Scholarship bill advances without a price tag attached, library opt-outs and more

Scholarship bill advances: A proposed bill that would make every Florida K-12 student eligible for scholarships from the state was approved in its first committee hearing Thursday without a pricetag attached. By a 13-4 vote, members of the House Choice and Innovation Subcommittee sent the bill to the House PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee, which is where bill supporters say a more detailed explanation of the expenses and revenue sources should be available. The bill would set up education savings accounts for every student who applies for a Family Empowerment Scholarship regardless of his or her family income, making nearly $8,000 a year available for students to attend private schools or purchase technology, materials, tutoring and testing services. “Government education has been in this country and this state for too long a monopoly,” said state Rep. Spencer Roach, R-North Fort Myers. “And the only way that you break a monopoly is to inject and allow and encourage competition. And that’s what we seek to do here.” The 60-day legislative session begins March 7. News Service of Florida. USA Today Florida Network. Politico Florida. Tampa Bay Times. WFTS. Florida Phoenix. reimaginED. Florida Politics. The Capitolist. WJAX. WFSU.

Around the state: One of the options provided in the state’s Parental Rights in Education law is the ability of parents to opt out of school library access though less than 1 percent are doing so, a newly revealed memo contradicts Manatee County school officials’ contention that they didn’t suggest teachers remove or cover their classroom libraries to ensure compliance with state law, a Palm Beach school boundary committee is recommending a rezoning plan that will move thousands of students, Orange County teachers discuss rising disciplinary problems, Leon’s school board chair has harsh words for the superintendent after it was disclosed that he was under investigation by the state, and teachers of the year are announced in the Hillsborough, Clay, Alachua and Hernando school districts. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: Four finalists have been chosen for the school district’s teacher of the year award. They are: Khristal Gooding, who teaches history at Robert Morgan Educational Center; Don Clerveaux, a science and social studies teacher at Phyllis Ruth Miller Elementary; Vanessa Radice, a special education teacher at Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High; and Monique Clayton, who teaches leadership development at COPE Center North, a school for pregnant students and young mothers. The winner will be announced Jan. 31. WTVJ. A Homestead man was arrested Thursday after an unloaded gun was reportedly found in his kindergarten son’s backpack at the Keys Gate Charter School. Police said Reginald McCoy, 39, put the gun in the backpack and then forgot it was there. WPLG. WSVN. WFOR.

Hillsborough: Nicolette Barone, a 5th-grade math and science teacher at Oak Park Elementary School in east Tampa, has been chosen as the school district’s teacher of the year. She’s now in the running for the award at the state level. Also honored Thursday were Muhammed Conteh, a Plant High School JROTC instructor who was named Ida S. Baker diversity educator of the year, and Chinovia Shedrick, an exceptional student education assistant at Memorial Middle School who was recognized as instructional support employee of the year. Tampa Bay Times.

Orange: Teachers met this week to discuss ways to deal with a recent increase in disciplinary problems in the district, including incidents of violence. The meeting was organized by the union to hear complaints from teachers before the school district forms a task force to consider solutions. Union president Clinton McCracken said most of the discussion focused on the need to eliminate some of the “levels of approval” needed before punishment can be administered. WFTV.

Palm Beach: A school district advisory boundary committee is forwarding a recommendation for a controversial zoning plan for Dr. Joaquin Garcia High School that will affect thousands of students at other schools to Superintendent Michael Burke. Students from John I. Leonard, Palm Beach Central, Park Vista and Santaluces high schools would be affected when Garcia High opens in the fall. WPEC.

Polk: The number of public school students being helped by the kidsPACK program has quadrupled in the past four years, the director of the nonprofit program providing food for needy students told the school board this week. Patty Strickland said the 1,100 students served during the 2018-2019 school year has grown to 4,000 this year. She said the program provides those students food-filled backpacks to complement the free breakfasts and lunches they get at school during the week. Lakeland Now.

Manatee: District officials said this week that they didn’t direct teachers to remove or cover the books in their classroom libraries, but a newly uncovered document indicates they did. A message sent from the district to schools last week instructed all secondary school classrooms to “remove or cover all classroom libraries” until the books could be reviewed for compliance with state law. Chief of staff Kevin Chapman said the guidance was intended to help protect teachers from any legal harm. Any teacher with inappropriate materials in their class could face a felony charge. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. WUSF.

Escambia: With the dedication of the Florida Power and Light Company Innovation Center, Pensacola State College Charter Academy is planning to expand opportunities for dual-enrolled high school students to earn associate’s degrees as well as high school diplomas. The center focuses on career exploration, and offers hands-on training in “virtual reality, 3D imaging, graphic and architectural design, STEM and robotic exploration and countless experiences limited only by their imagination,” said principal Karen McCabe. Forty-nine students are in the program, and it’s expected to grow to a maximum of 225 students. Pensacola News Journal.

