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School district builds upon Florida’s prekindergarten program

A roundup of Florida education news from around the state.
Micaela Garcia-Rosario collects letters for an alphabet matching activity while attending Diane Thomssen’s VPK class on Tuesday, Jan 25, 2022, at Dunedin Elementary School. The free 540-hour program runs during the school year and is available at many elementary schools since Pinellas County Schools expanded the program into schools where it had not been offered or used much in the past.
Micaela Garcia-Rosario collects letters for an alphabet matching activity while attending Diane Thomssen’s VPK class on Tuesday, Jan 25, 2022, at Dunedin Elementary School. The free 540-hour program runs during the school year and is available at many elementary schools since Pinellas County Schools expanded the program into schools where it had not been offered or used much in the past. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Jan. 28

The big story: Floridians established the state’s voluntary prekindergarten system two decades ago, as a way to ensure children had access to an early learning program that experts deemed critical to developing needed social and academic skills.

Since the beginning, advocates cautioned that the program’s funding of what amounted to three hours a day could hinder four-year-olds who need it the most, because their parents would have to figure out how to pick them up during work hours or pay for added services they might not be able to afford.

That’s a concern educators have attempted to work through ever since.

The pandemic added a layer to the discussion, as many families chose not to send their children to pre-k and kindergarten wearing masks, while vaccines were not available. Learning gaps emerged.

The Pinellas County school district decided to use money from its millions in federal stimulus funds to address the subject. It added 40 classrooms of free, full-day prekindergarten to 26 high needs schools. So far, the initiative appears to be succeeding. Read the story here.

Tallahassee action

Getting to school safely is half the battle. A Senate committee advanced legislation to allow cameras in school zones. “Hundreds of thousands of Florida’s students cross roadways on their way to and from school, and nowhere in America are they in more danger from cars than in our state,” Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-Doral, said during the hearing.

Four state universities are seeking new presidents. Lawmakers are speeding ahead with a bill that would shield search materials from public view, the News Service of Florida reports. Similar legislation has not gained traction in past years. Critics called the concept a “recipe for corruption,” Florida Politics reports.

One in three college students faces food insecurity. Two Florida lawmakers have filed a proposal to better support campus food pantries.

Florida’s constitution guarantees children a quality public education. The presidents of two Tampa-area teachers unions told WMNF they see the Legislature as cutting away at the system.

The Florida Department of Education had unused grant money for computer training. An internal review uncovered that a now-former employee spent thousands of the dollars on personal expenses, Florida Politics reports.

Hot topics

Superintendent searches: Finalist Peter Licata dropped out of the running to become Broward County superintendent, the Sun-Sentinel reports. More from the Palm Beach Post. The move came after he was announced as a finalist for another job in Nebraska, KOLN reports. • Three finalists are headed to Lee County for interviews to become the district’s next superintendent, the Fort Myers News-Press reports. • Incoming Miami-Dade County superintendent José Dotres says his top priority will be unfinished learning, WLRN reports.

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Teacher, staff pay: The Volusia County School Board ratified a deal to increase minimum teacher salaries to $47,500, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports. • Lake County teachers reached a tentative contract agreement that includes raises and retention bonuses, WKMG reports. • Manatee County school support employees ratified a new contract with raises, WWSB reports.

Municipal charter schools: The City of Cape Coral will increase residents’ monthly electric bills to help pay for the city charter school system expenses, WZVN reports. Many residents aren’t happy with the move, WINK reports. • The athletic director of the Coral Springs charter school system will leave to lead a different charter school, the Sun-Sentinel reports. • The Lake Wales charter school system has three finalists to review for its superintendent position, the Lake Wales News reports.

School choice: Former Collier County School Board member Erika Donalds talked about Florida’s successes and challenges in growing options during a National School Choice Week event, WFSU reports.

Sex education: The Polk County School Board approved changes to its sex education curriculum, including a policy to notify parents a week before lessons will be taught, the Ledger reports.

Other school news

The St. Johns County school district shows no signs of slowing enrollment growth. It plans to add 120 portable classrooms next year to ease the crunch, the St. Augustine Record reports.

School board campaigning has begun. Four candidates have filed for seats in Indian River County, TC Palm reports.

Please don’t go. Florida International University’s provost has decided to leave his position despite faculty entreaties for him to remain amid a school leadership shakeup, the Miami Herald reports.

From the police blotter ... A Hillsborough County elementary school principal was arrested in a law enforcement operation aimed at capturing adults trying to engage youths in sexual acts. • A Miami-Dade County private school teacher, who also is a former prosecutor, was arrested in a prostitution sting, the Miami Herald reports.

Don’t miss a story. Check out yesterday’s roundup.

Before you go ... Spotify pulled Neil Young’s music amid a political dustup. You can still find his music elsewhere online, though. Here’s a favorite.

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