$117B budget approved and legislative session ends, school threats portal, book challenges, clear backpacks in Broward, and more

Budget passed, session ends: Florida lawmakers approved a $117 billion budget and adjourned the legislative session just before 11 a.m. Friday. The budget includes nearly $27 billion for K-12 education, $350 million in reserve if spending on the universal school choice law exceeds expectations, an additional $252 million for teacher raises, and a $1.3 billion tax-cut package that includes two back-to-school tax holidays. The new fiscal year begins July 1. News Service of Florida. Associated Press. Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald. Orlando Sentinel. USA Today Florida Network.

Legislative overview: Universal school vouchers and a record state budget are among the biggest issues addressed in the legislative session that ended Friday. News Service of Florida. Tampa Bay Times. USA Today Florida Network. Florida Phoenix. Associated Press. Politico Florida. Here are the priorities of Gov. Ron DeSantis that sailed or sank in the session. Tallahassee Democrat. How young immigrants known as “Dreamers” convinced the Legislature not to revoke their in-state tuition. Tampa Bay Times. Winners and losers from the session. Florida Politics.

Around the state: A state commission on school safety agreed last week to create an information-sharing portal that would use a “behavioral threat management operational process” for public and charter schools to be used for “identifying, assessing, managing, and monitoring potential and real threats,” book challenges in Florida schools are up and that increase is expected to accelerate with a bill just approved by the Legislature, Broward students can only take clear backpacks and other bags into schools during the 2023-2024 school year, Polk Superintendent Frederick Heid is asking district teachers to review the materials in their classrooms by the beginning of the next school year to make sure they are approved by the district and are included on the district list of 303,000 titles, a Volusia district investigation concludes that school board member Gene Trent lied on his 2015 teacher application by denying he had ever been arrested, and Bay schools are offering large raises to teachers willing to work in seven struggling schools. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: How several new education bills will affect operations in the school district. Miami Herald. Cielo Acosta, an 8th-grade language arts teacher at SLAM! Miami, is one of seven winners of the national changemaker awards given by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools to charter teachers or founders who make a difference in their communities. reimaginED.

Broward: All district students will be required to have clear backpacks when schools open Aug. 21, district officials told parents Friday. All bags, including lunch boxes, purses, duffel bags and fanny packs, must be see-through. Mesh and colored backpacks are not permitted even if they are transparent. “This added layer of security is a game-changer,” said interim superintendent Earlean Smiley. “It will allow school security personnel and everyone on campus to quickly spot and report if someone has brought a prohibited item to school, and it will also help serve as a deterrent.” Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. WPLG. WTVJ. WFOR. An 18-year-old student at Taravella High School in Coral Springs has been arrested and accused of making a shooting threat that interrupted school operations across Florida and elsewhere in the country last week. The girl said she did it as a joke. She’s been charged with four second-degree felony counts and 15 misdemeanor counts, records show. Sun-Sentinel. Daytona Beach News-Journal. WPLG. WFOR.

Orange, central Florida: The number of fights and physical attacks in Florida schools is up sharply in the past three years, according to data from the Florida Department of Education. Physical attacks are up 77 percent from the school years ending in 2019 and 2022, and the number of fights is up 11.6 percent. Central Florida districts in Seminole County, Orange, Lake, Osceola and Brevard showed increases in physical attacks ranging from 18 percent to 280 percent in that time period, and from 1.5 percent to 258 percent in the number of fights. WESH.

Polk: Superintendent Frederick Heid is asking all district teachers to review the materials in their classrooms by the beginning of the next school year to make sure they are approved by the district and are included on the district list of 303,000 titles. Some teachers reacted by packing up their books and taking them home or giving them to colleagues. Lakeland Now. The Winter Haven High School branch of the Central Florida Aerospace Academy officially opened last week in several portable classrooms on the south end of Winter Haven Regional Airport. The program began four years ago, and has grown to 220 students. “It got to the point we needed a space outside the high school so the students could really dig in and get their hands dirty,” said district spokesman Steve Warner. Lakeland Ledger.

