More school tax breaks proposed, scholarship funding growth, Blue Ribbon Schools, and more

Tax breaks proposed: Gov. Ron DeSantis will ask the Legislature to approve $1.1 billion in tax cuts when it meets next spring. The proposal would add a second two-week back-to-school tax holiday to the traditional 14-day period held before schools open in August. The second holiday would be held before the spring semester. DeSantis also wants to make tax-exempt status permanent for such things as baby diapers, baby wipes, cribs, strollers and clothes and shoes for children under age 5. Sales taxes would also be deferred for a year on books for readers under age 17, toys for children between ages 2 and 12 and athletic equipment for children under 18. Record state reserves would pay for those expanded holidays and several others. “We can do this tax relief, really, without breaking a sweat at this point,” DeSantis said Tuesday. The 60-day legislative session begins March 7. News Service of Florida. USA Today Florida Network. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. WKMG.

School funding shift: Funding for state scholarships that allow students to attend private schools has grown from $326 million in 2020 to an estimated $1.3 billion for this school year, according to a report by the nonprofit Florida Policy Institute and the Education Law Center. Some education officials, such as Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna, criticize the expansion of what they call the “diversion” of public funds to private schools. Scott Kent, director of media and strategic communications for the organization Step Up For Students, which helps administer the state’s scholarship programs and hosts this blog, disputed that funds are diverted. “The school districts never receive the money so it can’t be redirected,” he said. “It’s just an accounting entry used by the state.” News Service of Florida. WCTV.

Blue ribbon schools: Two Florida schools are among 297 across the United States to be selected as National Blue Ribbon Schools by the U.S. Department of Education. Schools are chosen for their academic performance or their progress in closing achievement gaps between demographic groups of students. Florida schools honored were Duval County’s Holy Spirit Catholic School, which is part of the Diocese of St. Augustine, and Broward County’s St. Thomas Aquinas High School, which is part of the Diocese of Miami. “As our country continues to recover from the pandemic, we know that our future will only be as strong as the education we provide to all of our children,” U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement. “Blue Ribbon Schools have gone above and beyond to keep students healthy and safe while meeting their academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs.” Florida Times-Union. U.S. Department of Education.

Around the state: Hillsborough school board members approve a sex education curriculum for students in 7th, 8th and 9th grades, Pasco school officials will change the district policy on student reassignments for nondisciplinary reasons to allow appeals from parents, Duval school officials dispute a report this week that the district has banned 176 books from school library shelves, Collier school board members will allow three controversial books to be checked out by students only with parental consent, Escambia school board members vote to delay any consideration of ending Superintendent Tim Smith’s contract, a Martin County school resource officer will be disciplined for accidentally discharging his weapon inside a school, and Florida’s education commissioner says the state would welcome about 850 New York City teachers who were fired for not getting a COVID vaccination. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Hillsborough: School board members have approved sex education courses for the district’s 7th-, 8th- and 9th-graders. The curriculum, which was posted on the school board’s website 20 days ago to give parents a chance to review, focuses on reproductive health and disease prevention. “This is curriculum we feel strong about that aligns with new legislation,” said Superintendent Addison Davis. Parents may still opt their children out of the classes. WTSP.

Palm Beach: Jupiter High School’s dance team will perform in this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City on Nov. 24. The team qualified in 2021, but delayed their trip because of the pandemic. About 11 of the 35 team members are expected to make the trip. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: School officials are disputing a report this week from the free speech advocacy group PEN America that they banned 176 books after complaints were filed. The books are simply being reviewed, according to school officials, and have never been on school library shelves. Furthermore, the district said, none of them were challenged by members of the community. The review process will take longer than expected because of staff shortages, they said. WJXT. WJCT.

Lee: Eight county students have been named 2023 National Merit Scholarship semifinalists, district officials have announced. Three are from Fort Myers High, with one each from Cape Coral High, Lehigh Senior High, Bonita Springs High, Estero High and South Fort Myers High. Students are selected by the results of the PSAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. Finalists will be announced in February. Lee County School District.

Pasco: School officials will rewrite the district’s policy on reassigning students for nondisciplinary reasons as part of a settlement over a parent’s complaint. Rebecca Yuengling objected to the reassignment of her daughter to a new school in January because the district said Yuengling had harassed teachers and disrupted operations, and took the district to court. District officials agreed to allow her two children to remain at Cypress Creek High School and to change the reassignment policy to include an appeals process for parents. Tampa Bay Times. A teacher was arrested Friday and accused of slapping a student on the head. A classroom video showed Bryce Givens, 46, striking the student with an open hand, according to deputies. Givens told deputies the boy had pulled the hair of another student, and he reacted. He’s been charged with child abuse. WFLA.

