Florida college acceptance disparities, child well-being, affordable housing and more

Acceptance disparities: Students from high schools in poorer communities are significantly less likely to enroll in Florida’s public universities than students in wealthier communities, according to an analysis of three years of data from the state university system. High schools with 40 percent of students from low-income families will typically have 11 more students enroll at the University of Florida and 16 more at the University of Central Florida than a school of the same size where 80 percent are disadvantaged, University of North Florida professor Mary Borg found. A contributing factor to the disparities is the state’s continued reliance on college entrance exams such as the SAT and ACT when evaluating applications. Many colleges no longer require test scores on applications. Studies have shown that students from low-income families don’t score highly on those exams, and some research suggests the exams are not consistently accurate in predicting college success. Orlando Sentinel.

Around the state: A new report puts St. Johns as the top county in the state for child well-being, prosecutors won’t charge Broward school board member-elect Rod Velez for breaking the law but also say he isn’t eligible to be sworn in, Brevard schools will appoint a committee to recommend changes in the district’s disciplinary policies, and Hillsborough school officials are considering converting closed schools into affordable housing for district employees. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: Prosecutors said Tuesday that Rod Velez, elected to the school board Nov. 8 but not installed because he hasn’t had his full civil rights restored after a felony conviction, won’t be charged for knowingly breaking state law. But they also said he is not eligible to be sworn in. Another hearing on the matter is scheduled today. Sun-Sentinel. The school district is one of just 19 across the country to receive U.S. Department of Education grants to support school choice and magnet programs. With the $14 million, the district will create new magnet programs at Oakland Park Elementary School, Mirror Lake Elementary and James S. Rickards Middle, and revise existing programs at Plantation Middle, Plantation High and Northeast High. The Capitolist. A West Broward High School aide who works with students with mental disabilities has been arrested and accused of inappropriately touching at least two of them. Police said John Harrison Smith, 53, was caught by a campus monitor with two students, 14 and 15, who are autistic and developmentally challenged. Sun-Sentinel. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR. WTVJ. Miami Herald. A security guard at Coconut Creek High School is facing charges of having an unlawful sexual relationship with a teenage student. Police said Bresha Roberson faces eight charges, including unlawful sexual activity of a minor and solicitation of a child. WFOR.

Hillsborough: District officials are still developing plans to build affordable housing for teachers and other school staff. As part of a proposed school rezoning plan that could affect up to 24,000 students and shutter several underenrolled schools, officials are considering closing some schools and converting them into housing as a way to attract and keep employees. “That’s going to be an opportunity for employees to save a tremendous amount of money but openly be able to give them a perk,” said Superintendent Addison Davis. WFTS. Parents angry about the proposed zoning changes have started multiple online petitions to fight the plans. “Our biggest concern, first and foremost, is about our children’s education,” said parent Luke Posson. “Our children have gone through COVID, through remote learning, through mask mandates, and now to think that they might be moved from a top-rated elementary or middle school to an underperforming school would just be devastating to both their education and their mental and emotional health.” School district officials have said the changes are necessary to balance out enrollment and save money. WTVT.

Lee: Today is the last day for the old Franklin Park Elementary School in Fort Myers. The school is being torn down and rebuilt, with a scheduled reopening in the fall of 2024. Starting next month, students will attend classes at a portable campus set up across the street from James Stephens Elementary. Fort Myers News-Press. A 15-year-old Cape Coral High School student was arrested Monday and accused of making an online threat against the school. Officers said the boy admitted he posted a message threatening to “shoot up” the school. WINK. WFTX. WBBH.

Brevard: At a press conference Tuesday, school board chair Matt Susin said a committee of educators, parents, students and others will begin meeting early next year to recommend changes in the school district’s disciplinary policies. Until then, Susin said, students and their parents can expect school administrators to more strictly enforce existing rules on cell phone use in school and violence against school employees. School board members also unanimously approved a contract for interim superintendent Robert Schiller. He begins work Jan. 1, replacing the departing Mark Mullins, and will be paid $18,750 a month, with another $6,000 going into a retirement account. The contract is set to expire May 31. Florida Today. WKMG. Space Coast Daily. WFTV.

Clay: Nearly 900 students would be moved next fall under a proposed rezoning plan to ease overcrowding at several schools and to fill the new Spring Park Elementary School. Families affected by the changes will have a chance to ask questions and raise concerns at a public meeting Jan. 17. WJXT.

Okaloosa: A 16-year-old Choctawhatchee High School student was arrested Tuesday and accused of having a weapon on campus. A school resource officer who was tipped off found a knife in the boy’s pocket. He told deputies he opened the knife in class to cut paper. WEAR.

Child well-being ratings: St. Johns County is the top county in the state for child well-being, according to a new report released by the Orlando-based Florida Policy Institute using data from the annual Kids Count report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Seminole was second, followed by Broward, Nassau and Santa Rosa. The bottom five were Madison, DeSoto, Hendry, Putnam and Franklin. One of the componets making up the rankings is education. Walton County ranked first in that category, followed by Santa Rosa, Wakulla, Seminole and Monroe. The lowest-rated districts for education are Franklin, Hardee, Washington, Suwannee and DeSoto. Florida Phoenix. WMFE.

Around the nation: The government spending plan Congress is trying to finalize this week includes a $3 billion-plus boost for education. It totals $79.6 billion, and includes more money for low-income school districts and college students. Among the specifics: $2.4 billion more for K-12 schools, including $934 million more for special education; a $500 increase in maximum Pell grants; $137 million more for historically black colleges and universities; $960 million more for Head Start pre-K programs; and slight increases in funding for student mental health services and child nutrition programs. Politico.

Opinions on schools: Every school has room to improve, and that certainly includes the charters that partner with for-profit companies for services. But on average, the evidence leads us to believe that public charter schools — in all their forms — can be beneficial to students. So try to keep an open mind when you hear about that popular misnomer otherwise known as for-profit charter schools. Amber M. Northern and Nathaniel Grossman, reimaginED. The culture war battles being waged in Florida are not only doing lasting damage to our public education system but to the basic constitutional rights of all Floridians. Our freedom of speech protects our right to think our own thoughts, debate ideas and question authority. It is clear these threats to our civil liberties are being advanced for personal political gain. Floridians must not allow the government to suppress First Amendment rights in the classroom without a fight. Kirk Bailey, Florida Phoenix. There were so many reasons school board member Brenda Fam should not have spoken at a right-wing rally three weeks ago. The worst was that she was promoting a dangerous lie — that public schools are, to use Gov. Ron DeSantis’ term, “sexualizing” students by pushing them toward an LGBTQ lifestyle. This lie is at the heart of the Republican Party’s push to take over school boards in the name of “parents’ rights.” Randy Schultz, Sun-Sentinel.