Allowable voucher expenses list raises eyebrows, state DOE announces assessment cut scores, districts considering Idalia makeup days, and more

Allowable voucher expenses: Theme park passes, 55-inch TVs, paddleboards and kayaks, swingsets, skateboards, home swimming pools, Legos, dolls and pool tables are among the items Florida parents can buy with money the state puts into education savings accounts for them under the new universal school voucher bill approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Parents who home-school their children can use the roughly $8,000 a year they receive to buy any of the items listed in a 13-page purchasing guide released by Step Up For Students, which helps administer the scholarships for the state and hosts this blog. Parents who send their children to private schools can also use any money left for those items over after paying tuition and fees. The list is generating criticism. “Is it fair to students in our public schools, whose teachers often pay out of their own pockets for classroom supplies, that taxpayer dollars are being spent on Disney passes and big-screen TVs for voucher families?” asked Holly Bullard, chief strategy officer for Florida Policy Institute, which has questioned the potential cost of the vouchers program. Supporters of vouchers defended the list. “We need to stop thinking like it’s 1960 — that the only answer is four walls with traditional districts leading the charge,” said Jeanne Allen, founder of the national Center for Education Reform. “To engage young people today, we need to do a lot more than just have them show up. They expect 21st century approaches to learning and recreational opportunities for their physical and mental well-being.” Tampa Bay Times. Florida Politics.

Cut scores recommended: Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. is recommending “more rigorous” cut scores for the Florida Assessment of Student Thinking in English language arts and math, as well as for the end-of-course assessments in algebra 1 and geometry. Cut scores establish proficiency levels for students that can be used to recommend promotion to the next grade level. “If the State Board of Education approves my recommendations, Florida will adopt the most rigorous expectations we have ever set for our students,” Diaz said. “I have complete confidence in our students and teachers to rise to the challenge once again.” The proposal will be discussed at the October meeting of the state Board of Education. Florida’s Voice. Florida Department of Education.

Around the state: Duval schools will now be in session Oct. 27 and Dec. 1 to make up instructional time lost when Hurricane Idalia roared through the area last week, Volusia officials said the district won’t need to make up the day it lost, five more school districts and two schools in a sixth are reopening today, some school districts are requiring parental permission slips for students to attend any out-of-class activity, Marion schools are trying to cut down the percentage of chronically absent students, and Flagler County School Board members are expected to decide today whether to suspend the search for a new superintendent and elevate the interim into the permanent position. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:

Miami-Dade: A math and Spanish teacher at the Doral Academy K-8 Charter School was shot and killed Friday in a murder-suicide, according to police. Maria Cruz, 51, was shot by her husband, police said. Another man, called a family acquaintance, was also shot and is in critical condition. “It is with a heavy heart that we inform you of the loss of our cherished Ms. Maria Cruz,” said Doral Academy principal Eleonora Cuesta. “Her compassion, commitment, and love for her students have left an indelible mark on us all. In these difficult times, our thoughts and heartfelt prayers are with her (two) daughters.” WFOR. WTVJ. WPLG. WSVN. Miami Herald.

Hillsborough: A sophomore at Spoto High School in Riverview was arrested Friday for allegedly having a gun and marijuana at school. A tip about the smell of marijuana in a bathroom led a school resource officer there, where he found the 16-year-old with the handgun, 22 rounds of ammunition and marijuana, deputies said. WFLA. WTSP. WTVT. WFTS.

Palm Beach: Three district elementary schools are now offering Haitian-Creole dual-language instruction for kindergarten students. Indian Pines is the latest, joining Lake Park and Rolling Green, which also makes it available to 1st-graders. Haitian-Creole is the third most-spoken language in the county. “Speaking to the kids in their native language, they’re very engaged,” said Indian Pines principal Jill Robinson. “And research says that if you bring up their native language, they pick up the second language that much faster. So I’m curious to see how that’s going to play on our academic data and reading proficiency.” WLRN.

Duval: Oct. 27 and Dec. 1 will be district school days to make up instructional time lost when Hurricane Idalia ripped through the area last week. Those days had been built into the school year calendar as contingency days in case of bad weather. That leaves the district with three more makeup days set aside: June 3, 4 and 5. Those days are after the end of the school year. Florida Times-Union. Rita Reagan, a longtime teacher and administrator in the Duval school school district and a preserver of Jacksonville’s historic communities, has died at the age of 83. Jacksonville Today.

Pinellas: Two-term school board member Eileen Long has drawn a 2024 challenger for her District 4 seat. Erika Picard, a school counselor at several high schools, said she “will bring relevance to the board with my background” as an employee and mother of children in the district. Long has been targeted for defeat by Gov. DeSantis, but Picard denied she is running because of the governor’s interest in the race. Tampa Bay Times. Clearwater police said the 14-year-old Countryside High School student accused of randomly stabbing two classmates last week “idolized” serial killers and domestic terrorists and had a handwritten manifesto. The 16-year-old who was stabbed in the chest and abdomen had surgey and is listed in stable conditiong. The other victim, 14, was stabbed in the neck but was released from the hospital. Police Chief Eric Gandy said more students could have been injured if school resource officers hadn’t acted quickly to take the suspect into custody. WTVT. Tampa Bay Times.

Volusia: Superintendent Carmen Balgobin announced last weekend that the district has enough extra instructional time in its school year that it won’t have to make up the day lost to Hurricane Idalia. Schools were closed last Wednesday. “The current calendar ensures that our students receive more than the required number of instructional minutes,” the district announced on Instagram. Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Lake: A 21-year-old woman was arrested last week and accused of posing as a student at Tavares High School. Deputies said Dakota Adams said she was a senior at the school and only 19 years old. She’s been charged with trespassing and giving false information to law enforcement. WKMG.

