Federal testing waiver sought, DeSantis backs full funding for Bright Futures, civics plan and more

Federal testing waiver: Florida education officials said Wednesday that they will ask the federal government for a waiver for testing accountability measures. The waiver, if approved, wouldn’t prevent the tests from being given, and how the state would apply the waiver is unclear. Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran has said the state’s decisions will be “fair and just.” Department of Education spokeswoman Taryn Fenske said the DOE will solicit public input until March 31. The goal, she said, would be to create fair solutions for each situation. Some might require using the test results while others might not. “I think we can make it work. But we need to take it one step at a time,” she said. State officials stressed that even if a waiver is granted, students must take the tests seriously. “We have to see the impact of the pandemic,” said state Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, who chairs the House Education Committee. Tampa Bay Times. News Service of Florida. Orlando Sentinel. Corcoran also said at the state Board of Education meeting that he hopes Florida schools will be back to normal in the fall, though he didn’t say what that might mean. Florida Phoenix.

DeSantis on Bright Futures: Gov. Ron DeSantis broke with the Senate on Wednesday when he said he supports full funding for the Bright Futures Scholarships program. Senate leadership is supporting S.B. 86, which would change the scholarship funding formula from a fixed percentage to whatever the Legislature appropriates every year, and reduce Bright Futures funding for students who choose majors with questionable job prospects. Speaking at a press conference in Naples, DeSantis said, “I think Bright Futures is something that Florida families have relied upon. It’s something that I support. I fully funded it in my budget, and we hope the Legislature follows suit on that as well.” Florida Politics. Naples Daily News.

Civics initiative: Teachers who complete state-approved training and become certified to teach a new civics program would receive $3,000 bonuses as part of a plan pitched Wednesday by Gov. DeSantis to use more than $100 million in federal relief aid for an expanded and improved civics curriculum. He said students would be taught “foundational concepts,” but not “critical race theory,” which he said teaches students “to hate their country and hate each other.” He added, “I think if you look around the country, understanding what our country is founded on has become very much a lost art.” Foundational courses have been pushed aside and schools have become “indoctrination factories,” DeSantis said. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Politics. WPLG. Associated Press. WKMG. Florida Phoenix. Meanwhile, Senate and House committees approved bills (S.B. 145 and H.B. 5) to bolster civics education, and a House committee passed a proposal requiring American government teachers to include 45 minutes of instruction on “victims of communism.” Florida Politics.

In the Legislature: The House Secondary Education & Career Development Subcommittee voted 13-4 Wednesday in favor of a bill that would prohibit transgender girls and women from competing in high school and college sports. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Capitol News Service. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. A proposal to allow guns in churches even if there’s a school on the property has cleared its final House committee. Florida Politics. A bill protecting the rights of parents to make decisions about their children’s education, health care and more won approval from a second House committee. Florida Politics. A bill that would place added restrictions on public unions, such as those representing teachers, was approved Wednesday by a Senate committee. News Service of Florida. Tallahassee Democrat. Capitol News Service. Prayers would be allowed to be broadcast over a stadium public address system before school sporting events under a bill that was approved by a House committee. Associated Press.

Coming up in the Legislature: Senate and House bills that would require colleges and universities to conduct annual surveys to measure “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” will be heard by committees in both chambers today. Fresh Take Florida. Also under consideration is a bill that would require school districts to offer virtual learning options. Tampa Bay Times.

Around the state: One day after resigning as president of Bethune-Cookman University, E. LaBrent Chrite has been introduced as president of another university in Massachusetts, Moderna says it could start vaccinating children before schools start in the fall, the president of the Florida Education Association finds no fault with including money for private schools in the stimulus bill, and a parent has started a petition to raise hourly pay rates for Escambia County school bus drivers. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Polk: District Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd has high praise for school employees who made the overnight switch from in-person instruction to remote learning last spring and have worked through infections and quarantines. “We’ve never experienced such a major, sustained disruption to our educational system,” she said in an email. “They did this while their own lives were being turned upside down. Their compassion and bravery never cease to amaze me.”  Lakeland Ledger.

