Stimulus bill approved and will send billions to state, more Broward media centers closed, and more

Stimulus money on the way: The U.S. House approved the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package by a vote of 220-211, with all Democrats but one voting for it and all Republicans voting against it. The bill now goes to President Joe Biden, who is expected to sign it into law on Friday. The bill includes $128 billion for K-12 schools, $40 billion for higher education and $2.7 billion for governors to dispense to private schools. Most of the K-12 money will go toward helping schools reopen and giving students the assistance they need to catch up on the learning they lost in the past year due to remote learning. Districts must spend at least 20 percent of the money they receive to address learning losses, and all the money must be spent by October 2023. Florida is expected to receive $17.3 billion, with about $7 billion of that directed toward education spending. New York Times. Washington Post. Wall Street Journal. Associated Press. Reuters. Future Ed. Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times. Chalkbeat. Florida Phoenix. Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott says the state should reject the stimulus money. He called the bill “massive, wasteful and non-targeted,” and said that rejecting the money would send a message to Congress to “quit recklessly spending other people’s money.” Gov. Ron DeSantis has said the bill shorts Florida by about $2 billion because it distributes funds based on unemployment numbers instead of total population. Palm Beach Post.

In the Legislature: A bill that would allow parents of K-8 students to determine if their children should be retained because of the so-called “COVID slide” was approved Wednesday by the Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee. State Sen. Lori Berman, D-Delray Beach, filed the bill, but it’s drawing bipartisan support. So is another education accountability bill, S.B. 886, which would prohibit the use of state assessment test scores to retain students, grade schools and evaluate teachers. News Service of Florida. The House Education and Employment Committee unanimously approved H.B. 529, a bill that would require a moment of silence at the start of every school day and is now headed for a vote by the full House. Florida Politics. Civics literacy requirements would be revised in a bill that was approved Wednesday by the House Secondary Education & Career Development Subcommittee. The bill also would require school districts to administer the SAT or ACT to every high school junior. Politico Florida. The House Education and Employment Committee approved a bill Wednesday that would require the state to survey the viewpoints of college professors to “to assess the status of intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” at colleges and universities. It would also prohibit colleges from banning controversial speakers. The bill now proceeds to the full House for a vote. Associated PressFlorida Politics. A House bill allowing guns in churches even if they have schools on the property was approved by the House Education & Employment Committee. Florida Politics. Parents of transgender student-athletes lobbied legislators Wednesday to reject bills (S.B. 2012 and H.B. 1475) that would bar transgender girls from participating on women’s sports teams in K-12 schools and colleges and universities. Florida Politics.

Around the state: Media centers at four Broward County schools have been closed after a roof partially collapsed last week at an identical building at Rickards Middle School, Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie said the district plans to have all classes take place in person next fall, Polk school board members approve an application from IDEA Public Schools to open a charter school in Lakeland in 2023, the man whose offer to become Seminole County school superintendent was later rescinded by the school board called the process a “fiasco” and said he’s no longer interested, a resolution declaring March 22-26 as LGBTQ+ Health Awareness Week in Volusia County died at a school board meeting, and opponents of the Brevard district’s policies for LGBTQ students vow to continue their fight. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade, Broward: Media centers and some classrooms at four Broward County middle schools have been closed while their roofs are inspected. Apollo Middle School in Hollywood, Plantation Middle, Lauderdale Lakes Middle and Lauderhill 6-12 are identical in structure to Rickards Middle School, where a roof over the media center partially collapsed last week. Rickards has been closed indefinitely, with students switching to remote learning. All the schools were built 53 years ago, and structural defects in their concrete support columns have been noted in inspections dating back to 1979. Sun Sentinel. WPLG. Broward school Superintendent Robert Runcie said Wednesday that the district is planning on having all classes take place in person when schools reopen next fall. WPLG. School officials are investigating an incident at South Dade Senior High School on Tuesday that was captured in a cell phone video. In it, a teacher who was trying to break up a fight appears to be throwing a student to the floor. WPLG. WSVN. At Wednesday’s meeting, four Miami-Dade school board members addressed social media allegations that Superintendent Alberto Carvalho was cheating on his wife. Carvalho made no further comment. Miami Herald.

Polk: A Texas-based charter school company received the unanimous approval of the school board this week to open a K-12 school in Lakeland in 2023. IDEA Public Schools will move into Polk under the state’s Schools of Hope program, which green-lights high-performing charter companies to put schools in areas with persistently low-performing public schools. Lakeland Ledger.

Lee: School board members approved spending $5.9 million to buy 53 new diesel school buses to replace older buses this fall. Twelve of the buses can carry up to 47 passengers and have lift gates. They cost $109,595 each. Forty-one other buses can accommodate 77 passengers and cost $111,837 apiece. Fort Myers News-Press. Two students were treated at a hospital for minor injuries when the school bus they were on was hit by an SUV that ran a stop sign in Lehigh Acres on Wednesday morning. The bus with 13 students aboard was heading to the Donna J. Beasley Academy charter school when the wreck happened. The driver of the SUV was cited. WINK. Fort Myers News-Press.

Brevard: Opponents of the school district’s policies toward LGBTQ students vowed to continue their fight after the school board declined to make changes. School board members said they were simply following federal and Florida High School Athletic Association guidelines. The district’s rules specify that transgender students must be allowed to use the bathrooms of their choice, play sports on teams that adhere to their gender identity, dress as the gender they identify with, and be referred to by their preferred names and pronouns. State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, supported the critics of the district policy, and said he would sign on as a sponsor to H.B. 241, called the Parental Bill of Rights, which doesn’t address LGBTQ issues but does broaden the rights of parents to make educational and health decisions for their children. Florida Today.

