Senate votes today on universal choice bill, school funding formula change, teacher pay push and more

Senate to vote on choice bill: Senators decided Wednesday to adopt the House’s version of the universal school choice bill and are expected to pass it today. “The whole point of this legislation is to put that choice back on the parent, not to make the private school the public school,” said Senate bill sponsor Corey Simon, a Republican senator from Tallahassee. The House has already approved it and put a $209 million pricetag on the expansion even as critics predict the bill will cost billions. If the Senate also votes in favor of the bill, it will head to the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis. While the governor has supported the expansion of school choice, he’s expressed reservations about widening income eligibility for vouchers and has given no indication whether he’d sign the bill. Politico Florida. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics.

Also in the Legislature: Funding for K-12 education exceeds $26.6 billion in both the Senate and House budget proposals, but the House is proposing to change the funding formula because the current, decades-old model “doesn’t align” with the bills that would expand school choice to every student in the state. House leaders want to repeal several “categorical” pieces of the existing formula, known as the Florida Education Finance Program, and alter how the district cost differential is calculated. Doing so, they say, would increase the cash available to districts and also give them “greater control and flexibility” over their budgets. Politico Florida. A bill that would ease the transition of military dependents and children into participating colleges and universities was approved by a House subcommittee this week. The “Collegiate Purple Star Campuses” program would provide priority course registration and designate a staff member as a “military liaison” to help students from military families. News Service of Florida.

Board’s teacher pay push: Members of the Florida Board of Education said Wednesday that they will consider putting “pressure” on some school boards and teachers unions to stop delaying getting state-approved pay raises to teachers. News Service of Florida. A “drag and donuts” show scheduled this weekend at Boone High School was canceled after board members and Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. criticized it, and the Florida Department of Education indicated that “any administrator, teacher or staff member in attendance may be investigated and jeopardize their professional license,” according to Boone principal Hector Maestre. At the same meeting, outgoing board chair Tom Grady complained that “crazies on the left” have hijacked a characterization on the Parental Rights in Education law, and that it doesn’t have anything to do with “being gay” or “acting gay.” Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. WOFL. Florida Phoenix. First lady Casey DeSantis said Wednesday that the board could soon set new standards for mental health services in K-12 schools centering on “resiliency” and allowing parents to become coaches and mentors in classrooms. Florida Politics. WFTX.

Around the state: An appeals court has ruled that the Palm Beach County School District must make retroactive payments from a 2018 tax referendum to charter schools, a Sarasota County School Board member walks out of a meeting after being verbally attacked during public comments as an “LGBTQ groomer,” Washington County schools are using federal coronavirus relief aid to hold Saturday school to help high school students in danger of not graduating, and six Collier County teachers are presented with Golden Apple awards. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Duval: A longtime music teacher at the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Jacksonville has been arrested and accused of lewd and lascivious conduct involving a student. Principal Tina Wilson told parents in a recorded message that Jeffrey Clayton, 65, “will not return to the school and will have no interaction with students.” Florida Times-Union. WJAX. WJXT. WTLV.

Palm Beach: An appeals court has ruled that the school board must make retroactive payments to charter schools from a 2018 referendum. The district had asked voters to approve a property-tax increase for issues such as school safety and teacher pay, with ballot language specifically stating that the money would be “dedicated for operational needs of non-charter district schools.” Charter schools and parents challenged that provision, pointing out that charters are also district schools and deserve a share, and won in 2021. This latest ruling orders the district to also make payments from the referendum to charters for the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years. News Service of Florida.

Pinellas: The mother of a student at Bay Point Middle School in St. Petersburg said her concerns about ongoing violence at the school are not being taken seriously by school officials. School administrators say they are working to make the school safer, and are making steady progress. Tampa Bay Times. Some students at St. Petersburg High School also are concerned about fighting at the school and say the problem is exacerbated by students sharing videos from the fights on social media. School officials say the number of fights has declined from 65 at this point in the last school year to 23 this year. WTSP.

Collier: Six district teachers were presented with Golden Apple awards on Wednesday. They are: D’Nai Bullen, a 5th-grade math teacher at Corkscrew Elementary School in Naples; Michael Gonzalez, a 3rd-grade teacher at RMCA Immokalee Community Academy; Anne Coots, a 5th-grade math and science teacher at Osceola Elementary in Naples; Sylvie Certa, a 7th-grade life science and automation and robotics teacher at Gulfview Middle in Naples; Marlon Alfaro, an 8th-grade algebra teacher at Manatee Middle in Naples; and Ashley Crosby, a band teacher at Golden Gate Middle in Naples. WBBH. Naples Daily News.

St. Johns: School officials and teachers union officials argued their cases on teacher pay Wednesday before a special magistrate. Teachers said they want $2.9 million more in raises than the $3.5 million the school district is offering. District officials said they don’t have the money to do that. The magistrate will make a recommendation in a few weeks that the district and union will consider. If there’s still an impasse, the issue will be settled by the school board. WTLV.

Sarasota: School board member Tom Edwards walked out of this week’s meeting after a member of the audience said he “appears to be a lawbreaker and an LGBT groomer.” Sally Nista also said people were upset over “what Tom stands for” and “what Tom wants to do to our children.” After the crowd of 50 reacted, board chair Bridget Ziegler asked the audience to let Nista finish. At that point Edwards stood up and left the meeting. It was second consecutive meeting in which Edwards, who is gay, was personally attacked. After the first verbal assault, Ziegler said there’s a line between keeping board decorum and infringing on someone’s right to petition their government. Edwards said he asked Ziegler to shut down the remarks this week and when she didn’t, he walked out. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Florida Politics. WTVT. WFLA.

Washington: District officials are using $390,000 from their federal coronavirus relief aid to create a Saturday school program for juniors and seniors at Vernon and Chipley High School who are at risk of not graduating. The 57 students participating are also being paid $15 an hour because they are tutoring each other, said Superintendent Joseph Taylor. WJHG.

Colleges and universities: A single student’s complaint prompted an instructor to cancel a U.S. government class discussion on civil rights at Eastern Florida State College. The student expressed discomfort with the topic. School officials said the cancellation should not have happened, and “is working with (the instructor’s) supervisors on alternative ways to handle such potential problems to ensure future classes can continue.” Florida Today.

Opinions on schools: Most of the families who benefit from school choice policies otherwise would not have enrolled their children in a private school. School choice policies significantly expand education opportunity. Jay Greene and Jason Bedrick, The Daily Signal. There have always been and always will be transgender people, including children. Aren’t decisions about their individualized care best made by their parents? Why is the state looking to make some parents second-class citizens when it comes to parental rights? Jennifer Koslow, Palm Beach Post. American racism is not a theory. It is historical, it is factual, and it had been protected and propagated by, of all segments of society, the law itself for more than 300 years on our soil. Francis Clifford, Florida Today. There was a time when Sarasota stood for decency, understanding and compassion. After seeing the homophobic smears thrown at Sarasota school board member Tom Edwards and the inexplicable inaction of chairwoman Bridget Ziegler to stop them, those traits seem to have long since disappeared. Chris Anderson, Sarasota Herald-Tribune.