Osceola: The school district is among 60 in the state that are backing a bill to would make it easier for schools to install solar panels on campuses. Florida is one of seven states to ban the financing method that would help with the up-front costs of installing the panels. WMFE. The State Attorney’s Office is investigating a complaint that a teacher’s aide at Poinciana High School in Kissimmee put a 17-year-old autistic student in a closet and left him there for two class periods for misbehaving. School staff call it a “quiet room,” and said it’s 5 feet by 15 feet with a desk and some filing cabinets. WOFL.

Manatee: About 1,000 school employees have received the first of two Moderna coronavirus vaccinations at MCR Health’s gym-turned-clinic. “I feel a little safer,” said Greta O’Hara-Morris, a human resources manager. “Of course, I’m still going to wear my mask, wash my hands, social distance and all that.” Bradenton Herald.

Escambia: A parent has started a petition to raise the pay for district school bus drivers from $12.34 an hour to $15. That parent, Kelsey Dewis, said there’s a shortage of drivers, with 98 open routes on a recent day. Pensacola News Journal.

Alachua: The school district will continue providing free dinners and snacks to students under 18 through June 30, said food service specialist Caron Rowe. The free breakfast and lunch program is scheduled to continue through Sept. 30. Gainesville Sun.

Colleges and universities: One day after E. LaBrent Chrite resigned the presidency of Bethune-Cookman University, he was announced as the new president of Bentley University, a private school in Waltham, Mass. Chrite has not commented on his abrupt departure from B-CU. Daytona Beach News-Journal. Every weekday at 5 p.m., the president of Palm Beach Atlantic University, Debra Schwinn, conducts a Zoom conference call with students for about 20 minutes. “It was the one unique thing I could do,” said Schwinn. “Who, besides myself, could Zoom every night, really get a feeling for what is working from a systems perspective and give that caring, personal touch?” Associated Press.

Private school aid: The stimulus bill sets aside $2.75 billion to help private schools, a decision that has caused a rift between the nation’s two largest teachers union. The American Federation of Teachers supports the inclusion of money for private schools, while the National Education Association does not. “Obviously, we believe public dollars should go to public schools,” said Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, which is affiliated with both of the national unions. But, he added, “I do not fault private schools who may need some assistance because of COVID as long as there’s some oversight attached to that.” Florida Phoenix.

Around the nation: The president of the coronavirus vaccine-maker Moderna said that children could begin getting vaccinations before schools open next fall. WTLV. The Biden administration announced a goal of getting every teacher in America at least one coronavirus vaccination shot by the end of the month. Scripps. Associated Press. NPR.

Education podcasts: Joe Connor, the co-owner of an organization that has created micro pods learning communities for hundreds of students in eight states, talks with Step Up For Students president Doug Tuthill about how the pandemic accelerated the micro school learning trend. redefinED. Claudia Persico, an assistant professor at American University, discusses her research about students of color often being improperly identified for special education with Education Next editor-in-chief Marty West. Education Next.

Opinions on schools: From the state Legislature, where he helped create the Bright Futures Scholarship, to the House speakership to the presidency of Florida State University, John Thrasher has created bright futures for students. So his tactfully critical view of S.B. 86 carries special weight. Mark Woods, Florida Times-Union. Slashing Bright Futures scholarships for students who choose the wrong major is a particularly cruel way to save money on the program. It’s just the latest way for Florida Republicans to bash liberal arts majors and avoid means-testing the scholarships so that they’re focused on helping students most in need. USA Today Florida Network. Sen. Dennis Baxley’s Bright Futures bill deserves a dim future. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. This Legislature plans to add money for Visit Florida and take money from Bright Futures. Investing in low-wage jobs while encouraging some of the most promising students to leave is a devastating 1-2 punch. Scott Maxwell, Orlando Sentinel. A Hillsborough County teacher writes that the pandemic year has been hard on her, but also made her more resilient and determined to instill the values of her loved ones in her students. Ashley Gaska, WUSF. The first Florida charter school opened 25 years. Here’s 25 reasons why they’re appreciated. Ron Matus, redefinED. A civics lesson Florida’s governor should embrace is not making it harder for people to vote. Joe Henderson, Florida Politics.