Senate approves budget without $200M cuts to districts, parental rights bill tweaked, and more

Senate education budget: Florida senators unanimously approved a $108.6 billion budget Thursday that provides $24 billion for K-12 education but does not include the House budget’s $200 million in cuts for 12 school districts that defied Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on face mask mandates in schools. The funding for education is 4.5 percent more than last year, and includes an extra $239 per-student, a minimum wage of $15 an hour for school and other employees, $600 million for teacher raises, $210 million for school safety, $140 million for student mental health help, $40 million to improve reading instruction and $5 million to help the Jefferson County School District as it regains control of its district. The two chambers will now begin trying to reconcile the differences in the budgets, and Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, said Thursday that he is “open” to considering the $200 million in House cuts. Politico Florida. Associated Press. USA Today Florida Network. Florida Politics. WFSU.

Parental rights bill: The parental rights bill sailed through the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday with some portions of the bill being adjusted after objections from Democrats and LGBTQ advocates. When it was first filed, the bill said school districts may not “encourage classroom discussion” about gender identity or sexuality in a way that is not “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate.” It was changed to say “classroom instruction” on sexual orientation or gender identity for K-3 students would be prohibited, and also not allowed in older grades in a way that is not appropriate for students. It ties the definition of “age-appropriate” and “developmentally appropriate” to state standards. LGBTQ advocates were unimpressed. “Can we just obfuscate a little bit so we can pretend we’re being good to people?” asked Elizabeth Smock, a University of Central Florida administrator who has a 12-year-old transgender son. The bill is now ready for a vote by the full House. News Service of Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. WINK.

Also in the Legislature: Gov. DeSantis signed two bills (S.B. 96 and S.B. 98) Thursday that create a $500 million emergency fund controlled by the governor. Florida Politics. A bill updating the 2018 school safety bill that no school district has fully compiled with has been approved by a House committee. Florida Politics. A bill creating a “Victims of Communism Day” for public schools has been cleared by its final House committee and is now headed to the House floor. Florida Politics. A House committee has approved a bill creating tax holidays for schools, emergency preparedness, and more. Florida Politics. Bills that would require schools to provide social media literacy classes to students have gained little traction in Senate or House committees and, with just two weeks left before the final committee meetings are scheduled, are unlikely to advance. Some legislators attribute the vagueness of S.B. 480 and H.B. 361 to their lack of movement. Florida Politics.

Around the state: An investigation shows that Broward officials delayed reporting key details about a ransomware attack, Hillsborough is making another attempt to improve its persistently low-performing schools, parents at an Orlando high school are being asked to sign a dress code contract for prom, Escambia school officials and the teachers union reach a tentative contract agreement, Citrus schools name a teacher of the year, and seven Collier teachers are presented with Golden Apples. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: When the school district discovered that hackers accessed its computer network and could have the personal data of 50,000 people, its initial reaction was to delay acknowledging key details of the ransomware attack that took place between November 2020 and March 2021. It failed to notify the federal government for five months, which is three months longer than allowed, used a public relations firm to dodge questions from the media and assure the public that their personal data was not at risk, rejected a public records request by saying it “wasn’t worth” the time to comply, and lobbied legislators for a law keeping cybersecurity investigations secret. Superintendent Vickie Cartwright defended the district, saying it made those decisions to avoid exposing the district’s vulnerabilities. Sun Sentinel.

Hillsborough: The district has 35 schools on the state’s “persistently low-performing” list, by far the most in the state. No one seems to have answers why, since the usual factors blamed are present in every district. Now school officials will make another attempt to make improvements. This time it’s Superintendent Addison Davis’ “Transformation Network,” which is using student data to define areas of need, incentives to improve attendance, hiring tutors from local colleges, improving community outreach and even setting up gaming rooms. “We create action plans to help to guide what we should be teaching in daily instruction,” said program director Shaylia McRae. “We try to ensure that students are getting what they need in order to be successful and proficient.” Tampa Bay Times. Here are 14 “transformation” schools that still have a D or F grade from the state. Tampa Bay Times. A former principal at Robles Elementary uses the failure to turn around the school’s academic performance as the subject for her doctoral dissertation at the University of South Florida. Tampa Bay Times.

Orange: Parents must sign a dress code contract for their children to attend the prom at Evans High School in Orlando. The rules are laid out in the contract, which also says students who are dressed inappropriately will be asked to leave. Most of the rules are aimed at girls, which many parents are objecting to. District officials said they’re looking into the complaints. WOFL.

Lee: A 12-year-old student has been arrested by sheriff’s deputies after allegedly sending threatening text messages against classmates. Deputies said the messages were sent from a school bus on Oct. 7. WFTX. WINK.

Collier: Seven school district teachers were presented with Golden Apples award Thursday from the Champions for Learning education foundation. They are: Robert Boyle of Immokalee Technical College, Amanda Bray of Lake Trafford Elementary School, Dyan E. Konicek of Immokalee Middle, Mishelle Levine of Oakridge Middle, Heather Stallings of Calusa Park Elementary, and Stephanie Kutz and Lauren York, both of Lake Park Elementary. They’ll be honored at a dinner April 22. Naples Daily News. WBBH.

Lake: A former Lake County School District teacher of the year who wearied of the rules and atmosphere of public schools overcame her anxieties and multiple challenges to create a micro-school in Leesburg. Nikki Duslak’s CREATE Conservatory has 14 students and ties visual and performing arts into the teaching of core academic subjects. In its first year, students gained an average of three grade levels in math and reading. reimaginED.

Manatee: Olivier Rioux, a 15-year-old, 7-foot, 5-inch student in the basketball program at IMG Academy in Bradenton, has been named the tallest teenager in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records. WFTS. WTVT. CNN.

Escambia: County teachers and the school district have reached a tentative contract agreement that calls for raises of at least $1,400 for all teachers. The deal must be ratified by the union and approved by the school board. Once it is, the increases will be retroactive to July 1, 2021. WEAR.

Alachua: Jeevan George, a student at Hidden Oak Elementary School, won the county spelling bee to advance to the regional competition, which will be held by teleconference April 1. Gainesville Sun. WCJB.

Citrus: Kelly Filipic, a teacher on special assignment at Lecanto Middle School, has been chosen as the school district’s teacher of the year. Citrus County Chronicle.

Opinions on schools: If we are to have a truly inclusive and diverse educational choice movement, we need to keep our options open. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED. Parents should be allowed to seek whatever education options they deem best for their children and be able to take all public education dollars available with them to whatever school they choose. School choice would fund students, not failing systems, while breeding competition in education, bringing quality up, and costs down. Jason Peirce, Florida Today. The Florida House’s vote to strip $200 million in the state budget from Miami-Dade County Public Schools and 11 other districts that had mask mandates despite a ban from Gov. DeSantis is juvenile and vindictive. Welcome to Florida. Miami Herald. Do dual enrollment courses accelerate a student’s progress toward a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field? They can, but they usually don’t, according to state data. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow.