Confusion persists even after state says AP psych course can be taught, grand jury investigating bid-rigging in Jefferson County district, and more

AP course is back, maybe: Confusion over the availability of the College Board’s AP psychology course to state students this coming school year was not clarified with Friday’s announcement from the education commissioner that the course “can be taught in its entirety in a manner that is age and developmentally appropriate.” Manny Diaz Jr. did not explain in his letter to school superintendents how it would be possible to teach the course that contains lessons about sexual orientation and gender identity when it’s against the law for teachers to discuss those topics with students in all but an extremely limited set of circumstances. The College Board reacted cautiously, saying it needed clarity about what Diaz meant by age- and developmentally appropriate lessons. “We hope now that Florida teachers will be able to teach the full course, including content on gender and sexual orientation, without fear of punishment in the upcoming school year,” the board said in a statement. Some school districts are reacting to the uncertainty by continuing to look for other options, such as a similar course offered by Cambridge International, though it’s unclear whether it would be revised to meet state restrictions and if it is, whether students will earn college credits for them. Tampa Bay Times. News Service of Florida. Politico Florida. Associated Press. Tallahassee Democrat. Spectrum News 13. WKMG. WFLX. WFTV. WMFE. New York Times. The Hill.

Bid-rigging investigated: A federal grand jury is investigating allegations of bid-rigging over a contract in a small north Florida school district that involves Florida Department of Education officials, charter school operators and consultants. In June, federal authorities issued a subpoena to the Jefferson County School District demanding communications among district officials, charter school lobbyists and former top officials at the DOE. Control of the three-school district was handed over to a charter school company in 2017 for five years. At the end of the contract, the DOE decided to hire consultants to help with the transition back to district control. But bidding on the $4 million project was open for only a week, and just one qualified company responded. MGT Consulting was led by former House representative Trey Traviesa, who had ties with then-DOE leader Richard Corcoran, and the DOE, charter school lobbyists and Jefferson officials were already reportedly meeting about the project a week before the procurement was announced. MGT was never hired, and the plan to hire a consultant was later dropped. Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times.

Education funding takes a hit: Education funding could take a $270 million hit because of a decline in lottery ticket sales this fiscal year, state officials said last week. The Florida Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research forecast combined revenue from the Florida Lottery and other sources, such as slot machines, will total $3.12 billion. Last year it was $3.39 billion. Weekly sales of scratch-off ticket sales declined by $190.8 million. During the 2023-2024 fiscal year, K-12 schools are projected to receive $1.2 billion through the lottery, the state university system $699.6 million, community colleges $273.8 million, workforce education $148.3 million, and $590.7 million going to Bright Futures scholarships. The Capitolist.

Around the state: A congressional delegation walked through the Parkland school building where 17 students and employees were shot to death and a re-enactment of the crime was held a few hours later as part of a civil court case, Duval County school officials expect an increase of 50 percent this year in the number of students receiving state vouchers to switch from public to private schools, a former city commissioner in Bay County who spent 45 days in jail for felony bank fraud will be teaching history and possibly civics at Jinks Middle School when classes begin Thursday, 16 school districts have changed superintendents in the past year, a new state law that does away with arbitration in university employment disputes is being challenged in court by a faculty union and a New College professor who was denied tenure, and Monroe County school officials are considering a proposal to hire virtual teachers who would conduct classes through video calls. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade, south Florida: South Florida school districts have put together tentative budgets that they will finalize early in September. Miami-Dade’s is $7.3 billion, Broward’s is $5.3 billion, Palm Beach’s is $5.2 billion and Monroe’s is $299 million. “This is going to be the highest budget we have in a very long time,” said Miami-Dade chief financial officer Ron Steiger. “Our budget will shrink next year. … Because one of the things holding up our budget right now is federal stimulus funds. As we move forward, we as a board and a district and an administration have to think really hard about what we’re going to do.” WLRN. The Palmetto environmental advocacy group Everglades Foundation has trained about 140 teachers this summer in “Everglades literacy” lesson plans to inform K-12 students around the state about the intricacies of the complex ecosystem. “Personally I feel like in schools, they don’t tell you enough about the Everglades,” said Karen Rojas, a high school senior in Miami-Dade County. Miami Herald.

Broward: A bipartisan delegation of U.S. representatives and families of victims walked through the halls of Building 1200 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Friday, where 17 students and employees were shot to death on Feb. 14, 2018. “Going through that building is like going through a time capsule of that horrific moment,” said U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican. “To tell you the truth, I was kind of dreading this moment, but I’m glad I was here. I’m incredibly grateful to the loved ones because I can’t even imagine what it has to be like to relive those moments, time and time again, as they’ve had to do through trial.” A couple of hours after the tour, a re-enactment of the massacre was staged as part of a civil court case against the deputy who took cover instead of confronting the gunman. Live ammunition was used in the demonstration in an attempt to re-create the sights and sounds of the attack. The building is expected to be demolished later this year. Sun-Sentinel. Miami Herald. WLRN. WTVJ. CNN.

Tampa Bay area: Teacher shortages, the impact of culture wars, transportation, book restrictions and the impact of the state’s new universal choice law are some of the things school officials, teachers, students and parents are keeping an eye on as classes begin Thursday in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco. Tampa Bay Times.

Duval: District officials say there has been a 50 percent increase in the number of students who attended public schools last year but switching this year to private schools with state-issued vouchers, to 18,000 from 12,500 last year. Just 68 percent of the county’s school-age children will attend traditional district schools this year, down from 70 percent last year. Seventeen percent will attend private schools and 15 percent are going to charter schools. Jacksonville Today.

