Bill proposes making all state K-12 students eligible for scholarships, flag policy and more

Choice expansion proposed: Every K-12 student in Florida would be eligible for a school scholarship from the state under a bill introduced in the Florida House on Thursday. H.B. 1. would set up education savings accounts, providing state-funded scholarships that families at any income level could use for private-school tuition and other services and expenses such as tutoring, instructional materials, fees for exams and “contracted services” provided by public schools. If approved, it would be the biggest expansion of Florida’s scholarship program since it began 21 years ago. House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, called the bill a move toward “universal choice.” The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Kaylee Tuck, R-Lake Placid, said it would give parents the power to create a “customized and tailored education system that fits best for their students.” Critics had a different view. “That sound you hear is the crumbling of public school walls as the Florida House moves forward on dismantling public schools,” tweeted Monroe County School Board member Sue Woltanski. House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, called the proposal a “continuation of Republican attacks on our public education system.” The bill, which will be heard next week by the House Choice and Innovation Subcommittee, does not yet have a price tag or companion legislation in the Senate. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the state’s scholarship programs. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Politico Florida. USA Today Florida Network. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel. reimaginED. Florida Phoenix. Florida Politics.

Around the state: Miami-Dade County School Board members may reconsider a just-passed policy on what flags can fly in classrooms, a tentative contract agreement has been reached between Broward teachers and the district, Brevard is the latest district to use international teachers to fill open positions, a pilot program placing metal detectors in some Palm Beach County high schools could start next fall, Sarasota schools announce the teacher of the year, and three finalists are named for the Alachua school district’s teacher of the year. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: School board member Roberto Alonso is proposing to amend the recently passed policy that deals with the display of flags in district classrooms. The policy calls for the display of American flags in every classroom, as well as “federally protected flags and classes may be visible as appropriate.” After Alonso proposed deleting the phrase mentioning protected classes, a board majority agreed to direct district staff to research other options. Alonso also said preliminary survey results indicate more than 1,000 classrooms in 87 schools do not have an American flag. Deputy superintendent John Pace said that is a shipping supply issue. “Those flags were ordered … and they have been delivered,” he said. WPLG.

Broward: Starting teachers will be paid $48,925, up from $47,500 last year, and experienced teachers will receive raises ranging from 3.75 to 5 percent under a tentative contract agreement reached by the school district and the teachers union. All teachers would also receive $1,000 bonuses. Superintendent Vickie Cartwright said, “It’s the negotiation process of going back and forth and making sure we’re making a good-faith effort to provide as much as possible, but sometimes we’re not able to provide what the ask is. We’re trying to make sure we’re fiscally responsible.” Sun-Sentinel.

Palm Beach: School officials have given the go-ahead for a pilot program putting metal detectors in some district high schools. “With security and safety, your work is never done,” said Superintendent Michael Burke. “I supported the pilot at a couple schools. I want to see how that goes, and I’ll bring back a more detailed recommendation to the board.” He said the first detectors could go into select schools next fall. School board members also approved a new security plan calling for all classroom doors to be locked at all times except during class changes, and established guidelines for employees on how to use new mobile panic buttons that all have with their ID badge. WPTV. A teacher at Royal Palm Beach Community High School was arrested Thursday after allegedly having a gun and knife on school property. School district police officers discovered the weapons in the possession of Robert Krasnicki, 42,  who won’t be returning to the school, according to principal Michelle Fleming. WPTV. WPEC.

Lee: School officials are asking the public for help in naming the original Lehigh Acres Middle School, which closed in the summer of 2021 but has been renovated and is reopening for 6th-, 7th- and 8th-graders in August. A new Lehigh Acres Middle opened in August 2021. Suggestions are being taken through Jan. 26, and school officials said they should reflect the history, culture and people of Florida, the native environment, or the neighborhood. WINK.

Brevard: Twenty international teachers are now leading classrooms in five district schools through a contract the district has with TPG Cultural Exchange to help ease the teacher shortage. “District approached us about it,” said Saturn Elementary School principal Kori Hurst, who said she started the year with nine unfilled teaching positions. “I said, yes, I’m on board.” The teachers are on year-to-year contracts but can stay for up to five years. WOFL.

Collier, southwest Florida: Interim school superintendent Leslie Ricciardelli talks about her priorities and goals for the second semester of the school year. She was appointed to the post after Kamela Patton left in December. Naples Daily News. An organization that supports school employees of the five school districts hardest hit by the hurricane has received $1 million that it will distribute in Collier, Lee, Sarasota, Hardee and DeSoto counties. The money will help school employees buy essential items like food, gas and baby supplies, in addition to home repairs and transportation. WWSB.

Sarasota: Timothy Ferguson, a music teacher at Garden Elementary School in Venice, has been named the school district’s teacher of the year. He’s now eligible for the statewide award. Other finalists were Joseph Conner from Venice Middle School and Courtney Smith from Booker High. Also honored was Amber Rylak, a physical education teacher at Emma E. Booker Elementary School, who was named the innovation teacher of the year for utilizing creative strategies to help each student. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WWSB.

St. Lucie: Extra mental health counselors are available to help students at seven schools after a mass shooting at Ilous Ellis Park in Fort Pierce on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Eight people were shot at the park, and one has died. Heather Roland, the executive director of exceptional student education and student services for the school district, said counselors are meeting with students individually and in groups. “We really just create that safe space for them to be able to talk about what happened, and we allow for their questions to be the guide for the way we will respond,” she said. WPTV.

Escambia: The dean of Warrington Middle School in Pensacola, 33-year-old Darreyel Laster, has been arrested and charged with lewd and lascivious behavior involving a person under the age of 18, using a computer to seduce or solicit a child, and committing a sex act in the presence of a correctional facility employee, according to deputies. WEAR.

Alachua: Three finalists have been chosen for the school district’s teacher of the year award. The elementary school finaist is Lillimarie Gore, a behavior resource teacher at Sidney Lanier School. Richard Thomas, the dean at Kanapaha Middle School, is the middle school finalist, and Karen Kearney, a science teacher at Buchholz High School, is the high school finalist. The winner will be announced Jan. 26. Gainesville Sun. Mainstreet Daily News.

Charlotte: School board members are reviewing 49 district policies on how to teach about nutrition, substance abuse, prevention of child abuse, human trafficking and the prevention of AIDS and more in order to comply with the state’s Parental Rights in Education law. About a half-dozen of the changes are new; one includes teaching about the “benefits of monogamous heterosexual marriage” to prevent AIDS. Charlotte Sun.

Monroe: A charter high school is opening in the fall on the campus of the College of the Florida Keys in Key West. CFK Academy will give students the opportunity to take dual-enrollment classes and graduate from high school with both a diploma and an associate’s degree. Eighty-five students are expected to enroll the first year, and that’s expected to increase to 220 within five years, said college president Jonathan Gueverra. Florida Keys Weekly.

Around the nation: A new national poll of LGBTQ respondents between the ages of 13 and 24 shows that state laws restricting their rights are causing fear and anger, and negatively affecting their mental health. The 74.

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BY NextSteps staff