Universal school choice is now the law, later school start times supported, and more

DeSantis signs choice bill: The bill that would make every K-12 student in Florida eligible for an $8,000 scholarship or education savings account from the state, regardless of family income, was signed into law Monday by Gov. Ron DeSantis and goes into effect July 1. “Now, primarily there will be a preference for low- and middle-income families, but at the end of the day, we fundamentally believe that the money should follow the student and it should be directed based on what the parent thinks is the most appropriate education program for their child,” said the governor. H.B. 1 makes millions more students eligible for the state money, including home-schooled children, but projections of the program’s cost vary wildly because no one knows how many families will take advantage of the opportunity. The House estimates $209 billion for the program. The Senate has set aside $2.2 billion, but critics of the plan predict costs will be at least $4 billion. Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, helps administer the state scholarship program. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. USA Today Florida Network. Associated Press. Tampa Bay Times. Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. Florida Phoenix. Florida Politics. reimaginED. What exactly are education savings accounts? Education Week. Five questions and answers about vouchers for all. Tampa Bay Times.

Also in the Legislature: A bill that would push back school start times for middle and high school students won the backing of the Senate Education PreK Committee on Monday. Middle schools could start no earlier than 8 a.m. under the bill, and high schools no earlier than 8:30 a.m. News Service of Florida. The bill that would ask voters if they want to make school board elections partisan was approved Monday by the Senate Education PreK Committee. If it clears the Legislature and is signed into law by Gov. DeSantis, it would appear on the 2024 ballot, and would need to be approved by 60 percent of voters to be added to the state constitution. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics.

Around the state: Parents of children at a Tallahassee charter school are calling on the board chair to resign after the uproar over a lesson that showed a nude statue, students, parents and teachers who lost a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a 2022 law restricting classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation are now asking an appeals court to review that decision, Palm Beach County’s school board is expected to vote Wednesday on a significant rezoning proposal, an audit shows that an Osceola County charter school owed vendors at least $422,000 when it was closed last summer, and at least seven seniors at a Seminole County high school were denied access to the prom last weekend because of a “glitch” in the app payment process. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Orange: The school board is being sued over the expected sale of the last 100 acres of the historic Hungerford Property in Eatonville. The Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community contends in the suit that the board’s plan to sell violates the deed it was restricted to when it first got the land back in the 1950s, which states that the property can be used only for a public school to educate black children. WESH.

Palm Beach: School board members are expected to decide Wednesday whether to implement proposed school boundary maps that will determine what students attend the district’s two newest schools. The recommended changes developed to fill Dr. Joaquin Garcia High School and West Boynton Middle School would affect about 22,000 students at seven existing schools. Palm Beach Post.

Duval: A second teacher at the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Jacksonville has been removed from the classroom after allegations of misconduct. The teacher, who was not named, “was assigned non-teaching duties on or about March 1. … (and) was reassigned to duties off-campus on March 9. This investigation remains open,” according to a district spokesperson. Last week, music teacher Jeffrey Clayton was arrested and accused of lew behavior with a student. WTLV.

Pinellas: A single St. Petersburg parent’s complaint about a movie telling the story of 6-year-old Ruby Bridges integrating New Orleans schools in the 1960s led the district to stop showing the film until a review committee can assess it. A parent of a student at North Shore Elementary filed a formal challenge, contending that the use of racial slurs and scenes of white people threatening Ruby as she entered a school could result in students learning that white people hate black people. Ric Davis, president of Concerned Organization for Quality Education for Black Students, had harsh words for the decision. “The (Pinellas) district’s leadership appears to fear the potential consequences of not acting in the way they have on these two decisions,” he wrote in an open letter. “This approach to challenging times in education in our state raises serious questions about Superintendent (Kevin) Hendrick’s leadership.” Tampa Bay Times.

Osceola: An audit of the American Classical Charter Academy shows the school owed vendors at least $422,000 when it was shuttered last summer by the school board last summer for financial issues and safety issues. Auditors also said documentation for thousands of dollars in expenses is missing, and reimbursements for things like a hotel stay for the principal and $2,100 for staff Christmas presents are in question because there is no paperwork verifying the expenditures. WFTV.

