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Education in the crosshairs as Florida faces shortfall

A roundup of Florida education news from around the state.
The Florida Legislature faces critical budget decisions in its 2021 session that could have a major effect on public education.
The Florida Legislature faces critical budget decisions in its 2021 session that could have a major effect on public education. [ SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Jan. 28

Money’s tight in Florida. That means speculation that K-12 spending might escape unscathed appears increasingly less likely. Lawmakers didn’t hide that possibility as they started discussing the possibilities in the first of what will be several sessions aimed at setting a budget for the coming fiscal year. Read on for that and other education news.

The Florida House began its education budget talks on Wednesday. PreK-12 Appropriations chairman Randy Fine repeatedly mentioned the nearly 90,000 students who disappeared from the rolls this year, and suggested the state not simply assume they’ll reappear in the fall. He also raised questions about why spending grew faster than enrollment over several years, and suggested the need for a close review of how the Legislature funds education — particularly as the state faces a nearly $3 billion shortfall. Committee members gave his views a largely positive reception, though a few spoke of the need to consider providing an equitable and high quality education for all children. The committee meets again in two weeks, where it is expected to dig deeper than its initial overview. Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to unveil his budget proposal today.

The Florida House PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee began discussing possible education budget cuts in its Jan. 27, 2021, meeting.
The Florida House PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee began discussing possible education budget cuts in its Jan. 27, 2021, meeting. [ The Florida House ]

Manatee County teachers got a pay raise two weeks ago. The School Board followed with raises for administrators and non-instructional staff, the Bradenton Herald reports. Veteran Manatee educators call the district’s salary plans a slap in the face, WTSP reports.

Florida lawmakers have proposed that teachers and other public employees reaffirm their intent to join a union. Teacher union leaders say it’s an attack on their organizations, WJXT reports. The bill’s Senate sponsor said the measure aims to give employees more say over how their pay is used, Florida Politics reports.

Coronavirus concerns

Seniors want to graduate in person. The Lee County school district has promised them it will happen, the Fort Myers News-Press reports. • The Citrus County district has set a goal of traditional commencements, while still reviewing how it might provide proms, the Citrus County Chronicle reports. • The Leon County school district is working on arrangements to let students walk, but proms appear unlikely, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

Switching between online and in-person classes causes problems. That’s why Volusia County schools have told students they can’t change their choice for the rest of the year, without extenuating circumstances, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports. (State officials have said not allowing changes within a week would be considered ‘presumptively unreasonable.’)

School employees continue the press to get vaccinated. Gov. Ron DeSantis said the arrival of Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose shot could make more opportunities available, WFTS reports.

CARES Act funding is flowing to schools. Polk County district leaders are debating whether to put some into reserves, or use it to pay extra to teachers who teach online and in-person students at the same time, the Ledger reports.

Classroom transmission of the virus has been detected. The Marion County school district reported its first such case, the Ocala Star-Banner reports.

Other school news

What’s in a name? Florida State University leaders announced their renewed support to remove the names of Francis W. Eppes and B.K. Roberts from prominent campus buildings, the Tallahassee Democrat reports. Anti-racism groups have asked for the changes.

Race relations are high on the priority list for schools. Two Orange County high schools have launched a program aimed at easing the distrust Black students feel toward law enforcement, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

The Sarasota County School Board has a new legal counsel. It picked a team to replace its attorney of 30 years, the Herald-Tribune reports.

Teacher of the Year awards keep coming. Duval County’s recognition went to Mandarin High history teacher Jim Schmitt, the Florida Times-Union reports. • St. Johns County recognized Creekside High teacher Ali Pressel, the St. Augustine Record reports. • Orange County honored Winter Park High teacher Stewart Parker, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

A Lee County school threw out hundreds of books it didn’t need any more. Parents went dumpster diving to save them, WINK reports.

The Volusia County school district planned to merge two elementary schools. Officials are wavering on the concept, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports.

‘We have to make some tough decisions.’ The Clay County School Board prepares to redraw attendance zones for hundreds of students, Clay Today reports.

From the police blotter ... A Flagler County teen was arrested on allegations he threatened a school administrator with a song he recorded, WKMG reports. • A former Polk County teacher and coach is arrested on accusations of sexual battery on a student, WKMG reports.

Don’t miss a story. Here’s the link to yesterday’s roundup.

Before you go ... New studies are out showing just how much the Earth’s ice is melting, and how rapidly the oceans might rise as a result. Experts are calling the trend alarming. “We humans are the ones with our hand on the climate control knob, and our decisions are the most important in determining the future of Greenland ice,” researcher Twila Moon told the Washington Post.

A closeup view of the Dawes Glacier at Endicott Arm, Alaska shows visible large chunks of ice falling into the water below. Experts continue to report that global warming is responsible for the rapid recession of glaciers. BOYZELL HOSEY   |   Times
A closeup view of the Dawes Glacier at Endicott Arm, Alaska shows visible large chunks of ice falling into the water below. Experts continue to report that global warming is responsible for the rapid recession of glaciers. BOYZELL HOSEY | Times