Education budget, board term limits, critical race theory, Simon fired, Duval tax request, and more

Education spending: House leaders have increased their K-12 education budget proposal by $484 million, to $24.4 billion, as Senate and House negotiators continue trying to reconcile their budgets. Among the changes are a commitment to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, an alignment with the Senate’s $239 per-student allocation increase, and an increase in money for school transportation and mental health services for students. Still in the budget is a $200 million penalty for 12 school districts that defied Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on face mask mandates in schools, which the Senate has not included. The Senate is expected to make a counteroffer today. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. News Service of Florida.

Board term limits: Members of the Senate Rules Committee voted Tuesday to approve a bill setting 12-year term limits for local school board members and increasing the scrutiny given to school library books and instructional materials. If approved by the full Senate, the bill will have to go back to the House for reconsideration because its version calls for eight-year term limits. “Sometimes I feel that eight years just isn’t enough for members,” said state Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, who sponsored the proposal. “I think at 12 years, you should certainly be able to get done everything you want to accomplish in that period of time.” Politico Florida. Florida Politics. Florida Phoenix. News Service of Florida.

Contentious bill approved: The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved the bill that would prevent the teaching of critical race theory and any instruction leading students to believe that a “person, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex or national origin, bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the person played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, national origin or sex.” The House has already passed the bill, so if it’s approved by the full Senate it could soon be ready for Gov. DeSantis’ signature. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. News Service of Florida.

Also in the Legislature: The House is expected to vote today on a tax-cut package that includes sales tax-free holidays of 14 days for back-to-school shopping and hurricane preparedness, seven days on such things as tickets to music events, sporting events, movies, theaters, parks, fairs and museums, purchases of recreational items, and a seven-day break for skilled trades workers to buy tools. A proposal to change the tax code to close a loophole for multi-state corporations was rejected, even though one representative said it could generate $500 million for the state. News Service of Florida. A bill that would would require members of public unions, such as teachers, to confirm annually that they want to remain members of the union is headed for a vote in the full House after its passage this week in the House State Affairs Committee. Members also would not be allowed to have union dues automatically deducted from their paychecks. Florida Politics.

Around the state: Alachua County School Board members vote to fire Superintendent Carlee Simon, Duval school board members approve the placement of a property tax increase before voters on the August primary ballot, Pasco school board members say they are ready to consider asking voters to approve a property tax increase to improve pay for the district’s employees, some Escambia County parents looking for a preschool for their children are being put on year-long waiting lists, Monroe County schools will pay an extra $400,000 for property and casualty insurance, two finalists are named for the open president’s job at the University of South Florida, and Indian River State College will offer tuition-free associate degrees next fall to public and charter high school graduates in Indian River, Martin, Okeechobee and St. Lucie counties. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Four more Miami Killian Senior High School students were arrested this week for their alleged involvement with the sale of a gun in a school bathroom last week. Officers said a 15-year-old boy was arrested Friday for trying to sell the gun to another student, but was beaten by a student who then stole the gun. Monday, officers arrested four 17-year-olds and accused them of being involved in the theft or the hiding of the gun. WPLG.

Duval: School board members voted 6-1 on Tuesday to ask voters in August to approve a 1-mill property tax increase so teacher salaries and athletics and arts programs in schools can be improved. Superintendent Diana Greene said the extra revenue is needed to slow the exodus of teachers from the district. “We are competing more than ever with the private industry and other school districts in the battle of human capital,” Greene said. “For every three teachers we hire, we’re probably losing about six.” If the request is approved by the city council and then voters, the tax would go into effect go into effect July 1, 2023, and raise an estimated $81 million a year for four years. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. WTLV.

Pasco: School board members have agreed to begin considering asking voters to increase school district property taxes to fund higher pay for teachers and other school employees. “We’re at a critical time,” said board member Colleen Beaudoin. “We have to address this.” Pasco pays less than the surrounding counties of Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando. Tampa Bay Times. Allen Altman, a member of the school board since 2006, announced Tuesday that he would not be running for a fifth term. Altman, 63, said, “It was extremely important to me to make sure if I decided not to run again that there were candidates that care more about students and families than about their own personal agendas and political statements. I am confident there will be one or two candidates who will make tremendous board members.” So far, Jonathan McKeen-Chaff, who runs a tutoring firm, is the only candidate for the District 1 seat. Tampa Bay Times. A student at Pineview Middle School in Land O’Lakes was arrested Tuesday for allegedly having a gun at school. Deputies said no one was hurt and the student made no threats. WFLA.

