State revenues rise, new higher education bill filed, parents may get laptop repair bills, and more

Revenue surprise: Legislators working on their budgets got a pleasant surprise Tuesday when state economists said that revenue for the rest of this year and next year has been projected at $2 billion more than expected. About $1.4 billion of that is in this year’s budget, and $550 million more is expected for the 2021-2022 fiscal year. Most of the increase comes in sales tax collections, reflecting an upswing in economic conditions and an improving tourist industry. “While encouraging, there is still reason to be cautious,” said Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, in a statement. “We know estimates can, and often do, change without much notice.” The House is expected to take up its $97 billion budget today, which includes plans for some of the $10 billion in federal aid and proposes spending $22.6 billion on education. The Senate’s $95 billion budget does not include the federal aid, and earmarks $22.1 billion for education. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

In the Legislature: A new higher education bill has been pulled together in the House that includes tuition breaks for some students but tightens aid for some who choose private schools, offers in-state tuition to high-achieving out-of-state students with a grandparent who is a Florida resident, and would provide liability protection for schools from coronavirus-related lawsuits. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. A proposal to establish a “Parents’ Bill of Rights” was approved Tuesday by the Senate Rules Committee, and now goes before the full Senate. News Service of Florida. The House Education & Employment Committee passed a bill that would ban transgender females from competing in women’s high school and college sports. The proposal now goes to the House floor. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics. A school safety bill cleared the House Education and Employment Committee. It would bolster mental health services in schools and require districts to have plans to reunify children and parents after a school emergency. Florida Politics. A vote on a bill changing the rules governing public union dues was postponed by the Senate Rules Committee. News Service of Florida. The Senate could vote today on the bill that would require colleges and universities to conduct annual surveys of students and staff about their beliefs and viewpoints as a way to promote intellectual diversity. Miami Herald.

Losing a parent to COVID: About 2,600 Florida children have lost a parent to the coronavirus, according to estimates from a national study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics. Across the country as many as 43,000 children, about 75 percent of them adolescents, have lost a mother or father. Rachel Kidman, one of the study’s authors, said support systems that help grieving children must be strengthened because “we don’t have the social support and the day-to-day routines that we used to have.” Tampa Bay Times.

Around the state: Palm Beach County School Board members are being asked to approve a district proposal to charge parents for the repair or replacement of laptops that were handed out to students by schools, the Hillsborough school district’s financial shortfall is up to $140 million and 1,000 layoffs are expected to be announced this week, Pasco’s school superintendent changes course and now says the school face mask mandate will probably be made voluntary later this month, the battle of renaming Duval County schools spills into a school board meeting, and summer school plans in Sarasota County are on hold until the Legislature releases the district’s share of federal relief funds. Here are details about those stories and other developments from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Students at James S. Rickards Middle School in Fort Lauderdale will finish the school year at Broward College in Coconut Creek or learning remotely, district officials announced Tuesday. They were removed from Rickards on March 5 when a media center roof collapsed. About 250 students who want in-person instruction will now go to Broward College, starting today, while the rest of the school’s 942 students will attend classes remotely. Four other district schools with an identical design are also closed, with students attending online classes, until inspections can be completed. Sun Sentinel.

Hillsborough: The district’s financial shortfall is now $140 million, Superintendent Addison Davis said Tuesday, and 1,000 jobs will be eliminated this week. Davis said many of those who won’t be returning to their current schools could still be placed elsewhere in the district. In interviews, he also talked about how the district will spend federal stimulus aid, whether masks will be required in schools next year, and more. WTVT. WTSP.

Palm Beach: School board members will be asked today to approve a district proposal to charge parents for the repair or replacement of laptops that were handed out to students by schools. “If the technology assigned to a student is lost, stolen or damaged through negligence, vandalism, or failure to follow proper care guidelines, and is not covered in full by any warranty, then the parent/caregiver is responsible for the cost of repair or replacement,” according to the policy proposal. Parents could not be forced to pay for repairs or a replacement, but if they choose not to, their children could be banned from extracurricular activities or be required to perform community service. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: Nearly 60 people spoke at Tuesday’s school board meeting for or against renaming schools, and a rally was held outside. The district has proposed renaming nine schools. Six of them are named after Confederate figures, and the others are named for historical figures who are alleged to have mistreated native Americans. Options for renaming Jean Ribault High also were released: Northside High, Northwest High and Jean Ribault High. Recommendations for new names are due to the superintendent by May 17, and the school board will vote in May and June. WJXT. WJAX. WTLV.

