents of children in kindergarten through the 8th grade to notify their school superintendent by June 30 each year to request retention. Superintendents are required to approve all requests made before the deadline, but have discretion over late requests. Miami Herald. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. Schools would be required to teach elementary, middle and high school students about the process of voting under H.B. 469, which was filed by state Rep. Brad Drake, R-DeFuniak Springs. WFTX. Licensed day-care centers would be required to have a specified percentage of children vaccinated in order to keep their licenses under a bill filed by state Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation. Florida Politics. House Democrats and Republicans both had pointed questions about Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposed $96.6 billion budget during a House Appropriations Committee meeting Wednesday. Florida Politics.

Around the state: Hillsborough school officials want to explore the sale of the district’s headquarters, Palm Beach County School Board members approve the school calendar for 2021-2022, the superintendent of the Lake Wales Charter School District is resigning later this month, a school fight in Pasco sends one student to a hospital and another into custody, two Osceola County mothers ask for an injunction against the girl who was thrown to the floor last week by a school resource officer, the teacher of the year is named in Clay County, and a list compiled by a education trade publication shows that at least 707 U.S. school teachers and other works have died of COVID-19. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools, and colleges and universities:

Hillsborough: District officials are proposing to put the school headquarters building on Kennedy Boulevard up for sale. School board members are being asked at Tuesday’s meeting to declare the building as “surplus,” deem it “unnecessary for educational purposes” and put it on the market. The property has been appraised at $27.6 million for tax purposes. “The superintendent has said all options to reduce costs are being considered, including a review of surplus property where we believe we can be more efficient in our use of space and resources,” said spokeswoman Tanya Arja. Tampa Bay Times. The flag football teams for two county high schools are being featured in a national Nike commercial that will air during Sunday’s Super Bowl. The ad showing players from Alonso and Robinson high schools is part of a campaign by Nike and the NFL to improve participation in flag football. Tampa Bay Times. WTVT.

Palm Beach: Board members voted 6-1 to approve the 2021-2022 school year calendar, but are postponing a decision on the 2022-2023 calendar. The first day of school will be Aug. 10, and the last day is May 26. Schools will be closed for Thanksgiving week and from Dec. 23 through Jan. 4 for the winter break. Because of the pandemic’s effect on the start of this school year, students aren’t out of school until June 18, giving them a seven-week summer break instead of the usual 10 weeks. WPTV. Sun Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. WPEC. Brothers Alex and Aidan Skolnick have raised thousands of dollars through grants and donations for upgrades to 10 county schools and have also donated 15,000 pairs of socks to homeless people through their nonprofit, The Sock Drawer. WPTV.

Polk: After a disagreement last month with the board of the Lake Wales Charter School District, Superintendent Jesse Jackson said he will resign this month. Board member Becky Gaston criticized Jackson during the Jan. 25 meeting over the superintendent’s decision to transfer a principal to become director of exceptional education, and the board voted to place Jackson on administrative leave. That decision was rescinded and Jackson was reinstated after he agreed to move his resignation from late May to Feb. 26. Lakeland Ledger.

Lee: A student at Dunbar Middle School in Fort Myers was arrested Wednesday and accused of posting a threat against the school on social media. In a memo to parents, school officials said the threat was not credible. WINK. WFTX. WBBH.

Pasco: A student was airlifted to a hospital after being injured Wednesday in a fight at River Ridge High School, and another was arrested and accused of battery. The sheriff’s department is investigating the altercation between the two 10th-graders. Tampa Bay Times. WFLA. WFTS.

Brevard: A custodian at a Melbourne elementary school has been arrested and accused of child abuse after allegedly dragging a student to the ground during lunch on Jan. 29 and then hitting him.  John McLeod, 60, has been placed on administrative leave from his job at Sabal Elementary School while investigations are conducted by the district and by Melbourne police. Florida Today. WKMG. WOFL.

Osceola: The mothers of two Liberty High School students have filed an injunction for protection against the girl who was thrown to the floor by a school resource officer last month. The mothers said the 16-year-old was not abiding by a no-contact contract the three signed because they were having “verbal disputes,” and began “running full force to our daughters; that’s when the officer intervened.” WKMG.