Brevard: A bill honoring a late Cocoa Beach high school student who died of cardiac arrest is moving through the U.S. Congress. The Access to AEDs Act in Memory of Rafe Maccarone would provide grants to elementary and secondary schools to develop programs promoting the use of automated external defibrillation and CPR in schools. Maccarone was a 15-year-old soccer player who collapsed on the school’s practice field and died of an undiagnosed heart condition in 2007. Florida Today.

Escambia: Demand for slots in county preschool programs far outstrips the number of spaces available, creating waiting lists of up to a year for parents and their children. “It hasn’t been because of the pandemic and lack of funding,” said Bruce Watson, executive director of the Early Learning Coalition Pensacola. “It’s because the child-care business is suffering from the same woes as restaurants and gas stations and everybody else. The fact is there are not enough people wanting to do the work.” Pensacola News Journal.

Leon: School officials are partnering with the Second Harvest of the Big Bend, a nonprofit social services organization, to create a pilot program at Sabal Palm Elementary School to provide food for hungry people. Superintendent Rocky Hanna said if the Hope 24/7 Grocery Locker Program is successful, it’s expected to expand to other areas of the county. Tallahassee Reports.

Alachua: In a 3-2 vote Tuesday, school board members fired Superintendent Carlee Simon. The firing is effective today, and the board will immediately begin looking for an interim superintendent. Until one is found, deputy superintendent Donna Jones will be the acting superintendent. Simon became the interim superintendent 15 months ago, and less than a year ago the board voted 3-2 to remove the interim label. Her tenure was marked with controversy over face masks, a reorganization plan, a school improvements project list, a public dispute with a board member, and allegations that she didn’t have the proper credentials for the job. Mainstreet Daily News. WCJB. WGFL. Alachua Chronicle. A school district employee said he plans to sue the now-former superintendent Simon for defamation. Scott Burton, who is the director of Camp Crystal Lake, said Simon accused him of mismanaging funds, but a district investigation cleared him of any wrongdoing. WCJB. Alachua Chronicle.

Monroe: School board members reluctantly approved spending an additional $400,000 for property and casualty insurance for the 2022-2023 school year. A broker for the firm representing the district attributed the increase on more than 42 billion-dollar weather-related emergencies in the country in 2020 and 2021. “Between wildfires and major freeze events, there have been lots of major catastrophes, the most billion-dollar-plus weather and climate disasters in U.S. history,” said Ilene Abella of Arthur J. Gallagher Risk Management Service. She added that insurance companies view the Keys “as one of the most vulnerable areas in the country.” Florida Keys Weekly.

Colleges and universities: Two finalists have emerged from the search for a new president of the University of Florida. Rhea Law, the interim president who said last week she had applied for the permanent job, and Jeffrey W. Talley, the former chief and commanding general of the U.S. Army Reserve and a former department chairperson at Southern Methodist University, will be interviewed Friday. Tampa Bay Times. Indian River State College will offer tuition-free associate degrees next fall to public and charter high school graduates in Indian River, Martin, Okeechobee and St. Lucie counties. Students must graduate with at least a 2.0 grade point average to qualify, though college athletes will be excluded. IRSC has about 22,000 students at its main campus in Fort Pierce and others in Okeechobee, Port St. Lucie, Stuart and Vero Beach. TCPalm.

Around the nation: In his State of the Union speech Tuesday, President Joe Biden noted the effect the pandemic has had on the lives of students, and called on Americans to serve as tutors and mentors in schools. In his 2023 budget, he’s proposed doubling the number of school social workers and counselors, and spending $70 million for early-childhood mental health services. The 74. Education Week. Chalkbeat. School book challenges have reached levels not seen in decades, as more disaffected parents and groups they’ve started challenge decisions made by school boards and districts. Associated Press.

Opinions on schools: It remains to be seen whether the growth of home-schooling experienced during the pandemic will persist. But the meaning of home-schooling could change dramatically in the coming years. It may be less of an either-or question, as it is combined with more-formal learning contexts, whether they be online experiences, neighborhood pods, cooperatives, or joint undertakings with public and private schools. Daniel Hamlin and Paul E. Peterson, Education Next.