Differing budget visions, testing accountability, pandemic fallout, school calendars and more

In the Legislature: Senate leaders said Tuesday they appreciate the optimistic outlook of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposed $96.6 billion budget, but they plan to propose a more conservative budget. “We would expect we are going to have a conservative budget,” said Senate budget chief Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, at a Senate Appropriations Committee meeting after hearing a presentation about DeSantis’ budget. “I like to prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” she said. One of Stargel’s concerns is K-12 enrollment. About 88,000 fewer students than expected are attending public schools, but she expects them to return. If they do, the state will have to find tens of millions of dollars to educate them. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. Two bills have been filed that would prevent students’ state standardized test results from being used to make decisions on retentions, graduations, teacher evaluations and school grades, due to the effects of the pandemic. S.B. 886 was filed by state Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, and H.B. 359 was sponsored by state Rep. Robin Bartleman, D-Weston. News Service of Florida. Sun Sentinel. WFSU. The Senate Education Committee meets today to review the proposed school choice bill, S.B. 48. Here’s what the bill would do. redefinED. A bill that would gradually eliminate state pensions for teachers and other state workers gets its first hearing Thursday before the Senate Government Oversight and Accountability Committee. Tallahassee Democrat.

Seniors and the pandemic, Part II: For the second straight year, the coronavirus pandemic is threatening to derail the traditional end-of-high-school activities for seniors. But unlike last year’s seniors, this year’s seniors have their whole year affected by the pandemic. Masks. Remote or in-person learning. Social distancing. Event cancellations. Difficulty scheduling SAT or ACT tests so they could qualify for scholarships. And so on. “I can’t even think of all the things I’m missing out on,” said Sabrina Feldman, a senior in Hillsborough High’s International Baccalaureate program. “It doesn’t even feel like a senior year.” Jenesis Montero, a senior in Blake High School’s fine arts magnet program, added, “I’m not going to lie. It hurts.” But many seniors in the Tampa Bay area are trying to make the best of it. Tampa Bay Times.

Around the state: An Osceola school board member says he wants to start a task force to make recommendations on what school resource officers can and cannot do, St. Johns school officials are considering pushing back the opening of school by a week in August to lengthen the summer break, two more Lee County school classrooms have been placed in quarantine because of coronavirus cases, Pasco school officials are considering changes in the way they run alternative schools, Bay County voters will decide in April whether to approve a 1-mill tax hike for schools, and the Okaloosa County School District is shortening its quarantine times. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts and private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Mobile testing of children for COVID-19 resumed Tuesday and will continue every weekday this month in school parking lots throughout the county. Miami Herald.

Orange: The agriscience program at Colonial High School in Orlando has won a model of excellence award from National Future Farmers of America. The honor puts the school in the top 1 percent of all programs in the United States. About 800 students participate at Colonial. WKMG.

Broward: A redesign of the library at Cypress Bay High School in Weston and its inclusion of e-books and audiobooks in 2015 have improved checkouts from 400 in 2014 to nearly 10,000 this year, media specialist Shawn Maas told virtual attendees of the Future of Education Technology Conference this week. He attributed the surge to the redesign that made better use of the space, the conversion of 10,000 books to the ebook format, culling 5,000 printed books to fiction only since those are the most popular, and giving students the ability to access materials 24 hours a day. K-12 Dive.

Pinellas: Special-needs students at Cypress Woods Elementary School in Palm Harbor have made more than $1,300 selling “Big Game bracelets” tied to the Super Bowl. The presence of the local team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in the game has boosted sales. “The fact that it’s the Bucs and we are making bracelets for our home team; there is just lots of love and excitement. It’s amazing,” said teacher Tammy Scala. WFLA.

Palm Beach: About 10,000 more students who had been learning remotely headed back to classrooms Tuesday on the first day of the second semester. About 88,000 students are now learning in person, up from 54,000 when schools opened, with about 78,000 still attending classes remotely. WPTV.

Lee: Two more district classrooms have been closed this week because of coronavirus cases, bring the total number of classroom closures to 11 since schools opened in August. The latest two were shuttered Monday at Treeline Elementary School in Fort Myers. Students will shift to online learning for the 10-day quarantine period. Fort Myers News-Press.

Pasco: School officials are proposing to change the way they’ve been running alternative schools for students who have fallen behind or had disciplinary issues. More one-on-one counseling is being considered, and career education options would be expanded that could lead to industry certifications. The revised schools could also be empowered to give diplomas so students wouldn’t be forced back into their home schools they don’t want to return. Tampa Bay Times.

Brevard: The district and the union that represents school support staff such as bus drivers, custodians and cafeteria workers have reached a tentative contract agreement giving the workers a one-time $500 bonus. “It wasn’t what we wanted. We would have liked to see everyone get another 70-cent or a dollar (an hour) raise,” said union representative Delores Varney. “But we understand with the COVID-19 crisis, and all the things that are going on. We’re just hoping for (next) year to have some money out there.” Florida Today. Space Coast Daily.

