Florida lawmakers advance school voucher expansion plan

A roundup of Florida education news from around the state.
Kindergarten students from  Southside Christian Academy participated in Florida's Tax Credit Scholarship program. Lawmakers are debating modifications to the state's scholarship and voucher programs. [Times | 2011]
Kindergarten students from Southside Christian Academy participated in Florida's Tax Credit Scholarship program. Lawmakers are debating modifications to the state's scholarship and voucher programs. [Times | 2011]
Published March 25, 2021|Updated March 25, 2021

Since Florida’s legislative session began, we’ve known some sort of voucher bill would make its way into the conversation. It wasn’t until Wednesday that the House joined the debate, putting forth its own version of a measure the Senate started discussing in committee weeks. The two chambers have some different approaches, but their goal is very much the same — expand vouchers. Read on for the latest on that story and more Florida education news.

The House bill is about half the length of the Senate’s proposal. It won bipartisan support in its first committee stop. The Senate measure appears on today’s floor calendar for a possible second reading.

Other Tallahassee action

Let them pray. A bill to allow students to lead prayer over the public address system at high school state athletic championships is headed to the House floor, the News Service of Florida reports.

Let them read. A Senate committee advanced legislation to provide free books to struggling elementary school readers, a House priority, Florida Politics reports.

Parents have rights. A bill to establish in law the “fundamental rights” parents have regarding their children’s education, health and welfare passed its final House committee, Florida Politics reports.

It’s all local. A House committee gave its approval to a local bill that would ask Hernando County voters to consider switching back to an elected schools superintendent, the Hernando Sun reports.

The budgets are coming. The House is set to unveil its education budget proposals today, when both the Higher Education and PreK-12 appropriations subcommittees meet at 11:30 a.m. The Senate issued its recommended spending plan on Wednesday. It did not include a decrease in Bright Futures scholarships funding, or an increase in teacher raise funding. It did include $350 million in reserves, to fund any “missing” students who return to schools beyond the current enrollment projections, Florida Phoenix reports.

School finances

Gov. Ron DeSantis targeted a $47,500 base salary for Florida teachers. A year later, many aren’t there, Florida Phoenix reports.

The Bay County school district is seeking a local tax increase. A local doctor is leading the opposition, the Panama City News Herald reports.

Many schools have turned to grants to supplement their tax revenue. Several Polk County teachers have recently won some, the Ledger reports.

They’re also looking to federal CARES Act funding to bolster their budgets. Sarasota County district officials began reviewing how they can spend their anticipated $30 million portion, the Herald-Tribune reports. • All told, the state is set to receive about $7 billion in federal money to help the schools, Florida Phoenix reports.

Coronavirus concerns

Busch Gardens and Sea World will host their first grad-night parties in years this spring. Tampa Bay area high schools are saying no thanks to the offer.

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Graduation day is almost here. Sarasota County high schools are preparing for outdoor ceremonies, the Herald-Tribune reports. • Flagler County schools plan in-person events, but with limited seating, Flagler Live reports.

Mask up. A group of Flagler County parents dominated the local School Board meeting with anti-mask talking points, Flagler Live reports.

School safety

“Costly and cruel.” That’s how the Southern Poverty Law Center described the use of Florida’s Baker Act in schools, WFLX reports.

Getting there is half the battle. The Escambia County school district signaled support for an initiative to create more connected sidewalks to schools, the Pensacola News Journal reports.

Who patrols the schools? The Osceola County School Board formed a committee to explore revamping its school resource officer program, the Orlando Sentinel reports. The district has faced calls for removing officers after a video surfaced of one slamming a student to the ground.

Polk County schools experienced a data breach in late 2019. Parents are demanding answers as more information recently surfaced, WFLA reports.

Other school news

In memoriam. The Manatee County school district renamed its administration building after former district leader and board member Walter Miller, the Bradenton Herald reports.

What’s in a name? A proposal to rename Duval County’s Andrew Jackson High School generated emotional debate from both sides, WJAX reports.

“I don’t do drugs.” A Brevard County teacher was fired for using medical marijuana, Florida Today reports.

From the police blotter ... A Collier County high school teacher was arrested on allegations he inappropriately touched a student and sent naked pictures of himself, WINK reports.

From the court docket ... The Palm Beach County school district will pay $2 million to a family that sued after its 19-year-old son with autism died at school while not being watched, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

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