House approves budget that cuts $200M from 12 school districts, testing, financial literacy and more

House approves budget: Florida House members approved a $105.3 billion state budget on Wednesday that provides $24 billion for education but cuts $200 million to 12 school districts that defied Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on face mask mandates in schools. The budget proposal also would increase K-12 spending by about 6 percent, including a $332 boost in per-student spending, and allocate $800 million to raise salaries for both starting and veteran teachers. The vote was 102-14, with 27 Democrats voting for it, though some of them said they did so with the hope that the $200 million cut is removed during final negotiations even though it is also supported by DeSantis. The Senate is expected to vote this week on its $108.6 billion budget, which would direct $24.1 billion to schools and does not include the cuts to districts. Associated Press. Politico Florida. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. Florida Phoenix.

Testing changes: A proposal to replace the state’s standardized testing program with a system of progress monitoring of students was unanimously approved by a House subcommittee Wednesday. End-of-the-year Florida Standards Assessments would give way to periodic testing that would show what students needed to work on for the final test. H.B. 1193 now moves to the final committee it needs to clear before a vote by the full House. The Senate version of the bill, S.B. 1048, has passed through all committees and is ready for a vote by the full Senate. Florida Politics.

Also in the Legislature: A bill requiring high school students to complete a financial literacy course to be eligible for graduation was approved Wednesday by a House subcommittee. News Service of Florida. Students would be required to observe a “Victims of Communism Day” every Nov. 7 under a bill approved by a Senate subcommittee. Florida Politics. A Senate subcommittee unanimously approved new restrictions on the use of restraints against students with disabilities. Florida Politics. The state’s school safety rules would be updated and the life of the special commission overseeing those rules would be extended two years under a bill approved by a Senate subcommittee. Florida Politics. House leaders have vowed to make changes to a law that has long labeled black and mixed-race children in the state welfare system as special needs students. Politico Florida. A proposed Parental Rights in Education bill, known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by critics, goes before the House Judiciary Committee today. WFOR.

Around the state: A Broward girl who was falsely accused of threatening her charter school is suing the school, nearly half of Marion County middle and high school students received at least one D or F grade on their report card in the first semester, the makeup of a Leon school district LGBTQ advisory committee is being criticized by both LGBTQ and parental rights advocates, Sarasota school board members approve a contract that raises starting teacher pay to $50,000 a year, St. Johns County school officials approve a policy requiring teachers to notify parents of students who request a change in their name or the pronoun they wish to be called, Flagler approves new school start and dismissal times for the 2022-2023 academic year, construction begins next month on a new Gulf High School in Pasco County, and students in several work-study programs at Palm Beach State College will receive tuition refunds if they’re unemployed six months after graduation. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: The family of a 13-year-old student at Renaissance Charter School is suing the school, Pembroke Pines police and Instagram after she was falsely accused of making a social media threat against the school. After the girl was arrested, police discovered a 12-year-old classmate had impersonated her online and made the threats. Sun Sentinel. Miami Herald. WPLG. WFOR.

Hillsborough: Superintendent Addison Davis is proposing to raise school bus driver wages from $14.57 an hour to more than $16 to help fill about 135 open positions. “What this will do, if approved, will make (the county) one of the highest-paid bus drivers … in this particular area,” Davis said. “(This sends) a loud message that it is important to make certain that we compensate these professionals and practitioners that help us get children to our schools on time and home safely every single day.” WTSP. WUSF.

Orange: A school district proposal to turn the Orange Technical College West Campus site into a school bus depot as soon as the college moves to a new facility was heavily criticized by residents around the campus. They complained about the traffic the proposal would cause, the diesel fumes generated by buses and the loss of the school that teaches trades to students. “(My son) wanted to be a funeral home director,” said Bettie Clay, a resident of neighboring Tildenville. “There’s nothing close around here and I couldn’t afford to send him (elsewhere). He couldn’t realize his dream because there was no education around here.” School board members said alternative sites could be considered. WFTV.

Pinellas: Barry Colbath, a sergeant with the school district’s police department, recently returned a book he checked out of the Seminole High School library in 1975. Colbath said he forgot he had checked out the book, 130 Feet Down: Handbook for Hydronauts, for a scuba diving course, and found it while reorganizing a closet in his home. He won’t be charged a late fee. St. Pete Catalyst.

Pasco: Construction on a new $58 million Gulf High School will begin next month on the campus of the current school and be completed by the summer of 2024, district officials told school board members this week. The current campus, which has been used since 1971, will remain open until the summer of 2023, when the new main building is expected to be completed. The old school will then be torn down. Board members also signaled their approval to build several new buildings on the nearby campus of Gulf Middle School. A town meeting will be held Feb. 22 to show plans to the community. Tampa Bay Times.

Osceola: School district employees will receive $500 bonuses and the minimum pay will be raised to $15 an hour under a contract agreement approved this week by the school board. The bonuses will be handed out before spring break and the raises take effect July 1. Those workers already making $15 an hour will get a raise of 30 cents an hour in the fall. WMFE.

Seminole: Ingrid Burton Nathan, the first black student to attend the county’s white schools, was honored Wednesday when the district named a building at Sanford Middle School in her honor. Nathan, then 14, began attending Seminole Junior High School in 1964. She would later graduate from Seminole High, then college and return to Sanford for a long career as a high school Spanish teacher before retiring in 2012. “It wasn’t a dream come true because I never dreamt of it happening,” said Nathan, now 71. “I guess I’m going to feel the full thing when I see my name on the building.” Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WOFL.

