Partisan school board elections, charter school funding, year-round schools, teacher union dues collections and more

Partisan board elections: The Senate Rules Committee has approved a bill that would make school board elections partisan again, and the issue is now going to a full Senate vote. S.J.R. 94 would ask voters in 2024 to approve a constitutional amendment reversing the amendment they approved in 1998 that made board elections nonpartisan. Sixty percent approval would be needed for the amendment to go into effect. State Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota and former chair of the state Republican Party, said partisan elections would improve “transparency” for voters because the parties are already involved in them. The House version of the bill was approved last month. News Service of Florida. Florida Politics. Florida Phoenix.

Charter school funding: A bill that could shift hundreds of millions of dollars from traditional public schools to charters for construction and building costs won the approval of a House committee on Tuesday. H.B. 1259 would require school districts to share a portion of their property tax millage with local charter schools based on enrollment and how much state funding those charters receive that budget year. “We have always said that charter schools are public schools, but we have not always treated them equally — especially when it comes to facilities funding,” said state Rep. Jennifer Canady, R-Lakeland, the bill’s sponsor. Politico Florida. Florida Politics. The Capitolist.

Also in the Legislature: A Senate committee approved a bill Tuesday that would set up a pilot program to assess the impact year-round schools could have on student performance. School districts could volunteer to participate in the four-year program. WFLA. A bill preventing union dues from being deducted from paychecks of teachers and some other public employees was approved by a House committee and now goes before the full chamber. Unions representing law-enforcement officers, correctional officers and firefighters would be exempt. News Service of Florida. Legislation forbidding colleges and universities from having relationships with China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria and Venezuela has been approved by a Senate committee and is now headed to a full floor vote. Florida Politics. A proposal helping students of military families get into higher education was approved Tuesday by the Senate. News Service of Florida. Fans who run onto fields during sporting or entertainment events in an attempt to make money would be subject to criminal penalties under a bill passed by the Senate and is now heading to the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis. News Service of Florida.

Around the state: Sixteen challenged books in St. Lucie County schools will remain in libraries but most will be restricted by grade level, Broward’s school board postpones deciding whether to hire someone to investigate two board members accused of inappropriate touching, an Orange County teacher who used students to make TikTok videos of a political nature will not lose his job, nine semifinalists are named for the Charlotte County school superintendent’s job, and Pinellas County’s school superintendent said he’s not convinced the new universal school choice law will drain money from public schools. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A teacher at KIPP Miami Public Schools was arrested this week and accused of breaking a 12-year-old boy’s arm while trying to break up a fight at the school. Police said Joel Insilo, 30, grabbed the boy by both arms and tossed him, causing the boy to fall and land on his left arm. Insilo, who posted on social media a few weeks ago that he had accepted an offer to be the dean of students for KIPP Miami for the 2023-2024 school year, has been fired, according to school officials. WPLG. WSVN. WTVJ.

Broward: The school board decided Tuesday to postpone consideration of a proposal to hire an outside investigator to look into allegations that two board members inappropriately touched two people at school events. Two weeks ago the board tentatively agreed to hire someone to investigate allegations against Brenda Fam and Allen Zeman. But Tuesday, in a 5-2 vote, board members delayed consideration until their April 18 meeting, largely because general counsel Marylin Batista couldn’t attend the meeting. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. WFOR. School board members agreed Tuesday to pay agencies that supply school resource officers $103,000 per officer in each of the next three years. Overall cost is estimated at about $20 million a year. WPLG. WFOR. WTVJ.

Orange: School board members have rejected a recommendation from Superintendent Maria Vazquez to fire a teacher who used students to create TikTok videos about political issues such as book bans. Howard Middle School teacher Ethan Hooper violated school policies, most board members agreed, but they decided his actions didn’t warrant his dismissal. Hooper said he was shocked. “I was under the impression they would not change or go against the superintendent. I was very surprised on how it proceeded,” he said. “Engaging with the board members, answering their questions, and listening to what they had to say I think really kind of shifted things.” WOFL. WESH. The mother of a kindergarten student said the principal of Shingle Creek Elementary School was placed on leave after her autistic son was walked through the school hallways naked after wetting his pants. School and district officials had no comment. WFTV. An employee at Baldwin Park Elementary School was arrested Tuesday and accused of possessing child pornography. Police said Christopher Lazaro Ruiz, 27, admitted sending and possessing multiple images and videos depicting children performing sexual acts. WFTV. WESH.

