State budgets move on with differences, social media access, pensions, sex education and more

State budgets on move: Senate and House appropriations committees cleared their state budget proposals Tuesday. Senators propose spending $113.7 billion, which is about $700 million more than the House plan. This year’s budget is about $107 billion. Both chambers allocate about $26.6 billion in K-12 funding, about $2.1 billion more than this year’s spending, but the House wants to change the formula that determines how much money school districts receive. There’s also a wide disagreement on how much the new universal school choice program will cost. Senators marked $2.2 billion for its implementation with $350 million put in reserve in case they underestimated. The House said the program will cost $209 million, with $109.6 million placed in reserves for possible cost overruns. Both chambers will vote on their budgets next week, break for Passover and Easter, then reconcile the differences into a single spending plan by May 2 for the legislative session to end as scheduled May 5. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Higher education items of interest in the budgets include $15 million to transform New College because, state Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, said, “We cannot have a mediocre university in our system.” Both chambers also are proposing huge increases in funding for the University of Florida’s Hamilton Center for Classical and Civic Education: $45 million in the Senate budget and $30 million in the House’s. The center was created last year by legislators and allocated $3 million in funding. Florida Politics. Politico Florida.

Also in the Legislature: Access to social media platforms would be blocked in public schools under a bill approved Tuesday by the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee. S.B. 52 would also prohibit students from using mobile devices during class, and require schools to teach students about social media safety. Florida Politics. Members of the House Appropriations Committee approved a bill that would reverse several changes made in 2011 to the Florida Retirement System for teachers and other state workers. The bill would lower the retirement requirements for first responders and reinstate annual cost-of-living adjustments that were eliminated or curtailed by the 2011 law. The plan to bolster the system is driven by an interest in making public sector jobs more attractive. A 16 percent vacancy rate has been reported for both state employees and first responders. Politico Florida. Florida Politics.

Popularity of choice: A new poll shows that a slim majority of Floridians favor the universal choice bill that was passed by the Legislature and signed into law this week by Gov. Ron DeSantis. The poll showed 58 percent of unaffiliated voters, 52 percent of Republicans and 50 percent of Democrats approve the expansion of the program. But registered voters surveyed by the University of North Florida’s Public Opinion Research Lab oppose making school board elections partisan and ending college diversity, equity and inclusion programs. Florida Politics.

Around the state: Brevard’s interim superintendent was placed on leave Tuesday after criticizing the school board over its search for a permanent leader, Republican state Rep. Randy Fine says Gov. DeSantis approached him about taking the job as Florida Atlantic University president, Broward’s school board rejected proposed changes to the district’s sex education curriculum, Hillsborough school board members vote to ban This Book is Gay from middle school libraries, and St. Johns County school officials are proposing to raise prices for school meals. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Broward: A proposal to revamp the district’s sex education curriculum was rejected Tuesday by school board members who said it went far beyond what is required by state law. Interim superintendent Earlean Smiley was told to develop a plan that is both comprehensive and complies with state law. The proposal had focused on abstinence and eliminated chapters about birth control, the reproductive system, human anatomy, detailed references to sex abuse, LGBTQ people and more. “Why are we making these changes? … Are we truly willing to put children in danger to make a political statement?” asked board member Sarah Leonardi.  “Does the (state Department of Education) want us to deprive children of life-saving information about sexual exploitation during a human trafficking crisis in the state? I don’t think so.” Sun-Sentinel. Eight months after the school year started, the cities that supply school resource officers have yet to be reimbursed by the district. A police representative said schools will continue to be protected through the school year. WPLG. WFOR.

Hillsborough: School board members voted 4-3 Tuesday to ban This Book is Gay from middle school libraries. The vote on the nonfiction work that offers guidance to LGBTQ+ students followed the recommendation from Superintendent Addison Davis. Board members Karen Perez, Nadia Combs and Jessica Vaughn voted no because the ban extended beyond Pierce Middle School, where it was challenged. “The process we have in place is important and we should keep that in place,” said Vaughn, who wants any school facing a book challenge to be able to evaluate it before a decision is made. Book review policies will be reviewed at a meeting Aril 25. Tampa Bay Times. Spectrum News 9. WFTS. WTVT.