Marion: Less than a month into the school year, district officials say that 16 percent of students have been “chronically” absent. The district is hoping to improve that by partnering with a group named Attendance Works in a national campaign called “Showing Up Together.” Attendance Works is a nonprofit that supports other nonprofits in the areas of “social justice, the environment, animal rights, education, youth development, capacity building, health & wellness, philanthropy, the arts, and human services.” District officials said the initiative will last throughout the school year, and that “research shows chronically absent students missing 10 percent or more of the school year are less likely to read proficiently by 3rd grade, achieve in middle school, and graduate on-time from high school.” Ocala Star-Banner.

Okaloosa: An Okaloosa charter school teacher was arrested last week and is accused of pulling a gun on a teenager during a road rage incident in Walton County last month. Deputies said Brandon Greggor Crumbley, 36, a special education teacher and bus driver at the Okaloosa Academy Charter School, and the teen exchanged words, and Crumbley then showed a handgun and pointed it at the teen’s car. The incident was caught on surveillance video. WEAR.

Hernando: School board members recently approved spending $7.6 million to replace the heating and air-conditioning equipment at Brooksville Elementary School. About $5.2 million in federal relief funds and $2.4 million from an extra half-cent sales tax approved by voters will pay for the work. Suncoast News. Parents of students at Chocachatti Elementary School, and members of the school staff, lobbied the school board last week against the district’s proposal to rezone the school for the 2024-2025 school year, which would turn it from a 100 percent magnet school to 70 percent magnet and 30 percent zoned students. “We don’t understand why they want to change that,” said Silvina Doherty, a staff member at Chocachatti. Members of the rezoning committee said the changes are proposed to relieve overcrowding. More community meetings are scheduled Thursday and Sept. 14, with a board workshop and public hearing Oct. 10 and a final vote by the board Oct. 24. Suncoast News.

Flagler: School board members are expected to decide today whether to continue looking for a new superintendent or suspend the search and appoint interim LaShakia Moore to the position. The vote was scheduled last week, but was postponed as the district focused on preparing for the potential impact of Hurricane Idalia. Flagler Live. New information has prompted the school district to reinvestigate the assembly last month at Bunnell Elementary School where black students were criticized by the principal and a teacher for their poor academic performance. District officials said they are working with the state Department of Investigation and hope for a resolution by Wednesday. WKMG.

Colleges and universities: After Florida International University adopted a new method of teaching calculus a few years ago, the pass rates for introductory calculus have soared from 55 percent in 2018 to about 70 percent this year. Modeling Practices of Calculus emphasizes collaborative learning, and is heavy on the student participation. “It’s the same rigorous math. We’re just making it that much more accessible and easy to learn,” said Michael Heithaus, dean of the FIU College of Arts, Sciences and Education. “It’s super exciting because for decades success in math has really been a problem nationwide — not just at FIU. And this is a solution to that here and at other institutions.” Miami Herald. Michael Carlebach, a photography professor at the University of Miami from 1978 to 2005, has died at the age of 78 in Asheville, N.C. Miami Herald.

Parental permission required: Florida students who want to attend homecoming or prom, attend a book fair or get tutoring help are increasingly finding they can’t without written approval from their parents. Under the strictest interpretation of a state rule, which the state Board of Education defends as an important part of expanding parental rights, permission forms are required for any out-of-school activity. “It’s like every day (my daughter) is bringing home a form for us to sign,” said Tony Riopelle, athletic director at West Shore Junior/Senior High School in Brevard County, where his daughter is a junior. “There was one day she brought home eight forms.” Florida Today.

Media specialist training: School media specialists around the state say that guidance from the Department of Education on how to decide which books to pull and which to keep on the shelves is vague and some points and subjective at others. The result, they say, is further confusing them on how they can do their jobs and meet state standards. Palm Beach Post.

Schools reopening today: Public K-12 schools in Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Jefferson, Levy and the Madison County schools Greenville Elementary and Lee Elementary are reopening today, while Hamilton schools reopen Wednesday. Lafayette, Suwannee, Taylor and Madison County High School, Madison County Central School and Pinetta Elementary in Madison County return Thursday. Also opening today are Florida State University, Florida A&M University and Tallahassee Community College, while the Madison, Live Oak and Perry branches of North Florida College remain closed all week. Florida Department of Education. WCJB. WCTV.

Around the nation: Preschool enrollment dropped 22 percent during the 2020-2021 school year, according to a report from the National Center for Education Statistics. All public school enrollment dropped 3 percent. Recent numbers suggest enrollment in preschools is rebounding, but not as quickly as it fell. K-12 Dive.

Opinions on schools: The competition among states is no longer exclusively about attracting employers; increasingly it is also about attracting workers. States focused on creating the highest possible return on investment for young families, in educational choices and more, might melon-scoop them from their hidebound neighbors. Matthew Ladner, reimaginED. Florida’s classical charter schools seem to be doing a good job of preparing their high school students for college majors in fields like engineering and the sciences by convincing them to take courses in chemistry, physics, precalculus and calculus. Many of the state’s traditional district schools struggle to do this. Paul Cottle, Bridge to Tomorrow. The saddest aspect of letting a small number of zealots make the vast majority of book decision in Florida is there already is a mechanism to handle complaints about books and other curriculum material. It’s called an opt-out, which allows parents to say they don’t want their child exposed to specific content, but has no impact on other students. Tampa Bay Times. Substitute teaching is not the world’s most difficult job, and should not be the most lucrative. The pay rate should, however, significantly exceed the amount you’d pay your niece to babysit. Sam Miles, Orlando Sentinel.

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BY NextSteps staff