Palm Beach: Preschoolers who will be attending kindergarten in the fall are being given learning kits, one for numbers and one for letters, by the district to help them prepare. Data shows that only about half of students starting kindergarten are prepared. WPTV. Pop star Gwen Stefani will perform April 29 in West Palm Beach at a fund-raiser for the Dreyfoos School of the Arts. The benefit for Dreyfoos, which is an audition-based, all-arts public, magnet high school, is organized by the Save our Musicians Foundation. WPTV.

Pinellas: While many educators worry that the new universal school choice law will drain money from districts, Superintendent Kevin Hendrick said Tuesday he’s not sure that’s the case. “The biggest thing that we need to continue to remind ourselves is the cost of this, and keeping it outside of our traditional funding formula,” he said. “So long as that cost stays outside the funding formula, which the Legislature has said in its initial discussions, then it should have no impact on our schools in terms of a loss of funding.” He also said he welcomes the competition with private schools and other choice options. WUSF. Two former educators are challenging seven district books. But Adam Graham and Brian Hawley don’t want the books removed. They said their challenges are meant to “highlight the slippery slope of the ambiguous language that is coming out of Tallahassee,” and that catering to parents can get out of hand. “I would just love if our action could cause those people in the district who are making decisions to be a little less reactive,” said Graham. “I would rather have it be better safe than sorry by including stuff.” Tampa Bay Times. Christine Wilson, principal of Orange Grove Elementary School in Seminole, has been chosen as one of three finalists for the Florida principal of the year award. Patch.

Lee: The baseball coach at Fort Myers High School and his assistant have been fired for sending an inappropriate text to members of the team. Head coach Kyle Burchfield and assistant Alex Carcioppolo were dismissed after Carcioppolo’s text that gave practice details ended with the sentence, “Happy Valentine’s Day n—-s.” WBBH. WINK.

Brevard: District transportation employees will receive extra compensation, school board members decided Tuesday. Mechanics and supervisors will receive $2,500 bonuses, and drivers will receive $25 for carrying extra students because of a split route and $25 for doubling back for uncovered routes after their own route is completed. Routing, dispatch and assistant supervisors will also receive $25 per run when required to drive. WFTV. WESH.

Volusia: Sheriff’s deputies have confirmed that the body found last weekend inside a car submerged in a New Smyrna Beach canal is that of a teacher missing for more than two years. Robert Heikka, a teacher at Creekside Middle School, was last seen Oct. 25, 2020. WESH. WKMG. WOFL.

St. Lucie: Sixteen books challenged for inappropriate content will remain in school libraries, although 14 will be restricted to high school students. Two others will be available in both middle and high schools. Board member Donna Mills said she was concerned about the language used in many of the books, but added, “There are life lessons that are being taught in these books. These books are meaningful, and they need to be in the school system.” TCPalm. WPTV.

Leon: Parents of students will have to be notified within 24 hours after the school district is notified that an employee has been arrested, school board members decided Tuesday. The vote was prompted by the arrest of Griffin Middle School teacher Angel Footman in March for allegedly allowing students to fight in her classroom. WCTV. A 17-year-old Rickards High School student was arrested Tuesday and accused of having a loaded handgun at the school. Principal Douglas Cook said the boy arrived at school late and smelling of marijuana. He was stopped and searched, and administrators said the gun was found in his backpack. Tallahassee Democrat. Tallahassee Reports. WTXL. WCTV.

Alachua: School board members got updated school enrollment numbers during a workshop meeting Tuesday, which they said is the first step of preparing a comprehensive rezoning plan. “So that we can see what students are attending a school who are zoned for it, who are there for a magnet or other district program or who have a zoning exemption. So that way we can see if we have our programs placed at the schools where they’re most efficient,” said board member Sarah Rockwell. Next, the board will collect input from the community in five public meetings over the next month. WGFL.