Seminole: The man who was hired Feb. 9 as school superintendent, then unhired in a vote by the school board two weeks later, said he no longer has an interest in the job. Chad Farnsworth, an assistant superintendent for the Lake County School District, called the whole hiring process “terribly flawed” and a “fiasco.” After rescinding its offer to Farnsworth, the board voted 3-2 to hire its attorney, Serita Beamon. WKMG. Orlando Sentinel.

Volusia: A motion to designate March 22-26 as “LGBTQ+ Health Awareness Week” in the school district failed this week when no school board member would second the motion. Carl Persis offered the motion. Colleague Linda Cuthbert said she would have seconded it but can’t because she’s the board chair. Board members Ruben Colon, Jamie Haynes and Anita Burnette all said they support LGBTQ+ students, but said they weren’t comfortable backing the resolution. Cuthbert asked school staff to work on a new resolution supporting diversity. Daytona Beach News-Journal. School officials expect the rate of students not taking statewide assessments testing this spring will go up. Many who won’t take part are learning remotely and have health issues or concerns about contracting COVID-19, and some are simply opting out because they object to the importance schools place on the tests and the way the results are used. Almost 7,000 Volusia students are learning remotely. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Manatee: School board members approved holding high school graduations from June 1-5. Ceremonies for Southeast, Braden River, Lakewood Ranch, Bayshore and Palmetto high schools will be held at LECOM Park, the spring training stadium of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Manatee High will hold its graduation at the campus football field. All students will receive tickets for two guests. Bradenton Herald. The district announced Wednesday that it would continue to provide free meals to students 18 and under during spring break. Bradenton Herald.

St. Johns: School board members added their voices to the growing movement urging the state to not use this year’s Florida Standards Assessments test scores to penalize students, districts and teachers. In a letter to Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, the board said, “Many students and staff members have missed time at school due to the illness itself, or mandatory quarantine, and students struggled in online platforms for a variety of reasons. Additionally, the lack of access to broadband has likely further exacerbated learning gaps in rural communities and requires heightened concern and understanding.” Testing will be conducted between April 15 and May 28. WJXT.

Sarasota: The Diocese of Venice is partnering with the FIRST, a global robotics community, on science, technology, religion, engineering, arts and math course enhancements for the 15 schools in the diocese. FIRST is an acronym for “for inspiration and recognition of science and technology.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Leon: School board members were receptive to a student committee’s proposal this week to stock girls’ middle and high school bathrooms with tampons and pads. The committee was asked by Superintendent Rocky Hanna to do some research on what’s needed and whether students will be charged, and make a formal proposal at another school board meeting. Tallahassee Democrat. WCTV.

Alachua: Students who struggle with their schoolwork can now get extra help through the district’s Saturday Academy, a free online program that’s staffed by educators and University of Florida graduate students. The focus is on K-7 students, but co-director Debra Jackson said, “We will help any age student.” Registration is required. Gainesville Sun.

Hernando: The district will hold graduation ceremonies June 11-19 at school football stadiums. Each of the five high schools will hold two graduations so more guests can attend. WTVT.

Indian River: School officials are expecting up to three times the usual number of students for summer school, and the district is preparing a “comprehensive approach to addressing the summer slide,” said Richard Myhre, the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. Programs will include reading support for grades 1-3 students, ongoing services for special-needs students and help for seniors who need to recover credits so they can graduate on time. TCPalm.

Citrus: No school boundary changes are planned for the 2021-2022 school year, but district officials said that could change as more students who have been learning remotely return to schools next fall. “We may have more students than we can fit in those schools,” said Chuck Dixon, the director of planning and growth management. “It’s not all bad; it’s just something we have to be aware of at this time and manage it.” Citrus County Chronicle.

Jackson: The city of Marianna and the school board have reached a tentative deal that would turn over the gymnasium and 5 acres of the Marianna Middle School property to the city. If the deal is approved by the school board, the rest of the property will be put up for sale. The school has been closed since March 2020, and Superintendent Steve Benton said it’s costing the district $300 a day in upkeep. WMBB.

Colleges and universities: The University of North Florida said it plans to return to “normal pre-COVID campus operations” when it reopens in the fall. WJXT. Florida State University will hold in-person graduation ceremonies May 22 and 23 for the Class of 2020, which weren’t held last year because of the coronavirus pandemic. WTXL. Florida Gulf Coast University’s graduation will be spread out over several days, and students will walk across a stage to receive their diplomas. WBBH.

Around the nation: The decline in the number of students applying for financial aid for college once the coronavirus pandemic set in hasn’t reversed itself yet, according to research from California. The trend is especially noticeable in low-income neighborhoods with large minority populations. The 74.

Education podcast: Stephanie Conner, a mother of four from LaBelle, and her husband use Gardiner Scholarships for two children and Family Empowerment Scholarships for the other two. She talks about her experiences, how her family uses unbundled educational services and what she would like to see changed in the FES. redefinED.

Opinions on schools: A proposal to limit college scholarships is the worst idea to come out of Florida in a long time. And that’s saying something. Derek Newton, Forbes. A school principal and a teacher talk about their year of adapting to the reality of education in the coronavirus era. Stewart Parker and Jennifer Bellinger, Orlando Sentinel. The flexibility of the education savings account in the Gardiner Scholarship program has helped my six children, and I know that it would have a big impact on many other families, too. I’d love to see the Legislature make all state scholarship programs as awesome as Gardiner. Patrice Whitfield, redefinED. For many lower-income parents who don’t have the means to pay out of pocket for private school tuition, or for tutors, or to move to a neighborhood with a better zoned school, state K-12 scholarships provide them the opportunity to exercise the kind of choice wealthier families already enjoy. Katie Swingle, Lakeland Ledger.

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BY NextSteps staff