Volusia: City officials in Daytona Beach and Ormond Beach are competing to be home to the consolidated Ortona and Osceola elementary schools. School board members had voted to locate the school in Daytona Beach, but last month indicated they were reconsidering. A scheduled workshop Feb. 9 to further discuss the new school’s location has been canceled. The two schools are about 3 miles and a city boundary apart, and collectively have 600 students. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Lake: A personal finance curriculum is being offered to 1,500 Leesburg high school students by business owners Tim and Dina Simpson. The year-long classes will be held at Leesburg High School using the Foundations in Personal Finance curriculum developed by Ramsey Education, which was started in 2008 by radio host and author Dave Ramsey. “It’s a pretty hefty financial commitment, but we saved up over time and wanted to do it,” Tim Simpson said. “They just don’t do anything like that in school anymore.” Daily Commercial.

St. Johns: A new sidewalk that was built along State Road 9B to help students from a northwest neighborhood walk to Liberty Pines Academy is being criticized as dangerous by parents. They say the sidewalk is too close to an entrance ramp for SR 9B, where cars routinely speed by at 60 mph. Many of those students had previously been bused, but the opening of the sidewalk put them within a mile of the school, making them ineligible for busing. St. Augustine Record.

Sarasota: Rapid growth in the south part of the county is prompting school officials to consider building a high school and changing school zoning boundaries in the area. Growth in Wellen Park, Winchester Ranch and Palmer Ranch is expected to add 20,000 residents and about 6,500 students in the next 12 years. The district’s five-year capital improvement plan includes a new high school on a 130-acre property in Wellen Park that could open by the 2027-2028 school year. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. School board members voted 3-2 to hire the firm of Shumaker, Loop and Kendrick to handle its legal business, replacing the retiring Art Hardy. The board will pay the firm $275 an hour. Charlotte Sun.

Escambia: Parents with children who are struggling to learn remotely will have access to six free virtual workshops taught by University of West Florida professors on ways to help those students. The workshops are the result of a partnership between the university and the Escambia County Public Schools Foundation. They begin Feb. 9. Each will be 30 minutes long, with 15 minutes for questions. Pensacola News Journal.

Clay: Meghan Grybb, who teaches gifted K-6 students at Lakeside Elementary School, has been named the Clay County School District’s teacher of the year. Rhiannon Weiskopf, a media tech assistant at Middleburg High School, was chosen as the district’s top school-related employee. Clay Today.

Flagler: Enrollment in the county’s nine traditional public schools is 11,536, its lowest point since 2005, according to district officials. Adding 731 remote learners and 844 charter school students pushes the current total to 13,111. Flagler Live.

Levy: A 12-year-old student at Bronson Middle-High School said a substitute teacher punched him in the chest last week after ordering him to stop playing with his pencil. Both the school district and the Levy County Sheriff’s Office are investigating. WCJB.

Colleges and universities: Can colleges and universities require students to get vaccinated for the coronavirus in order to attend school? Experts say yes. CNBC. The Justice Department is dropping a lawsuit brought by the Trump administration that alleged Yale University was discriminating against Asian-American and white applicants. Prosecutors claimed Yale violated civil rights laws because it “discriminates based on race and national origin in its undergraduate admissions process, and that race is the determinative factor in hundreds of admissions decisions each year.” Associated Press. A federal grand jury has indicted a former University of Florida professor, alleging he fraudulently obtained $1.8 million in government grants to develop an imaging tool to benefit the Chinese government and a Chinese company. Associated Press. Gainesville Sun. WTXL.

Around the nation: At least 707 U.S. school teachers, coaches, custodians and other staff members have died of COVID-19 as of Feb. 1, according to a list being compiled by the trade publication Education Week. CNN. At his Senate hearing Wednesday, the nominee to become U.S. secretary of education said teachers should be at the front of the line for coronavirus vaccinations and that transgender girls should be permitted to play on women’s school sports teams. A vote on Miguel Cardona’s confirmation has not yet been scheduled. Florida Phoenix. The 74. Education Week. Chalkbeat. The city of San Francisco is suing its own school district in an attempt to force schools to reopen. It’s the first suit of its kind in California, and perhaps the country. Associated Press. U.S. K-12 schools can reopen even if teachers and employees haven’t been vaccinated, according to officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. WKMG. A new report from Attendance Works and the Everyone Graduates Center shows that the students who had the highest rates of absenteeism before the pandemic are the ones struggling the most now, and suggests ways districts can better react to those challenges. K-12 Dive.

Opinions on schools: Catholic schools continue to attract families looking for education choice because of their sense of community and grounding in a particular understanding of human nature and of human love. Michael Barrett, redefinED.