Pasco: A day after saying the face mask mandate at schools would continue even though the county lifted its mandate, Superintendent Kurt Browning announced that the district will probably adopt a voluntary mask rule April 26. That’s the last day of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order declaring a state of emergency because of the pandemic, an order that isn’t likely to be extended. “Once the order is lifted, masks will be optional,” Browning told the school board Tuesday. “I don’t have the authority to extend the mask mandate without the governor’s order.” Tampa Bay Times. WUSF.  Supporters of the Union Park Charter Academy charter school are asking the school board for a five-year renewal instead of the one year the district has offered. The school has been a success academically, earning an A grade from the state in its first year of operation. But it’s had financial problems, running a deficit in each of its first two years.  Tampa Bay Times.

Manatee: School bus service to the Piney Point area resumes today after county officials lifted an evacuation order for residents, who had to leave when a wastewater pond at the nearby, abandoned phosphate processing plant began leaking. Officials worried it might collapse and send 300 million gallons of contaminated water into homes. About 155 students live in that area. Bradenton Herald.

Sarasota: School officials said they are still waiting for the Legislature to release the $30 million in federal coronavirus aid, which they are counting on to pay for summer school programs. Chief financial officer Mitsi Corcoran told the school board money is coming, but the district still doesn’t know how much and when. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. A five-student math team from Pine View High School has advanced to the finals of the international MathWorks Math Modeling Challenge. The team’s challenge was to use mathematics to create a model predicting the future costs of broadband service and how to distribute it for maximum access. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Catherine Rodriguez, the assistant head of school at Sarasota Military Academy, has been named the principal at the Dreamers Academy dual language charter school that opens this fall in Sarasota. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Bay: The old St. Andrews School has been leased by the school board to the county for $1 a year, and will be converted into a community center. The county will assume responsibility for upkeep. WJHG. WMBB.

Martin: The school board has approved the contract agreement between the school district and the teachers union. It still has to be approved by the union membership. If teachers vote for the deal, starting salaries would be set at $45,200, and veteran teachers would get raises of $800 to $1,000. WPTV.

Colleges and universities: The University of South Florida has received a grant of $44.4 million over five years from the National Institutes of Health to study whether computer-based brain training exercises can reduce the risk of mild cognitive impairment and dementia among older adults. Tampa Bay Times. University of North Florida officials said they have identified a student who is distributing anti-Semitic materials on campus. That student has been referred to the Office of Equal Opportunity and Inclusion and Student Conduct. WJXT. Florida Times-Union. Seniors at Florida State University Panama City have invited the class of 2020 to join them for in-person graduations April 24 at Tommy Oliver Stadium. Panama City News Herald. A matchmaking service made by Stanford University students for students, named Marriage Pact, has arrived at the University of Florida. Gainesville Sun. A longshoreman at the Jacksonville Port who dropped out of college started a college scholarship fund 26 years ago that has raised more than $1 million. “To me, you haven’t made it, you’re not successful, if you don’t help nobody else,” said Charles Spencer. “If you do something to help somebody while you’re going along, then your life probably wouldn’t have been in vain.” Florida Times-Union.

Around the nation: Even as schools around the country begin to reopen, a majority of students are choosing to stay home and continue remote learning. Associated Press.

Opinions on schools: More school choice leads to better outcomes. And Florida is pointing the way as a leader in choice expansion and strong academic gains for disadvantaged students, even as it is just 42nd in per-pupil spending. Ron Matus, redefinED. Making quality education available and accessible to all— especially to black and brown students — has never been easy work. It’s even harder now. Instead of just focusing on funding and metrics and talking points, we need to take a bigger-picture approach and address the fundamental flaws that have long plagued our traditional public school system and have created generational disparities based on race and income. The one-size-fits-all approach we used to take wasn’t working before the pandemic, and it sure as heck won’t work now. Gwen Samuel, redefinED. Florida college students’ choice of educational institutions may be severely limited next fall if a bill is approved that would limit students’ ability to access state funding when they choose to attend one of 30 private, not-for-profit institutions. Arthur Keiser, Orlando Sentinel. When we keep children at home – stuck with school on a screen – we rob them of the joys in their lives and hinder their personal growth and development. Julia Canzano, Sarasota Herald-Tribune.