Brevard: School board member Gene Trent lied on his 2015 teacher job application by saying he had never been arrested,  investigators hired by the district concluded last week. The revelation means Trent can’t work for the district, and that he violated a policy rule the school board is supposed to uphold. That violation “has already been reported to the Florida Department of Education, Office of Professional Practices Services” by Orlando law firm Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell. The investigation, which took 161 days and another 30 days to make the results public, also concluded Trent campaigned during school hours and violated the district’s Internet policy by accessing websites for reasons other than for educational purposes. Florida Today. Newly named Superintendent Mark Rendell walks into a politically polarized atmosphere when he begins the job June 1. The school board vote to hire him was just 3-2, and more comment from the public was about Rendell than any other finalist for the job, with about half for his hiring and half against. Florida Today. Space Coast Daily.

St. Johns: A special magistrate has recommended that the school district end a contract impasse with teachers by increasing salaries. “The district’s teachers have achieved excellent learning results and have thereby earned the pay increases they seek,” said Mark Lurie. The district is offering a $750 retention bonus for veteran teachers, while the union wants the money in the form of a raise. Teachers also are asking for a a $963 increase in pay for new teachers, boosting their starting salaries to $48,463. Both parties have 20 days to respond to the recommendation, which is not binding. WTLV. A 26-year-old chemistry teacher at St. Augustine High School was arrested last week and accused of sending lewd photos, including nude photos of himself, to a former student who was 13 years old. Kyle Spitzer is charged with multiple counts of transmitting material harmful to minors by an electronic device. Spitzer was removed from having any contact with students when an investigation began in December, and has been told his contract will not be renewed. WJXT. WJAX. WTLV.

Leon: The Sabal Park Elementary community school now has a fulltime dental clinic providing critical care for its students that will soon be available to residents in the neighborhood around the school. “When you have something that’s in your neighborhood that you can walk to for dental health, physical health and primary health, this is what being a community school is all about,” said Anna Kay Hutchison, the director of community school. WFSU.

Bay: District officials are using incentives to attract highly qualified teachers to transfer to the seven lowest-rated schools in the district. Teachers can receive a $15,000 raise for moving to Callaway or Cedar Grove elementary schools, which are consider Tier 2 “comprehensive support and improvement (CS&I) schools.” Educators will receive $10,000 raises for transferring to any of the five Tier 1 CS&I schools — Lucille Moore Elementary, Merriam Cherry Street Elementary, Parker Elementary, Rutherford High and Waller Elementary. Panama City News Herald.

Citrus: School board members will consider approving four contracts to provide services for students who are hearing-impaired students, and those who need physical therapy, and speech or language therapy, at this week’s board meeting. Citrus County Chronicle. District chief academic officer Scott Hebert has been named the assistant superintendent of school operations. Hebert has been with the district 34 years. He replaces Mike Mullen, who is retiring. Citrus County Chronicle.

Putnam: Palatka Junior-Senior High School principal James Stout and Interlachen Junior-Senior High School principal Bryan Helms have resigned to take leadership positions with the county government. Palatka Daily News.

School book challenges: The number of book challenges in schools is increasing quickly, and is expected to accelerate with a recently passed bill that will make challenges easier and force schools to remove books within five days of a complaint being filed and keep them unavailable during the review. Librarians said they’re worried that “the voices of a very few” are deciding what books are available. Orlando Sentinel.

School safety portal: A state commission on school safety agreed last week to create an information-sharing portal that would use a “behavioral threat management operational process” for public and charter schools to be used for “identifying, assessing, managing, and monitoring potential and real threats.” Daily searches, social media monitoring and use of mentors could be included. “This is a game-changer,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, chairman of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission that investigated school safety after the shooting deaths of 17 people at the Parkland school in 2018. Sun-Sentinel.

Opinions on schools: Gov. DeSantis and Republic legislators have declared victory after failing Florida with the universal school voucher bill, gutting union protections for teachers and select other public employees, imposing new regulations on use of bathrooms and pronouns, and more. Orlando Sentinel and Sun-Sentinel. For the fifth time in less than 20 years, Duval County is searching a school superintendent. So if you’re applying for this job, you might want to go ahead and hire a good lawyer now to begin work on the terms of your exit. Mark Woods, Florida Times-Union. Thousands of Florida high school students will now have access to the Advanced Placement precalculus course, thanks to an Orlando Sentinel reporter. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. While certain entrenched interests fight tooth and nail against school choice, it is winning in many states. As parents see other parents regaining control of their children’s education, the push for school choice is likely to spread. Colleen Hroncich, Washington Examiner.

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BY NextSteps staff