Orange, central Florida: Schools boards in Orange, Marion, Volusia and Brevard counties heard concerns from residents Tuesday about what some called the “pornographic” content of books available in school libraries. Board members and school officials said they are trying to create procedures on reviewing books that will address the concerns of residents, and expect further guidance from the state. WFTV. WESH. WKMG.

Duval: An appeals court has ruled that authorities had grounds to arrest a district student for having a “kill list” of teachers on a piece of paper on her desk. The 5th District Court of Appeal, in a 2-1 decision this week, rejected the student’s argument that because she did not send, post or transmit the threat, there was no probable cause for her arrest. The student and the school were not named. News Service of Florida.

Brevard: Interim superintendent Robert Schiller was placed on administrative leave Tuesday after he sent a highly critical 12-page letter to school board members. Schiller ripped the board’s “absurd” timeline to select a permanent superintendent, and blamed the board for the problems it’s having attracting candidates. “The immaturity of the board despite being in office for 3 months is astounding. They don’t know or do not want to learn what they don’t know,” Schiller wrote in the letter addressed to board chair Matt Susin and board attorney Paul Gibbs. Schiller also cited the board’s “lack of preparation” at meetings, “torn relationships” and “horrendous videos of board meetings” as reasons why the job had attracted just 11 candidates by Tuesday. Assistant superintendent Susan Hann has been named acting superintendent Florida Today. WKMG.

Volusia: The principal of the Burns Science and Technology charter school in Oak Hill has resigned after it was discovered she wrote a $100,000 check from the school’s account to an Internet scammer claiming to be Elon Musk. Jan McGee said she sent the check as an upfront investment in the hopes of getting Musk to invest millions in the school. McGee had been the principal at Burns since it opened in 2011. WESH.

St. Johns: Citing higher food and labor costs, district officials are proposing to raise school meal prices. Breakfast would increase from $1.25 to $1.75, a 40 percent hike, while lunches in elementary schools would go up 16 percent from $2.80 to $3.25 and the price of lunches in middle and high schools would change from $2.95 to $3.50, or a boost of about 19 percent. The school board will have to approve the proposal for it to go into effect in the fall. WJXT. School board members are considering a plan to convert the old Hastings High School into a new First Coast Technical College campus. The $20 million cost would be covered by district funding, a $10 million grant and federal coronavirus relief funds. WJXT.

Flagler: Members of the school board voted 3-2 Tuesday to follow the recommendations of three committees and keep the novel Sold in high school libraries. Patricia McCormick’s book tells the story of a 13-year-old girl trafficked to a prostitution house in India. It was the first time that a book challenge had gone all the way to a school board appeal. Flagler Live. School board members also said Tuesday that while they support joining the state’s guardian program, they are uncomfortable arming teachers. Flagler Live.

Colleges and universities: State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, said Gov. DeSantis has approached him about the Florida Atlantic University presidency. “It’s very flattering to have been asked, and something I’m actively considering,” Fine said. DeSantis spokeswoman Taryn Fenske said, “Rep. Fine has been a leader on education issues, and we think he’d be a good candidate for the role.” Fine’s term ends in the fall of 2024, and he’s filed to run for the District 19 Florida Senate seat. Stacy Volnick has been FAU’s interim president since John Kelly stepped down in 2022 to take another role at the school. Sun-Sentinel. Florida Today. Miami Herald. A Florida Board of Governors committee has given university system Chancellor Ray Rodrigues the authority to order a ban of the TikTok app on all public university campuses “as soon as practicable.” Tampa Bay Times. The Florida Prepaid College Foundation and Florida Power & Light are partnering to award $4.2 million in two-year scholarships over the next four years to 1,000 students who live in the state’s most impoverished zip codes. Florida Politics. A University of South Florida admissions department employee has been told the school plans to fire her after she was arrested March 6 for protesting USF’s compliance with the state’s decision to end spending on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and remove courses in areas such as critical race theory and gender studies. Chrisley Carpio, 31, has worked for the school since 2016. Tampa Bay Times.

Opinions on schools: It is vital to give disadvantaged students access to private and charter schools, but if you really want to improve their rate of learning you also need to give them access to leafy suburban district schools. The embrace of universalism in our choice programs represents a major advance for low-income students. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED. For Broward families, and especially their children, the upheaval that would result from a rezoning change moving 351 students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to Coral Glades High is too abrupt and too disruptive and can be postponed for one year without causing any serious problems. Sun-Sentinel.