House, Senate firm up education committee leadership. Big issues await.

Florida’s new lawmakers have been sworn in, and committee weeks are a month away. Leaders in both chambers have now named the people who will chair their key education panels, with the Senate releasing its list of chairmen on Wednesday. The House announced its main chairs a few weeks ago, but has yet to tell us who will head the subcommittees. Also still unknown is the membership for any of the panels. They’ll have plenty to do, though, as they face questions about funding, testing, internet service for distance learning and more — plus whatever other priorities they pick. Read on for the latest on the issues in Florida education news.

Finances loom large. University of South Florida faculty have raised serious questions about their administration’s plans to make deep spending cuts. They’ve called for a clearer strategy. • The Hillsborough County school district has been slashing positions to cover revenue shortfalls. A new independent review validated the actions as warranted.

DeSoto County’s new superintendent wants to lift his district’s academic performance into the state’s top 10. He faces financial and other obstacles along the way, the Arcardian reports.

Dealing with the coronavirus — in schools and out — also tops the list. The University of South Florida joined a global effort to test the efficacy of the Novavax vaccine.

Distance learning is tough without adequate internet service. State Sen. Loranne Ausley wants to improve the odds for rural north Florida families, WFSU reports.

Back to school they go. More than 4,000 Lake County students have transferred from online to in-person classes since the start of the year, the Daily Commercial reports. • About 3,000 Clay County students plan to return to their schools after winter break, Clay Today reports.

Duval County superintendent Diana Greene, right, was named Florida 2021 Superintendent of the Year. Previously superintendent for Manatee County schools, she once interviewed for Hernando County's top job, as shown here.
Duval County superintendent Diana Greene, right, was named Florida 2021 Superintendent of the Year. Previously superintendent for Manatee County schools, she once interviewed for Hernando County’s top job, as shown here.

Top honors for Duval County’s superintendent. Diana Greene was named Florida’s 2021 superintendent of the year, the Florida Times-Union reports.

Who’s next for Polk County schools? The School Board set criteria for selecting its new superintendent, the Ledger reports.

Keep it civil. The vice chairman of Manatee County’s school board has proposed new rules to govern public comment at meetings, after being personally criticized by speakers, the Bradenton Herald reports.

Graduation day is almost here. Because of COVID-19, both the University of Miami and Florida International University have decided to hold virtual ceremonies for their fall graduates, the Miami Herald reports.

A newly elected Palm Beach School Board member bought a home outside her district before winning her race. Now Alexandria Ayala faces three investigations related to the transaction, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

‘We weren’t the aggressor.’ Pasco County’s Mitchell High School football team’s unprecedented run toward the state championship was marred by a brawl.

‘Every single threat is serious.’ A Lee County 14-year-old is arrested on accusations of threatening violence against his school, WINK reports.

A Duval County teacher repeatedly used social media to speak against the transgender community and other groups. The School Board suspended him without pay for five days, the Florida Times-Union reports.

Did you miss a story? Yesterday’s roundup is still available.

In case you were wondering … The Florida Senate has announced Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, will chair the Education Committee and Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, will serve as vice chairman. They’ll lead the Senate’s efforts on education policy for the coming session. Where have they stood on such issues in past sessions? Here’s a brief look: In recent years, Gruters has sponsored legislation to limit school board member terms and to establish a parent bill of rights. He also put forth bills to allow retired educators to work as substitute teachers before six months passed from their final day of employment, and to require students earn a half credit in civics for high school graduation. None passed. • Jones, who served in the House before his election to the Senate, in recent years sponsored legislation to create a tuition scholarship program for students pursuing an associate degree or career certificate; to establish requirements for schools to provide implicit bias training for employees; and to set minimum qualifications for charter school administrators and officers. He also has put forth bills that would have required parental permission to participate in state testing, and granted protection for certain student data privacy. None passed.

Janelle B. Smith

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