Brevard: Members of the book review committee will begin their work Sept. 28 by evaluating the first of 39 books that have been challenged by the Moms for Liberty for containing what they call inappropriate, sexually explicit material. A House of Earth and Blood, the first novel in the young adult fantasy Crescent City series by Sarah J. Maas, will be the first book reviewed by the 10-member committee that includes district officials and members of the community chosen by school board members. It’s projected that the evaluation process could take a year. Florida Today.

Volusia: After 20 years as school board attorney, Ted Doran has been replaced. Two weeks ago, school board members expressed their dissatisfaction with Doran’s performance in his evaluation. Jamie Haynes gave Doran a 2 on a scale of 19, while Anita Burnette gave him a 4 and Ruben Colon a 9. They complained that Doran treated board members unequally, doesn’t respond to constructive criticism and has communication issues. Doran disputed the criticisms, but said he proposed replacing himself with Aaron Wolfe to avoid further confrontation. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Collier: School board members voted Tuesday to allow three controversial books to be available for high school students as long as they have parental consent. The books, Sloppy Firsts, Nineteen Minutes and The Bluest Eye, won’t be on school library shelves but can be checked out by asking a librarian. WFTX.

Marion: Trinity Catholic High School in Ocala has received an $8 million donation to help build a fine arts facility for student assemblies and theatric productions. Albert V. Colangelo, a 96-year-old tailor-turned-entrepreneur who moved to Ocala from New Jersey several years ago, gave the money for the building, which will be named the Colangelo Fine Arts Center in honor of Colangelo and his late wife Elizabeth. The total cost for the 740-seat theater and center is expected to be about $25 million. Ocala Star-Banner.

Escambia: A proposal to discuss the possible termination of school Superintendent Tim Smith was removed from Tuesday’s school board agenda on a 3-2 vote by board members. Smith has been the target of angry parents the past few days after it was disclosed that students were tested on a scenario in the student handbook in which a 17-year-old student sent nude photos to her boyfriend, which were distributed after they broke up. The girl was then harassed at school and committed suicide. Smith apologized for the test, said the questions were being removed from the handbook and that he was appointing a committee to review the protocols for making such decisions. Pensacola News Journal. WEAR.

Martin: A school resource officer at the Treasure Coast Classical Academy charter school in Stuart will be disciplined after accidentally discharging his gun in the school Monday, according to sheriff’s department officials. The deputy thought the gun was unloaded and was test-firing it in his office. But one bullet was still in the chamber. “He did it inappropriately and he did it in an inappropriate place,” said Sheriff William Snyder. “(The bullet) went through the wall, through the hallway into a bookcase in an adjoining classroom.” No one was injured. WFTL.

Walton: School enrollment continues to grow, according to district officials. With that growth comes a need for more teachers and other staff. Deputy superintendent Jennifer Hawthorne said the district is still looking to hire five teachers, but the more pressing need is for more school bus drivers. WJHG.

Gadsden: School officials have launched the first of a school year-long series of monthly meetings with the community to discuss school safety, attendance, Title I programs and student success, and listen to concerns of parents. “Transparency is key … people knowing what’s going on, knowing what the district is doing is key and I think that people will understand that we’re trying to work hand in hand because in the end we can’t do it by ourselves,” said Superintendent Elijah Key. WTXL.

Colleges and universities: The chief operating officer and vice president of administrative affairs for Florida Atlantic University has been named the interim president. Stacy Volnick replaces the resigning John Kelly on Jan. 1, but trustees said she will not be a candidate for the permanent position. WPTV. Miami Dade College has opened a new artificial intelligence center at its north campus. It’s the first school in Florida to offer an undergraduate degree in applied AI. Miami Herald. WSVN. A University of Central Florida professor who was suspended for allegedly calling his colleagues Nazis is suing the school. Scott Launier was suspended in September 2020 and was later informed that his contract wasn’t being renewed. He contends UCF retaliated against him because he had accused it of “corruption and institutional racism.” Florida Politics. An on-campus football stadium at the University in South Florida could cost $350 million, according to estimates by the design/construction firm AECOM Hunt. Tampa Bay Times. Florida Gulf Coast University’s athletic department has received a $1 million donation from the Hillmyer-Tremont Student Athlete Foundation to be used for scholarships for student-athletes. Florida Gulf Coast University.

Florida recruits NYC teachers: Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. is recruiting New York City teachers who were recently fired for not being immunized to move to Florida. Diaz retweeted a report of the teachers being fired and added, “Come on down to the free state of Florida! We are proud to offer reciprocity to New York teachers.” WCTI.

Opinions on schools: As politicians eye the opportunity that large employers moving from less desirable locations present, they should think about using school choice as a magnet to attract businesses to their state. Mike McShane, Forbes.

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BY NextSteps staff