Osceola: School board member Julius Melendez said he intends to start a citizens’ task force that will make recommendations to the board detailing what actions school resource officers can and cannot take. His proposal was prompted by the incident last week at Liberty High School, when a school officer slammed a female student to the ground while trying to break up a fight. Some speakers at Tuesday’s board meeting said they were “mortified” by the incident, and called for the removal of resource officers from schools. A video of the event has gone viral, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the officer’s actions. WKMG. WOFL. WFTV.

Volusia: The school district and the city of DeBary will split the $1 million pricetag to make design changes in the car pickup line at DeBary Elementary School. The current design has caused traffic congestion and safety issues for the past 15 years, said City Manager Carmen Rosamonda. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

St. Johns: Superintendent Tim Forson said the district is considering pushing the first day of school from Aug. 10 to 16 to extend the summer break, which is currently scheduled to be seven weeks. That’s three weeks shorter than usual due to scheduling changes prompted by the pandemic. “And it’s seven weeks after a very challenging year, I think for everyone involved for teachers for school leaders for parents for families,” Forson said. He added that teachers could use a “little breather.” WJXT. Five names have been recommended for the new K-8 school in Nocatee, which opens in August. The options are Coastal Palms Academy, Coastal Pines Academy, Pine Island Academy, River Valley Academy and Tolomato River Academy. Six mascots are being considered: Cougars, Coyotes, Dolphins, Manatees, Pioneers and Terrapins. The mascot will be chosen by students, and the school name will be selected by the school board Feb. 9. WJXT.

Sarasota: The state recently ordered the school district to improve communications with the parents of students who have severe cognitive disabilities, so they could clearly convey parents’ options and the obligations of choosing an alternative education path such as the Access Points academic program. About 300 parents were invited to the first meeting, but only seven attended. School board member Karen Rose said the district has to make more of an effort and get creative to reach those parents. The Florida Department of Education recently sanctioned the district for improperly placing students in the program from 2012 to 2019. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Leon: District officials are asking parents to vote for one of two options for the 2021-2022 academic calendar. Both start the school year Aug. 11 and end it May 25. The major difference is the time off during Thanksgiving week. One option gives students and staff the whole week off, while the other has schools open Monday, Nov. 22, and Tuesday, Nov. 23. Tallahassee Democrat.

Okaloosa: A new coronavirus quarantine protocol has been implemented by the school district. Students and staff who are under quarantine because of coronavirus exposure can return to school on Day 11 if they are symptom-free and agree to follow health department guidelines, including wearing a mask. Those who take a COVID-19 test after the fifth day of a 14-day quarantine and have a negative result can return as early as Day 8. Northwest Florida Daily News.

Bay: County commissioners have approved a school district request to ask voters in April to approve an increase of 1 mill in property taxes for four years. The money, projected to be about $18 million a year, would be used to raise pay for district employees, improve school safety and more. WJHG.

Indian River, St. Lucie, Martin: The Indian River School District has arranged for all 112 school employees over the age of 65 and school health workers to receive coronavirus vaccine shots. TCPalm. Indian River county commissioners have dropped a lawsuit against the Jimmy Graves Foundation, clearing the way for the foundation to donate the 16th Street ballfields to the school district. The fields are across the street from Vero Beach High School. TCPalm. The Martin and Indian River school districts expanded free meal programs for students during the pandemic, but the number of students taking advantage has declined this school year. Nearly 2,500 fewer Indian River County students are taking the meals, and in Martin County the number has fallen by 2,000. School officials attribute the decline to lower enrollment. TCPalm.

Colleges and universities: The Lake-Sumter State College’s experimentation with enrollment coaches to help new students has gone so well that it will be retained even after the coronavirus pandemic is over. “From a student’s perspective, it’s giving a face to the college early on, so that they don’t feel like a number,” said Jenni Kotowski, executive director of enrollment management. “That’s a big concern for students, that a college always feels too large.” Daily Commercial. Justin Waldron, an English instructor at Florida Atlantic University, died Jan. 23 when the SUV he was driving was struck from the rear, killing both drivers. He was 38. Miami Herald.

Around the nation: The U.S. Senate meets today to consider whether to approve the appointment of Miguel Cardona as education secretary. Here are some of the questions he’s likely to be asked. Chalkbeat. Education Week.

Opinions on schools: When John Thrasher, a former legislator and chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, was named the president of Florida State University, many people rolled their eyes. But seven years later, as he prepares to step down, Thrasher is as highly regarded as any university president in the state. He has been very good for the Seminoles. And for Florida. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. Parents who are suing to force an end to the Indian River County School District’s mandatory school face mask policies face an uphill fight. Laurence Reisman, TCPalm. Florida’s public schools do not need what the Legislature almost certainly will give them this year. That would be Senate Bill 48, the latest and most ambitious effort to privatize public education in Florida. If the content of the legislation is terrible, the timing is worse. Sun Sentinel. Sixty large public high schools in Florida have no physics classes this academic year. That’s about 1 in 6, and the rate has nearly doubled in the past three years. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.

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BY NextSteps staff