Brevard: Teacher staffing, maintaining inclusion for all students, governmental overreach, and discipline are among the concerns voiced by parents as the school year begins Thursday. New programs include aqua science at Cocoa Beach Jr./Sr. High School, and carpentry at Viera High. They join other career education programs such as nursing, firefighting and more. Florida Today.

Osceola: District officials said they are temporarily deactivating the app that tracks school buses until a month into the school year. They said bus routes may be changing after schools open Thursday, and the Here Comes the Bus app may not show accurate information. It’s expected to be re-activated Sept. 11. WFTV.

Volusia: After police were called more than 100 times to New Smyrna Beach Middle School during the past school year, city Police Chief Eric Feldman has decided to station a police officer at the school fulltime when classes resume Aug. 14. “That was a little bit of a wake-up call for me as the chief to say, You know what? We’re going to make some changes going into the new school year,” said Feldman. WKMG.

Manatee, Sarasota: New superintendents, new laws and same old teacher shortages will greet Manatee and Sarasota students when they begin classes Thursday. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. A bilingual elementary charter school is opening Thursday in north Sarasota after two years of delay in moving to a new home. Dreamers Academy offers education in both English and Spanish for about 428 students. “I love the idea and this concept,” said Briana Francois, whose son Xander is in 2nd grade. “It’s so multicultural. I think it’s important for students to see people that are a representation of themselves. It builds character and this is a big melting pot, it’s normal here and what they’ve done here makes it feel like one big family.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Marion: The Church of Hope in Ocala canceled Sunday services and instead urged congregants to go to 43 county schools to spiritually bless the students, teachers, and faculty. They also left baskets in teachers lounges with snacks and drinks. “There’s a lot of pressure in our schools and we see the violence that often happens,” said pastor Mark Cummins. “Instead of cursing the darkness, we decided that we’re going to be a light.” WCJB.

St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River: Media specialists have been hard at work over the summer to make school libraries look the same when classes begin as they did last spring. Employees have been trained to review every library book to make sure they comply with new state laws, and post lists of all media center book titles. About 82,000 students are expected when classes resume Thursday. Last year ended with 45,661 students in St. Lucie County, 18,650 in Martin and 17,199 students in Indian River. TCPalm.

Leon: District officials and Tallahassee Community College announced a partnership last week to use dual enrollment to build a path between high school students and the college to encourage more students to go into teaching. New are two bachelor of science degree programs will offer intro to education and special topics in education starting this fall. “We’ve talked to kids about many different professions while they’re in school … education has not been one of them. We will now start having that conversation about choosing education as a career,” said Superintendent Rocky Hanna. WTXL.

Bay: A former Lynn Haven city commissioner who spent 45 days in jail for felony bank fraud will be teaching history and possibly civics at Jinks Middle School when classes begin Thursday. Antonius Barnes was accused of accepting bribes in his role as a city commissioner, and pleaded guilty to the fraud charge. A school district investigation is continuing, and officials have referred the case to the Florida Department of Education. WMBB.

Citrus: Classes begin Thursday, and district officials are working to fill 28 open teaching jobs and finalize transportation plans. Finding teachers for special education, agriculture classes and some upper-level courses like chemistry has not been easy, said district spokeswoman Lindsay Blair. Citrus County Chronicle. About 70 students have signed up to take fulltime classes virtually from the school district. Part-time classes are also available. The Citrus eSchool offers about 200 Florida Virtual School courses for students in grades K-12, including such core classes as English, math, science and social studies. Citrus County Chronicle.

Columbia: A former teacher’s aide who sat on an autistic child at Summers Elementary School in April will not be charged, according to the state attorney’s office. “It is the opinion … that the contact that occurred in this case, while inappropriate especially for a child with special needs, does not meet the legal definition of any of the crimes described above and therefore none of the above charges can ethically be levied by the Office of the State Attorney,” assistant state attorney Sean Crisafulli wrote in a letter to the sheriff’s office. The aide has reportedly been fired. WJXT.

Monroe: District officials are considering hiring virtual teachers who would conduct classes through video calls using the Elevate K-12 company. “We lost a teacher today because she can’t find a place to live,” Superintendent Theresa Axford told the school board last week. “(Virtual teaching) is not the most desirable form. But it is a way of getting a certified teacher working with students. And we’re going to pilot it and see how effective it is.” A recent count shows 28 teaching openings. Classes begin Thursday. WLRN.

Colleges and universities: A new state law that does away with arbitration in university employment disputes is being challenged in court by the United Faculty of Florida, its New College chapter and a New College professor who was denied tenure. They contend the law violates collective-bargaining rights and unconstitutionally “impairs” an existing union contract, and name college trustees and the state university system’s Board of Governors as defendants.  News Service of Florida. WQCS. Florida Phoenix.

Superintendent shuffle: At least three Florida school districts will start the new school year without a superintendent. In the past three years, more than 45 of the state’s 67 school districts have new superintendents, and in the past 12 months, 16 districts have changed leadership. “It’s a highly controversial atmosphere that we’re living in now,” said Bill Montford, CEO of Florida’s Association of District School Superintendents. WFTS.

Opinions on schools: It’s time for those parents to speak up, Republicans and Democrats alike, and tell state leaders: Educate our children with facts, and let us see to the rest. They are not pawns, and we are tired of seeing them used that way. Orlando Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff