Florida schools take assessments hit
Schools throughout the state took an expected hit on the 2021 Florida Standards Assessments, which continued in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic. State data compared the latest scores to FSA results from 2019, as the Florida Department of Education canceled assessments in 2020. For English Language Arts for Grades Three through 10, Florida dropped 3 percentage points, from 55% to 52% of students achieving a Level 3 (satisfactory score) or above on this year's ELA assessment. Statewide, the mathematics score dropped 10 percentage points, from 61% to 51%, while Florida lost 6 percentage points, dropping from 53% to 47% of students achieving a Level 3 score or above for statewide science assessment for Grade Five. For Civics End-of-Course Assessment for Grades Five through 12, Florida dropped 7 percentage points, from 71% to 64%.
President Biden urges full school reopenings
President Joe Biden has called for all schools to open this fall for in-person learning. He pointed to funding through the $1.9tn American Rescue Plan from March that allowed schools to implement improved ventilation systems, and he noted teachers were prioritized through the Department of Education when COVID-19 shots first became widely available in the spring, with almost 90% of educators and school staff now vaccinated. "We can and we must open schools this fall, full-time," he said. "It's better for our children’s mental and emotional well being, and we can’t afford another year out of the classroom. Every school should be open, and we’re giving them the tools to be able to do so safely."
Florida spending millions to issue pandemic bonuses to teachers
Florida is paying a private contractor $3.6m to help issue $1,000 bonus checks bearing the governor's logo to teachers, principals and first responders. Two state agencies signed contracts with Fidelity Information Services last month to collect information on police officers, firefighters, paramedics, teachers and principals to determine which ones are eligible for the $1,000 bonuses and send them checks. The bipartisan decision by the Florida Legislature, at Gov. Ron DeSantis' urging, to assign more than $400m in pandemic relief dollars to one-time bonuses for teachers and first responders has turned surprisingly contentious, with accusations of political gamesmanship and negotiations with unions about who would be eligible for the checks. “They could have just sent the money to school districts at no cost to taxpayers,” Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, said Thursday. “It sounds like the governor's wasting money.”
Tampa Bay Times
Broward County asserts likely controversial mask decision
Placing the district in direct conflict with Gov. Ron DeSantis, the School Board of Broward County held a special meeting Wednesday where members voted to require indoor masking inside schools, social distancing protocol inside classrooms and seating capacity limits on school buses that would be implemented at the beginning of the school year in August. The move was made due to members' concerns over a rising number of COVID-19 cases in South Florida and in light of guidance recently issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which recommends that even the fully vaccinated wear masks inside in COVID-19 hotspots. DeSantis is firmly against mask mandates in schools, saying during a COVID-19 roundtable this week that “our view is that this should absolutely not be imposed. It should not be mandated."
Johns County Schools weighs options for mandatory panic alert system
Michael Strausbaugh, a safety and security specialist with the St. Johns County Schools, has outlined two different options to fulfill the requirements to meet Alyssa's Law, which mandates that all Florida public schools, including charters, be outfitted with mobile panic alert systems by the start of classes this year. One is a card-based system embedded with Bluetooth technology. Staffers would wear the cards, which feature a button, on lanyards with their district ID badges. With the push of a button, the user can silently initiate a lockdown from anywhere on campus. The other option Strausbaugh presented was an app-based system that district employees would have to upload and enact on their own cellphones. The company offering the service, Intrado, already handles the school district's email School Messenger service to the school community.
The St. Augustine Record
Additional $3.2bn in emergency funds headed to HBCUs
The Department of Education announced it will be adding $3.2bn in grants to the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, specifically targeted toward institutions such as Historically Black colleges and Universities, and tribal colleges and universities. “These institutions have a long history of serving our students - particularly students of color, first-generation college students, and other students who are underrepresented in higher education - and the Department stands ready to support them so they can expand their vital services,” said Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.
Inside Higher Education
How to ensure federal K-12 aid is more than a stopgap relief effort
In an opinion piece for K-12 Dive Timothy Unruh, executive director of the National Association of Energy Service Companies, urges the use of relief funds to modernize school infrastructure for efficiency. Priorities, he says, should be upgrades, renovations or supplements to heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems (HVAC) and their supporting infrastructure, which will help school facilities managers to “dilute” or, in some cases, eliminate virus particles from air circulated into classrooms, hallways and other indoor spaces. Mr. Unruh urges districts to make use of energy savings performance contracts (ESPCs), a specialized debt-financing mechanism that can leverage by a factor of five or more the purchasing power of local education agencies' ESSER awards, unlocking upwards of $125.4bn in lifetime energy and maintenance cost savings with an initial investment of only $25bn.
Monsanto to compensate Washington teachers over chemical exposure
Three schoolteachers in Washington state who sued chemical company Monsanto over exposure to materials in fluorescent lights have been awarded $185m. The teachers, who worked at the Sky Valley Education Center in Monroe, Washington, said they suffered brain damage from exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in the fluorescent lighting at the school. This was the first of 22 trials involving teachers, parents and students who spent time at Sky Valley. A 2019 Associated Press investigation found that millions of fluorescent light ballasts containing PCBs probably remain in schools and day care centers across the U.S. four decades after the chemicals were banned over concerns that they could cause cancer and other illnesses. Many older buildings also have caulk, ceiling tiles, floor adhesives and paint made with PCBs, which sometimes have been found at levels far higher than allowed by law.
The Daily Progress
U.S. Senate advances funding package for electric buses
A $550bn infrastructure plan that cleared a procedural hurdle in the Senate this week includes $5bn for zero- and low-emission school buses. Specifically, it would provide $2.5bn for low-emission school buses, and another $2.5bn for zero-emission buses. This would pay for thousands of electric school buses and help schools replace their current bus fleet, according to the Biden administration. “In addition, they will help the more than 25m children and thousands of bus drivers who breathe polluted air on their rides to and from school,” the White House said in a summary of the infrastructure deal. “Diesel air pollution is linked to asthma and other health problems that hurt our communities and cause students to miss school, particularly in communities of color and Tribal communities.”
Global summit raises billions for schools
World leaders have pledged more than $4 billion to support schools through the Global Partnership for Education, which distributes funding in more than 90 poorer countries. The agency aims to create an extra 88 million school places and support the learning of 175 million children during the next five years. Pledges at the summit, hosted by the UK and Kenya, included £595 million from the European Union, £430 million from the U.K., £300 million from Norway, £173 million from Canada and £218 million over three years from the United States.