Clay: Heather Miller, a 4th-grade teacher at Lake Asbury Elementary School, has been selected as the school district’s teacher of the year, and is now eligible for the statewide honor. The school-related employee of the year is Abegail Rosario-Castillo of Orange Park Elementary. WJXT.

Leon: School board chair Alva Smith had harsh words for Superintendent Rocky Hanna after this week’s disclosure that Hanna is being investigated by the state for allegedly allowing his personal views to influence school policy. “Our superintendent’s political diatribes and combativeness with the governor have done nothing but reflect poorly on our district,” she wrote in a text message. “Regardless of our differences, our focus must remain on the education and safety of all students. We should be building bridges, not burning them.” But a majority of the five-person board indicated they would continue to back the superintendent. Tallahassee Democrat.

Alachua: Karen Kearney, a science teacher at Buchholz High School in Gainesville, has been selected as the school district’s teacher of the year. Other finalists were Richard Thomas, dean at Kanapaha Middle School, and Lilliemarie Gore, a behavior resource teacher at Sidney Lanier School. Kearney now moves on to the statewide competition. Mainstreet Daily News. WCJB.

Hernando: Victoria Hunt, a social studies teacher at Weeki Wachee High School, has been named the school district’s teacher of the year. She’s now eligible for the statewide competition. Hernando Sun.

Colleges and universities: Three Florida nursing schools that are now closed took part in a scam that sold more than 7,600 fraudulent nursing degree diplomas to studios, according to a federal indictment. Twenty-five people have been accused of wire fraud and face up to 20 years in prison. Associated Press. State officials confirmed this week that they want to “curb” activities related to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at public colleges and universities. But chancellor Ray Rodrigues said that some of the DEI programs have value, saying, “There are programs in there that target populations that are important to everyone. So I just wanted to make sure that we communicate that and let our universities know that we hear them.” WLRN. College Board officials insisted Thursday that any changes made to their AP African American studies course will not be influence by complaints from states, such as the one from Florida. Politico. The American Association of University Professors said Thursday it intends to investigate “an apparent pattern of politically and racially motivated attacks on higher education” in Florida. Tampa Bay Times. Florida A&M University students have opened a community garden as part of a SEED Community Garden project to grow flowers, fresh herbs, vegetables and fruits and donate their harvests to offset the lack of grocery stores in the area. WTXL.

In the Legislature: One of the options provided in the state’s Parental Rights in Education law is the ability of parents to opt out of school library use, according to recent testimony in a House subcommittee meeting. Less than 1 percent of parents have chosen the option, prompting state Rep. Alex Rizo, R-Hialeah, to ask, “Has anyone done this at any of the schools or the district level to see if parents that aren’t opting out actually know that this (tool) exists?” Polk Superintendent Frederick Heid, who was testifying, replied that he didn’t know. “We’ll have to reflect on that and figure out how to incorporate that because the last thing we want is an uninformed parent group,” he said. The exchange left Rep. Joe Casello, D-Boynton Beach, dumbfounded. “Ban the whole library? Where do you go from there?” he asked. Florida Politics. A bill has been filed that would require students to learn about Asian American culture and history. The sponsor is state Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando. WKMG.

Education podcasts: Mary Mitchell, the Florida Virtual School teacher of the year, talks with senior reporter Lisa Buie of Step Up For Students about the technology changes she’s seen since she joined FLVS in 1998, how FLVS is different from remote learning that school districts used during the pandemic, and how technology will continue to shape education. reimaginED.

Opinions on schools: Fear is creeping into the classroom. And it’s well-founded, under a law that has essentially criminalized providing an unapproved book to a student. Miami Herald. Misconceptions are floating around about the state’s rejection of an AP course on black studies. We found that Gov. Ron DeSantis and his education department did not pinpoint specific inaccuracies as much as ideological objections, that the status of black history instruction under DeSantis’ leadership is more nuanced than he lets on, and that black history is not banned in Florida as some on the left are alleging. PolitiFact. The blocking of AP African American studies in the conservative-led state of Florida is demonstrative of a form of big governmental overreach that the governor advocates against. Matthew Aaron Quainoo, Orlando Sentinel. I was Florida professor of the year in 2006. Today, my courses are illegal under the state’s “Stop WOKE Act” because it would be impossible to teach about human rights, hunger and ethics without including a discussion of the consequences of structural and institutional racism. William F. Felice, Tampa Bay Times.

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BY NextSteps staff