September 24, 2023

Florida lawmakers propose cuts for school districts that mandated masks

The big story: As the legislative session entered its second half, both chambers unveiled their education budget proposals for the coming fiscal year.

Though they adhered largely to the wishes of Gov. Ron DeSantis, the spending plans included some surprises. Perhaps the biggest one came out of the House.

Rep. Randy Fine, who chairs the PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee, recommended punishing the dozen districts that implemented strict mask mandates against state rule and law. He said they should have $200 million taken away, with that amount to be distributed to the 55 other districts that followed instructions.

The idea could prove a hot potato, because Fine said the money represented the salaries of 1,600-plus district-level officials in those counties. How those school systems, which include some of Florida’s largest, might operate without the department directors and other decision makers who currently receive those salaries remains an open question. Leon County superintendent Rocky Hanna called Fine an “childish, immature bully,” the Tallahassee Democrat reports. Read more here.

Some other ideas are less likely to stir the pot. The Senate, for instance, has proposed boosting all non-instructional school employees minimum wage to $15 per hour. Senate President Wilton Simpson introduced the idea, noting how difficult it has become for schools to keep bus drivers and other workers employed, and to fill vacancies.

The Senate would increase the overall education budget 6.5 percent, Florida Politics reports. Shortly after the announcement, employee groups praised the idea as a good first step but called for more, Florida Phoenix reports.

More Tallahassee news

The Florida Senate applauded school board members sitting in the gallery. The same senators are pushing to cut board members’ salaries, Florida Phoenix reports.

Florida lawmakers have said K-12 student voucher should not depend on the performance of the schools they choose. When it comes to higher education, they’re proposing tying student grants to school outcomes, the News Service of Florida reports.

Some Florida school districts have been hit by cyberattacks seeking ransom for hijacked data. A bill moving through the Florida Legislature would ban government entities from negotiating in ransomware attacks.

Today in Tallahassee … The House Early Learning and Elementary Education subcommittee meets at 1:30 p.m. • The House Secondary Education subcommittee meets at 4:30 p.m., where it will take up legislation to establish a financial literacy high school graduation requirement.

Hot topics

Employee shortages: Charlotte County schools are struggling to fill positions in all job categories, WGCU reports. • Many teachers are considering leaving the profession early, WUWF reports. • The Lee County school district has lost 900 teachers since June 2020, WINK reports. • Sumter County schools substitute fill rate is down to about 50 percent, well below past years, the Villages Daily Sun reports.

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Florida’s surgeon general: Dr. Joseph Ladapo’s former employer at UCLA said he would not recommend the state or the University of Florida hire him, saying they deserved someone who based decisions on scientific fact and not opinion. Ladapo fired back that good science should leave room for all perspectives, Politico Florida reports.

Book bans: Polk County superintendent Frederick Heid said he removed 16 titles from school libraries during a review, despite policy directing otherwise, because of accusations that the books violated some state laws, the Ledger reports. • The U.S. Supreme Court has regularly ruled against book bans, the Ledger reports. • The Leon County library system kicked off its NEA “big read” week by encouraging parents and students to read Toni Morrison’s Beloved, WFSU reports.

Other school news

The awards keep coming. Seema Naik is Broward County’s Teacher of the Year, WSVN reports. • Alex Wicker is Brevard County’s Teacher of the Year, Florida Today reports. • Jessica Woods is Lake County’s Teacher of the Year, the Daily Commercial reports. • Zack Butler is Santa Rosa County’s Teacher of the Year, the Pensacola News-Journal reports. • Darryl Thomas is Columbia County’s Teacher of the Year, WCJB reports. • Seminole County’s top school crossing guard was named statewide Crossing Guard of the Year, WKMG reports.

The Citrus County school district needs a new site for food storage and distribution. It’s got its eye on a commercial building near one of its middle schools, the Citrus County Chronicle reports.

Someone is posting restroom photos from a Duval County school on Instagram. Parents and school officials are trying to get the account removed, WJXT reports.

From the police blotter … A Pasco County high school teacher was arrested on allegations of sexual battery against a student. • A Leon County teen was arrested on accusations of shooting water from a splatter gun at vehicles and students at a local high school, WCTV reports. • A Citrus County man was arrested on allegations he poured water on the head of a school employee who denied him reentry to a high school basketball game, the Citrus County Chronicle reports.

Before you go … For Black History Month, the city of St. Petersburg last year made some lightly watched videos about the the African-American experience in Pinellas County. The collection included one piece on education for Black children. It’s narrated by then deputy mayor Kanika Tomalin and African American Heritage Association president Gwendolyn Reese. Check it out.

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