St. Johns: School officials have adopted a policy requiring teachers to notify the parents of students who request a change in their name or the pronoun they wish to be called. The policy aligns the district with the state’s Parents Bill of Rights signed into law last July. St. Augustine Record.

Sarasota: School board members have approved a contract agreement between the district and teachers that increases the starting teacher pay to $50,000 a year, boosts teacher and administrator pay by 5.25 percent and gives $2-an-hour increases to noninstructional workers. Board member Bridget Ziegler called the raises well-deserved, and said, “Our teachers are very hard working and they need to be rewarded for the work and time they put in for the students.” Charlotte Sun.

Marion: Nearly half of district middle and high school students received at least one D or F grade on their report card in the first semester, according to school officials. That’s 22.6 percent higher than during the first semester in the 2019-2020 school year, before the pandemic. Board vice chair Allison Campbell said apathy among students, and some parents, could be the reason. “I want to say that apathy among our young people is real,” she said. “It’s time to have a serious conversation with the community, parents, churches, civic groups. We need your help.” Ocala Star-Banner. Bruce Denerstein, the home school liaison at Osceola Middle, has been named the school district’s school-related employee of the year. Ocala Star-Banner.

St. Lucie: A school bus driver was arrested this week on charges of possession of child pornography and transmission of child pornography by an electronic device. Kenneth Knotts, 56, was removed from his job by the district, which will recommend he be fired by the school board. Deputies said there was no indication that any local students were victims. TCPalm. WPTV. WPEC.

Escambia, Santa Rosa: The percentage of children considered ready for kindergarten dropped 19 percentage points last year in Santa Rosa County, to 59 percent, and 6 percentage points in Escambia, to 42 percent, according to Florida Department of Education data. The statewide average was 50 percent last year. Pensacola News Journal.

Leon: Advocates of parental rights say the district’s new LGBTQ+ advisory committee doesn’t have enough “diversity of thought,” while LGBTQ advocates say they’re concerned that the committee includes the chair of the county’s Moms for Liberty organization. The committee has 15 members drawn from district administrators, teachers, students and parents. “How do we marry first keeping our children safe, how do we keep our teachers safe and how do we abide by the Parents’ Bill of Rights? That’s the goal of the committee,” said Superintendent Rocky Hanna. Tallahassee Democrat. If the House budget is approved and Leon schools lose $2.7 million in state funding, Hanna said Wednesday, positions at risk include the district’s chief financial officer, safety and security director and several assistant superintendents. Tallahassee Democrat.

Alachua: The 2022-2023 academic year will start Aug. 10 and end May 31. Spring break will align with the University of Florida’s, March 13-17, and students will get a full week off at Thanksgiving. WCJB. Mainstreet Daily News. Barbara Jean Cliffin Sharpe, the first black woman elected to the school board, has died at the age of 84. She was first elected to the board in 1992 and served until 2012. Gainesville Sun.

Bay: More than 40 portable classrooms that have housed students at Bay High School since Hurricane Michael struck the area in 2018 are being sent back to their owners. Damaged buildings have been repaired and a new STEM building has added enough capacity that the last of the portable classrooms should be gone by the end of the week. WMBB.

Indian River: At least nine students were detained after several fights broke out Wednesday at the Vero Beach High School freshman learning center. Sheriff’s deputies and Vero Beach police were called to help stop the fights. No one was reported injured. TCPalm. WPTV. WPEC.

Flagler: School board members have approved new school start and dismissal times for the 2022-2023 school year. All elementary schools will start at 9:10 a.m. and end at 3:40 p.m. Middle schools will start at 7:20 a.m. and end at 1:40 p.m., and high schools will begin at 8:10 a.m. and end at 2:40 p.m. That’s an increase of 15 minutes of instructional time each day for high-schoolers. Daytona Beach News Journal.

Colleges and universities: Students in several work-study programs at Palm Beach State College will receive tuition refunds if they’re unemployed six months after graduation, college officials have announced. Fields of study eligible for the guarantee are dental hygiene, electrician, nursing, respiratory care, welding, and heating, air conditioning and refrigeration mechanics and installers. Florida Politics. U.S. Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona said Wednesday that $415 million in federal student loans held by more than 15,000 students at five for-profit colleges that allegedly defrauded borrowers will be forgiven. The colleges are DeVry University, ITT Technical Institute, Westwood College, the Minnesota School of Business, and Globe University. Politico. NPR.

Education podcasts: Former Gov. Jeb Bush talks with Step Up For Students president Doug Tuthill about the future of education choice and the role education savings accounts play in that future. reimaginED.

Opinions on schools: At a time when four state universities, including the flagship University of Florida, are or will be seeking new presidents, a bill approved in the Senate last week will essentially exclude the public from the selection process. Only the names of finalists will be made public, and then the public will have just 21 days to vet them. Bob Shaw, Orlando Sentinel. Because of the Hope Scholarship, my daughter’s learning experience goes much deeper than a good education. The school focuses on character development and faith-based spiritual growth. She is in an environment that keeps her safe and shapes who she is and who she will become. Cherie Sanders, Miami Herald. It’s no surprise to learn that Alachua County school Superintendent Carlee Simon is likely to be fired. We have a tendency in Gainesville to crucify change agents. Ron Cunningham, Gainesville Sun.