Education Commissioner Corcoran resigning, ‘Stop W.O.K.E. Act,’ $112.1B budget, and more

Corcoran resigning: Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said Thursday that he would step down at the end of April to spend more time with his family, practice law, do some consulting and start a few businesses. Corcoran, 56, has been an ally of Gov. Ron DeSantis in pushing conservative policies into education, such as the expansion of education choice and school scholarships. “Richard has been a champion for students and families, and a great leader of the Department of Education,” DeSantis said in a statement. “He is driven by his principles and has never shied away from making the difficult decisions needed to improve the quality of education in Florida.” DeSantis appointed Corcoran to the DOE position in 2018 after Corcoran’s bid for the governorship failed. In the spring of 2021, Corcoran also applied for the job of president of Florida State University, but lost out to Richard McCullough. Corcoran said he intended to leave the job sooner, but “COVID kept me longer than I anticipated.” Among the names being mentioned as his possible successor are his deputy at DOE, Senior Chancellor Jacob Oliva, and state Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Politico Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Tallahassee Democrat. Florida Phoenix. Florida Politics. WUSF. Florida Department of Education.

Anti-‘woke’ bill passes: One of Gov. DeSantis’ top legislative priorities for this session was approved by the Senate and now heads to his desk for a signature. H.B. 7 will place restrictions on how race-related material can be taught in schools and used in workplace training sessions, and allow parents to sue schools that violate the law. Its official title is the “Individual Freedom” bill, but when DeSantis proposed it last December he dubbed it the “Stop W.O.K.E. Act,” which stands for “stop wrongs against our kids and employees.” He said the legislation was necessary to root out references to critical race theory, which he said teaches students “to hate our country or to hate each other.” News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Associated Press. USA Today Florida Network. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Politics. Capitol News Service.

Record budget: A record $112.1 billion budget was agreed to this week by Senate and House negotiators, which is an 11 percent increase over this year’s $101 billion. The budget has $24.3 billion for K-12 education, including $800 million to boost teacher pay and an increase of $385 in per-student spending to bring the total to $8,143. It also restores the proposed $200 million cut to 12 districts that didn’t comply with the state’s ban on face mask mandates. Legislators received the published budget at 1:53 p.m. Thursday. Because of the 72-hour “cooling off” period required between a budget agreement and a final vote, legislative leaders decided to wait until Monday to have the Legislature approve the budget and adjourn the session. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Orlando Sentinel. USA Today Florida Network. Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times.

Also in the Legislature: Lawmakers approved a bill Thursday that sets 12-year term limits for local school board members and calls for districts to set up an online database with all library and instructional materials for parents to review. H.B. 1467 is now headed to the desk of the governor. Politico Florida. Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times. Florida Phoenix. Florida Politics. Voters will decide in November whether to exempt teachers, first responders and child welfare workers from another $50,000 in property value for non-school property taxes. At least 60 percent pf voters will have to approve it for it to take effect Jan. 1, 2023. Florida Politics.

Around the state: An investigation is underway into allegations that some Duval County charter schools are unlawfully using money from an extra half-cent sales tax to pay down debt, two Polk County school committees have completed their review of two challenged books, the Lee County School Board’s choice for superintendent has accepted a contract paying him $255,000 a year, and a study of Florida’s Gardiner Scholarship program concludes that the more parents use education savings accounts, the more comfortable they are to look for more educational options and create a customized learning plan for their children. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: District officials are investigating a teacher at Fairway Elementary School in Miramar  who allegedly threatened a 9-year-old autistic student. The mother suspected the teacher had been bullying her daughter, and hid a microphone in her clothes to capture the teacher’s words. WPLG.

Duval: An independent oversight committee for the district is questioning how some of the district’s charter schools are spending revenues from the new, half-cent sales tax that took effect last year. The committee said in its first report that some of the charter schools are using the money to pay down debt, which would be a violation of the law. Superintendent Diana Greene said the question of legality has been raised with a state auditor. According to state law, charter school can use those revenues only to lease or buy property, or for technology, vehicles and media for their schools WJCT.

Polk: Two committees completed their review of the first two of 16 school library books that have been challenged for content. The committees discussed the Afghan American novel, The Kite Runner, and the graphic novel about a middle school theater production called Drama. Superintendent Frederick Heid said he’ll announce the committee’s conclusions once he’s verified votes from committee members who participated virtually. WFLA. The youth group UthMpact is making preparations to give away formal wear for proms to students in need. It’s the 10th year the group has collected clothing and accessories for students. The Project Prom store is at Lakeland Square Mall and is open March 12, 26 and April 9 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Lakeland Ledger. An 8th-grader at Lake Marion Creek Middle School in Poinciana was arrested Wednesday and accused of having a gun and ammunition at school. The boy told deputies it was his parents’ gun, and he sneaked it out of their locked bedroom while they were out of town. Lakeland Ledger. Orlando Sentinel.

Pinellas: About 3,700 people, more than 80 percent of them teachers or parents, filled out a school district survey to say what they’d like to see in the next superintendent. School board members are looking for a replacement for Michael Grego, who has led the district the past 10 years. The survey is one of the first steps in that process. Tampa Bay Times.

Lee: School board members’ choice for a new superintendent, Christopher Bernier, has accepted a contract for two and a half years that will pay him $255,000 a year to start. He’ll also receive $15,000 to consult with interim superintendent Ken Savage until he begins work in the district in May. If Lee voters decide in November to make the superintendent’s position an elected one, Bernier’s contract will be extended another year. Fort Myers News-Press.

Collier: A former track coach who worked at Palmetto Ridge High School in Naples as a teacher’s aide has been arrested and accused of having sex with a student last year. District officials began investigating the actions of Amed Garriga-Smith, 37, after receiving a complaint from the girl’s mother last September. He resigned from his job Oct. 1. Naples Daily News. WINK.

St. Johns: Negotiations between district officials and the teachers union resume March 30 after a tentative contract agreement was reached last week. Pay for starting teachers is going up from $45,535 to $47,500, veteran teachers will get raises of $2,185 and $3,423, and supplements for coaches, club sponsors and department chairs are increasing 27.5 percent. A few more details still have to be worked before the deal is presented to union members and the school board for consideration. St. Augustine Record.

St. Lucie: A 14-year-old student at West Gate K-8 school in Port St. Lucie was arrested Thursday after deputies found a “kill list” of eight names on her phone. Deputies found no weapons in the girl’s home, but arrested her mother on charges of child neglect, possession of cocaine and possession of drug paraphernalia. TCPalm. WPTV. WPEC.

Charlotte: School board members have approved a land swap between the district and a developer. Both properties are valued at around $650,000. The land the district receives is suitable for a future school — close to Toledo Blade Boulevard and U.S. 41, and with an access area for buses. The developer, Kolter Group LLC, gets 187 acres abutting Flamingo Boulevard in the northwest part of the county, where it plans to build almost 2,000 single-family and multifamily homes in the second phase of the West Port neighborhood. Charlotte Sun.

Colleges and universities: As part of the state budget agreement, Florida lawmakers have allocated $100 million for the University of Florida to build a technology campus in West Palm Beach. Sun Sentinel. A program started by a Florida A&M University professor to address mental health issues of first responders has received a $2.5 million grant from the state. Kellie O’Dare, director of the 2nd Alarm Project, plan to use the money to support existing initiatives and develop new resources for other first responder agencies. Tallahassee Democrat.

ESA spending study: The more parents use education savings accounts, the more comfortable they are to look for more educational options and create a customized learning plan for their children, according to a study of Florida’s Gardiner Scholarship program that was published March 4 in the journal School Choice. reimaginED.