Bay: Graduation rates are expected to decline as much as 10 percent after the state raised the scores students must achieve on exams they can use instead of state assessments to be eligible to graduate. The required score had been in place for 13 years, and was welcome after students went through Hurricane Michael and the pandemic. “You’re picking the wrong class to do this with,” said Superintendent Bill Husfelt. “Because one the standard is changing, and the test is changing and so these were the kids that were in 9th grade when all the chaos happened for us, and 8th grade going into 9th grade with the pandemic and everything.” WJHG. Rutherford High School English language arts teacher Brian Gautier has been suspended without pay at the request of Husfelt, who would not divulge the reason for his recommendation. Husfelt would only say the suspension is linked to a Title IX investigation. Gautier will have the option of requesting a hearing to contest the decision. WMBB.

Charlotte: Nine semifinalists have been named for the superintendent’s job that opens when Steve Dioniso retires this summer. Eight of the nine work in Florida districts, but only one in Charlotte: Bob Bedford, principal of Lemon Bay High School. All the semifinalists must answer questions from each school board member by Tuesday. On April 25, the board will select three to five finalists. They will then tour district schools and meet with staff members and the public. A final decision is expected by May 9. Charlotte Sun.

Columbia: Superintendent Lex Carswell has been authorized by the school board to ask the state for an exemption to the free summer meals. The state requires 35 days of free meals, but the district wants to offer the meals at 13 schools for 28 days because the sites that handled the other seven days are unavailable this summer. WCJB.

Monroe: Wendy McPherson will become the first principal of CFK Academy, the College of the Florida Keys’ new collegiate charter high school that opens in August. McPherson has been the Marathon High School principal for the past nine years. Key West Citizen.

Colleges and universities: Tallahassee Community College has become the ninth college to join the New College of Florida’s transfer student program that guarantees admission to TCC students with associate’s degree. It’s part of New College’s drive to bolster enrollment following the conservative makeover of the school by the DeSantis administration. Tallahassee Democrat. U.S. Department of Education officials have announced they will stop providing federal student grant and loan payments to Florida Career College after deciding the school broke federal rules by helping prospective students cheat on a test for students without a high school diploma or GED to enroll in some college-level programs and receive federal aid. The school has 10 campuses in Florida. Republic Report.

Group challenges book: A nonprofit conservative group announced this week that it was challenging a graphic novel called Assassination Classroom, which is found in Florida middle schools. It tells the story of misfit students who try to save the world from an alien. One of the things they have to do is kill their teacher. Citizens Defending Freedom said the book contains explicit violence, mild profanity and graphic sexual activities. WTVT.

Around the nation: The Catholic Church’s application to create the first taxpayer-funded religious charter school in the United States was turned down Tuesday by Okalhoma’s Statewide Virtual Charter School Board. Church officials now have 30 days to address board concerns, which included the proposed special education program and conflicts in school governance, and can submit a new application to the board. Reuters. Chalkbeat. States are introducing legislation targeting critical race theory at at least an equal pace as they did in 2021 and 2022, according to a report from CRT Forward, an initiative of the UCLA School of Law Critical Race Studies Program. K-12 Dive.

Opinions on schools: There’s a reason to strongly favor the Florida House’s guaranteed-scholarship plan over the Senate’s proposal that newly eligible families would only receive K-12 scholarships if there’s enough money available, because it brings to the K-12 education marketplace something that has been sorely missing — certainty. William Mattox, Florida Politics. Florida ranks 50th of all states in terms of unsafe driving in school zones, which is why a bill allowing law enforcement agencies to install school zone speed detection programs is needed. Ana Maria Rodriguez and Traci Koster, Tampa Bay Times. The Alligator would like to report on new University of Florida President Dr. Ben Sasse’s events, his initiatives for the university and his interactions with students, faculty, administration and staff. We would like to hear the new UF president’s perspective on matters important to our coverage and community. But it’s difficult to incorporate Sasse into our coverage when he and his office refuses to communicate with us in any way. Independent Daily Alligator. The “demons” among us aren’t transgender people, but the legislators who dehumanize them. Fabiola Santiago, Miami Herald.

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BY NextSteps staff