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Florida lawmakers use budget to tackle masking, virtual education concerns

A roundup of Florida education news from around the state.
Fifth grade students in Pasco County's eSchool have gathered in Crews Lake Park weekly during the 2021-22 academic year to get a chance to work together and have a sense of class camaraderie.
Fifth grade students in Pasco County's eSchool have gathered in Crews Lake Park weekly during the 2021-22 academic year to get a chance to work together and have a sense of class camaraderie. [ Courtesy of Pasco eSchool ]
Published Feb. 21

The big story: As lawmakers have discussed their plans for education funding, much of the attention has turned toward a House proposal to take $200 million from districts that imposed strict mask mandates in the fall. Senate President Wilton Simpson has said he’s open to the idea, WUSF reports.

But it’s not the only controversial concept in the spending packages, which this week head to conference committees tasked with smoothing out the differences between the two chambers.

House PreK-12 Appropriations chairman Randy Fine also floated language to radically overhaul the way virtual education in Florida — which districts are required to provide and students are required to take — is organized and funded. One of his suggestions riled district-level virtual school leaders so much that they raced to Tallahassee to raise objections and counter some of the perceptions that motivated Fine.

It appears they might have made some headway. Read about the issue here.

Tallahassee action

Florida’s Bright Futures Scholarship is a primary way many teens afford to attend the state’s universities. Lawmakers have proposed making it easier to earn the service hours required to qualify for an award, Florida Phoenix reports.

The Legislature is making changes to its school safety law adopted after the 2018 Parkland school massacre. Lawmakers lamented that districts are not in full compliance with the existing law, Florida Politics reports.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes wants to help prisoners under 22 get educated. He has proposed spending $3.37 million to offer online classes to inmates, Florida Politics reports.

Today in Tallahassee ... Take a breather, as the agenda is light, with the House State Affairs Committee discussing HB 851 on school concurrency at its 3:30 p.m. meeting.

Tomorrow in Tallahassee ... Expect the fireworks on Tuesday, when the full House has both HB 7 (”Stop WOKE”) and HB 1557 (”Don’t say gay”) on the special order calendar. Leadership has scheduled three hours for the former and two hours for the latter. Amendments have started to pour in. The measures would next head to the Senate, which has its own versions. • Read about the debate so far from Flagler Live, Florida Politics and the News Service of Florida. • It’s not just Florida. So-called “don’t say gay” bills are in play in Tennessee, Kansas, Oklahoma and several other states, The Hill reports.

Employee shortages

Substitute teachers: The Palm Beach County school district will let recent high school graduates serve as substitute teachers, the Palm Beach Post reports. The district also is offering a temporary pay raise to substitutes.

Bus drivers: Manatee County school bus drivers have expanded their routes as the district seeks to fill 155 vacant positions, the Longboat Key Observer reports.

Resource officers: The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office will provide deputies to cover schools for which the school district police department cannot fine enough staff WPBF reports.

In the districts

The Lake Wales charter school system is about to choose a new superintendent. The search process has become more controversial than expected, the Ledger reports. More from the Lake Wales News.

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A Seminole County parent objected to the use of a BrainPop video on civil rights in her child’s elementary school class. The school district found the material was appropriate to supplement the curriculum, WNDB reports.

Some Citrus County students want to use drones in their classwork. The school district is working on a policy to allow it to happen within federal guidelines, the Citrus County Chronicle reports.

Sixteen students were arrested after several fights broke out at Indian River County’s Freshman Learning Center. More arrests are anticipated, TC Palm reports.

A Broward County teacher was accused of inappropriate communication with a student. He surrendered his state certification rather than contest the charges, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

Got math? An Alachua County teen found a new way to solve calculus integral equations, and he’s being published with his discovery, WUFT reports.

Before you go ... What if, as Key and Peele imagined, Hogwarts were an inner city school?

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