$112.1B budget overwhelmingly approved, race rules penalties extended to colleges, and more

Budget passes, session ends: Legislators overwhelmingly approved the $112.1 billion budget on Monday that includes $24.3 billion for K-12 education, bringing a close to a legislative session that was heavy on spending and on cultural war issues such as abortion, immigration, and LGBTQ and race instruction in schools. The budget now heads to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has line-item veto authority. It goes into effect July 1. Many legislators were unhappy that nothing substantive was done on soaring property insurance rates, and many are calling for a special session to deal with the issue. News Service of Florida. Associated PressMiami Herald. Politico Florida. Orlando Sentinel. USA Today Florida Network. Florida Politics. WFTV. DeSantis praised the Legislature on Monday for its action on education bills, especially the one that bans sexual discussions in grades K-3, and one that changes testing. “As the parent of three kids that are age 5 and under, thank you for letting me and my wife be able to send our kids to kindergarten without them being sexualized,” he said. The testing bill will “be more friendly for teachers, for students,” he said. “It’ll give more feedback for parents, and it’ll mean a lot less time having to take tests in school. So that is a huge win for parents, students and teachers.” Florida Politics. WPTV.

Race teachings in colleges: The state’s insistence that K-12 schools and corporations ban the use of critical race theory in classes and for training has edged into the state’s colleges and universities. Tucked late in the state budget is an amendment that will make colleges and universities ineligible for performance dollars if they violate the recently passed bill that aims to root out “woke” trainings and school lessons like those surrounding “white privilege.” The policy says that a “substantiated violation” of the state’s anti-discrimination laws would disqualify schools, and it spells out that findings can be substantiated in court, by the Board of Governors or even a legislative committee. Politico Florida. Florida Phoenix.

Also in the Legislature: The bill replacing the Florida Standardized Assessments with a periodic progress reporting plan has been sent to Gov. DeSantis for consideration. Florida Politics. Also now before the governor is the measure that temporarily exempts college presidential searches from the state’s public records laws. Florida Politics. Early education bills enjoyed wide bipartisan support this legislative session with extra pay for workers and subsidies for parents. Florida Politics. Record spending for education and in the state’s overall budget were among the 10 biggest issues that came before the Legislature. But at least nine high-profile bills didn’t get addressed, including one cutting salaries for local school board members. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics.

Around the state: Alachua County School Board members are expected to name an interim superintendent today, a longtime Miami-Dade deputy superintendent resigns to take a job in the Los Angeles school system for former Miami-Dade superintendent Alberto Carvalho, Kathleen Middle School in Lakeland has been designated as a Polk County heritage site, the rising cost of fuel is having an impact on Florida schools’ transportation budgets, and the state now has 1,681 religious private schools, according to the Florida Department of Education. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: School district deputy superintendent Jaime Torrens has left the district to take a job as senior advisor to Los Angeles School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who ran the Miami-Dade schools until February. Torrens, 62, worked in the Miami-Dade district for nearly 40 years. Miami Herald.

Polk: Kathleen Middle School in Lakeland has been designated as a Polk County heritage site and received a historic marker. The school opened in 1928 and was a K-12 until 1950, when it was turned into a “strawberry school” used by children of migrant farm workers. It became a junior high in the 1970s for students in grades 7-9, then a middle school for grades 6-8 in 1993. A little more than two years ago it sustained extensive damage during a tornado. Renovations were completed in November at a cost of $8 million. Lakeland Ledger.

Pinellas: Two Head Start workers have been arrested and accused of child abuse last week. Jacqueline Alers, a 53-year-old program teacher in St. Petersburg, was accused of grabbing a child by the arms and forcing him to the ground. The other worker charged is 52-year-old Kimberly Ann Nicotra of Seminole, who is accused of pushing and grabbing a boy’s arm, then dragging him and forcing him to sit near other children. Neither child was seriously injured. WTSP.

Lee: Cape Coral police arrested a 19-year-old mother who forced her way onto a school bus, attacked the driver and demanded to know where “the kids” were. Angel Harrell face changes of battery and burglary for allegedly grabbing the driver’s wrists and ordering the children to leave the bus. WBBH.

St. Johns: An 8th-grade teacher at the private St. Augustine K-10 school, Christian Veritas Classical School, was arrested Friday by the FBI and accused of trying to meet an underage girl for sex through online communications. Authorities said Matthew Christopher Yates, 27, arranged with an undercover FBI agent posing as a 14-year-old girl to meet for sex, and was arrested at the meeting. School officials have had no comment, but removed Yates’ profile from the school’s website. WJXT. WJAX. WJCT. WTLV.

Alachua: School board members are expected to name an interim superintendent at tonight’s meeting. Deputy superintendent Donna Jones has been the acting superintendent since former district leader Carlee Simon was fired March 1. Jones is expected to be one of the candidates for the interim job. WGFL.

Okeechobee: The rising cost of fuel is hitting school districts around the state. Okeechobee district officials said they are dipping into their general fund for the additional $75,000 they expect to pay for fuel to transport students through the end of the school year. The district has about 6,000 students. WPEC.

Colleges and universities: Former University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow will be the guest speaker at the school’s spring graduation ceremony April 29. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Politics. WGFL. Rollins College in Winter Park has fired a longtime, tenured professor, Dr. Mario D’Amato, after accusations that he sexually harassed a female student. A three-person panel investigated the allegations and recommended he be fired. D’Amato appealed the termination but it was turned down. WFTV.

Private religious schools: The state now has 1,681 religious private schools, according to the Florida Department of Education. Miami-Dade has the most, 213, while Broward, Duval and Orange each have more than 100. Calhoun, Hardee, Liberty and Union are the only district’s among the state’s 67 with none. There is one religious private school for every 12,906 residents in Florida, DOE says, and Sumter has the most per resident. Villages Daily Sun.

Around the nation: The pandemic has drawn attention to an often-forgotten aspect to education: the air quality in buildings. Districts have begun to devote big chunks of federal coronavirus aid to begin fixing the problems. But the work is costly and slow-moving. WLRN.

Opinions on schools: Away from the flashy tech hub sales pitch, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez pushes an agenda that focuses on encouraging school choice, low taxes, combating homelessness and a well-funded police department. In January, Suarez takes over as chairman of the Conference of Mayors, and hopes from that position to push his center-right brand of urban policy on a national stage. Matthew Ladner, Miami Herald. Until local legislators and community leaders view early childhood education in the same light as primary school, we will see more early childhood education programs closing their doors, leaving many families unable to work and children without qualified school readiness programs and care. Ali DeMaria, Orlando Sentinel. We wish lawmakers had curbed some of their more frivolous impulses and prioritized spending in the areas where it’s most needed. They need to find a way to reassure Floridians that the most vulnerable residents won’t be the ones who suffer when the budget picture sobers up. Orlando Sentinel. For better or for worse, depending on your politics, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran has had more of an impact on how Florida educates its children than anyone since Jeb Bush. Joe Henderson, Florida Politics. Where is the Students Bill of Rights, to assure the Florida constitutional guarantee of a high-quality free public education for all students? Every student deserves a highly effective certified teacher, a research-based curriculum, and a healthy and safe school that embraces diversity, equity and inclusion. Lanelle Phillmon and Linda Mann, Florida Times-Union.