Seminole: At least seven Lake Brantley High School seniors were denied entry to the school prom Saturday because of what parents are calling a “glitch” in the payment process for the MySchoolBucks app, an option for buying school meals and tickets to school events. When the students discovered at the door that they didn’t have tickets, they offered to pay another way, but were told the event wasn’t set up to take payments at the door. “There are so many better ways they could’ve handled it,” said Wendy Manganiello. “They could have even taken the names and let them pay later withholding their diploma until they were paid up.” Orlando Sentinel. WKMG. An instructional coach at the Seminole High School Ninth Grade Center in Sanford has been arrested and accused of trafficking fetanyl. Sanford police officers said Shavon Pearson, 38, was arrested after they responded to a report of a woman pointing a gun at another person. They said they found 8 grams of fentanyl, a gun and some marijuana in a search of the car. District officials said Pearson has been placed on administrative leave during the investigation. WKMG. WOFL. WESH.

Sarasota: A growth in enrollment is prompting a contruction boom in the district. A high school and a K-8 school are being planned in the Wellen Park area of North Port, and a charter school also opens in the area in the fall. Planning for another K-8 school in mid-county is under way, Garden Elementary in Venice will be rebuilt starting during the next school year, and Sarasota Booker High School’s visual and performing arts building renovation is expected to be completed this summer. Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Leon: Parents of students at the Tallahassee Classical School charter school are blaming the recent uproar over the principal being forced to resign because she didn’t notify parents that Michelangelo’s nude David statue would be seen in a 6th-grade art lesson on board chair Barney Bishop, and are calling for his resignation. “Given the dissatisfaction of all these parents with your leadership, would you be willing to lead us by integrity by resigning?” asked teacher Ben Steigner at Monday’s meeting. The board took no action, and Bishop said he plans to stay on the board another year. Tallahassee Democrat. WTXL.

Santa Rosa: The district’s second K-8 school, Wallace Lake, is on track to open in the fall for as many as 1,182 students. It is expected to relieve overcrowding at S.S. Dixon Primary, S.S. Dixon Intermediate and Sims Middle schools. The cost for the new school is about $39.4 million. Pensacola News Journal.

Martin: Smoke from a nearby 80-acre wildfire forced the closure Monday of South Fork High School. District officials said they anticipate the school reopening today. TCPalm. WPTV. WPEC.

Monroe: Higher property tax revenue and unspent funds budgeted for salaries and benefits are allowing the school district to add $6 million to the unspent fund balance, raising its total to $17 million. “Our budget is experiencing an increase in revenue due to the increase in property values in Monroe County,” said Superintendent Theresa Axford. “However, as with all government agencies, we must save for a rainy day to ensure that we can operate efficiently in less affluent times.” School board members will discuss the 2023-2024 budget at today’s meeting. Key West Citizen.

Colleges and universities: Gov. DeSantis has reappointed Brad Levine to the Florida Atlantic University board of trustees. Levine has been a member of the board since he was appointed in 2018 by then-Gov. Rick Scott. Florida Politics.

Parental rights appeal: Students, parents and teachers who lost a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a 2022 law restricting classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation are now asking an the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal to review that decision. U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor had ruled in February that the group hadn’t presented sufficient facts to show they had legal standing to challenge the law. News Service of Florida.

The drive to rebrand SEL: Just a few years ago, Florida schools began to emphasize social-emotional learning as a way to help students learn how to be kinder to one another. Now, in the midst of an “anti-woke” movement targeting SEL as a form of indoctrination that could be against the law, schools are ditching the words social-emotional learning in favor of such labels as “skills for learning and life” and are revising how those lessons are used or removing them altogether. USA Today.

Around the nation: Three 9-year-old students and an administrator, a substitute teacher and a custodian were shot and killed Monday at a K-6 Presbyterian school in Nashville by a 28-year-old woman who was a former student. Police said they shot and killed the attacker shortly after arriving at The Covenant School, which had no police presence. Associated Press. Education Week. Chalkbeat. Florida and 22 other states are joining together to protest the Biden administration’s proposal to lift federal regulatory protection for campus groups that discriminate based on religious beliefs. The attorneys general contend such a move would violate religious freedom under the First Amendment. Florida Phoenix.

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BY NextSteps staff