Today's news -- April 26, 2017




Senate keeps bonus, charter giveaway alive *

With limited debate, with minutes remaining in a four-hour meeting, the Florida Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday approved two controversial education measures that have been the subject of scorn from some corners. The panel reported favorably SB 1552 to expand the Best and Brightest award to include more teachers and, for the first time, school principals. It also moved HB 796 to establish a "high-impact" charter school model and granting priority to certain charters seeking approval. The latter is related to the House "schools of hope" plan. Chairman Jack Latvala told committee members that accepting the bills was important to put the Senate in position to have conference discussions with the House, which has prioritized both items. These bills were seen as key to the budget debate, which now has risen to the level of House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron.


Why teachers unions oppose bills to limit added guarantees on annual contracts (Mike Gandolfo quoted)


Report: Seven Florida public high schools among nation's best's-best


State wants to bolster book-banning in schools *

If you think of book-banning, you might think of the 1920s fight to censor James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” Or Ray Bradbury’s 1953 work of fiction, “Fahrenheit 451.” Or, as it turns out, Florida right now … in 2017. Legislators are rapidly advancing a bill that would make it easier for parents and activists to challenge textbooks and reading assignments they find offensive, so schools can “discontinue use” of them. Oh no, my child read something new! Something edgy! Something about evolution! Bring me a government censor ASAP! It's like a return to the Flat Earth Society. You know, if my kids hear something that challenges their thinking -- or even contradicts my own beliefs -- I don’t demand government intervention. My wife and I do something simpler: We actually discuss the issue with them. But now, in the age of fragile snowflakes -- where people want to be shielded from any information that might test their assumptions -- Florida politicians are seeking salvation in censorship. Senate Bill 1210, sponsored by Republican Tom Lee, would set up new layers of bureaucracy and petition processes for people to challenge books in schools -- even (get this) schools where protesters don’t have children in attendance. And here’s the catch: The law would only allow activists to protest book choices at traditional public schools -- not charter schools or voucher schools that are also funded with public dollars. So some meddling ideologue can try to stop your kids from learning about Darwin, but you can’t do squat about reading materials that your tax dollars fund at a voucher school. It’s bald-faced hypocrisy -- and part of a continuing trend of undermining public schools while exempting charter and voucher schools from the “accountability” legislators claim to covet. Democrat Carlos Smith, one of the few local reps to vote against this bill, said the double-standard was obvious. “If transparency is truly the motivation,” he said, “then the process should apply evenly to charter schools and private schools taking taxpayer-funded voucher money.” But it doesn’t. Now, by this point, maybe you’re thinking: Scott, I get what you’re saying. But as a parent, I want to have some impact on my kids’ curriculum. Great. You already can. Florida’s existing statutes contain an entire chapter -- more than 1,000 words -- detailing parents’ rights to complain about and petition instructional material. The statutes even outline how districts must handle parental concerns and how quickly they must respond. But Lee’s bill puts all that on steroids -- with pages of details, outlining a petition and appeals process and hearing officers who will consider potentially offensive material “not suited to the student needs” or cited in “sub-subparagraph A.” Confused? Sure. Many of the standards are wildly subjective. But hey, if you didn’t have a valid reason to protest “Catcher in the Rye” last year, maybe the hearing officer will agree that sub-subparagraph A now applies. The same goes for atheists upset about Christmas books in the library. (It could cut both ways, ya know.) Forget encouraging your kids to actually think for themselves. Thanks to new “procedural safeguards,” maybe they won’t have to think critically at all. This may all sound silly. And for what it’s worth, Orange County School Board Chairman Bill Sublette said he has no interest in banning books “or even entertaining such efforts.” But this pro-censorship push already cleared the House with bipartisan ease. Local reps voting for it included Democrats Bruce Antone and Kamia Brown and Republicans Jason Brodeur, Bob Cortes, Eric Eisnaugle, Mike LaRosa, Mike Miller, Scott Plakon, Rene Plasencia and Jennifer Sullivan. Among the few locals to vote against it were Smith and fellow Democrats John Cortes and Amy Mercado, who described the bill as a solution in search of a problem. “As parent of six, I have always been able to handle any concerns regarding my children’s educational needs,” Mercado said, “with their teachers, school administration and, if necessary, the school board.” Smith agreed, saying: “The existing process to object to school instructional materials isn’t broken.” Lee has said his bill was meant to empower parents. But he didn’t offer any response to my questions about double standards -- why he believes activists should get to question books at some taxpayer-funded schools but not others. Frankly, I’m not sure they really thought this through. The idea seems unnecessary, burdensome and anti-enlightenment. But if these guys really want to empower book banners, they should at least be consistent about it. You can find the contact info for your state senator at


Students need more exposure to arts and music, test shows (Randi Weingarten quoted)


Acting on education globally and locally (by Lily Eskelsen García)


Trump education budget tips scale against “marginalized communities” (AFT mentioned)


Competitiveness at school may not yield the best exam results


Trump expected to order study of federal role in education


DeVos said, “There isn’t really any Common Core anymore.” Um, yes, there is.


North Carolina: Legislators propose special perks for corporate charters


Lawmakers end budget stalemate, clash with Scott looms

State lawmakers reached a tentative deal on an $83 billion budget Tuesday that could end the session on time but could put them on a collision course with Gov. Rick Scott. A day after a stalemate threatened to derail the legislative session, Republican leaders in the House and Senate privately hammered out the broad terms of a deal that ensures both sides can claim victory for their top priorities. Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, confirmed that Enterprise Florida, the state's economic development agency, would likely survive with an operating budget -- but no money for financial incentives to help Scott attract businesses to Florida. "I don't think it's going to be where the governor would have liked to have seen Enterprise Florida," Galvano said. "But at the same time, there's still some life left." That's expected to antagonize Scott, who has traveled throughout the state in recent weeks criticizing House Republicans by name who voted to abolish the program. Coincidentally, Scott is on an Enterprise Florida trade mission in Argentina this week. He had asked the Legislature for $23.5 million to pay for the agency's operations, and $85 million more for economic incentives to lure companies to Florida. Another major setback for Scott: Visit Florida, the state's tourism marketing arm, would see its budget slashed by two-thirds to $25 million and would be forced to adhere to new restrictions on salaries and travel that the House demanded and the agency opposed. Scott last week asked that Visit Florida receive $100 million next year. State director of bond finance Ben Watkins sent a letter to legislators on Tuesday, warning them that cuts to Visit Florida could result in a loss of sales tax revenue, which could hurt the state's bond rating and make it more expensive for the state to borrow money. Under the tentative budget agreement, as described by Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, the House agreed to support the Senate's highest priority, a massive new reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to reduce discharges of toxic water. The House won agreement for its $200 million "schools of hope" incentive to entice specialized charter schools to move to Florida and compete with traditional public schools that have been designated as failing. The House also agreed to the Senate's proposed increase in state university spending and need-based financial aid for students, and the House would agree to the Senate's call for an across-the-board pay raise for state workers. The Senate would agree with the House not to rely on higher property tax bills to pay for an increase in per-student school spending. The two sides also have a tentative agreement on a package of tax cuts, and Braynon said the House would agree to about $400 million in projects in lawmakers' districts — less than the $700 million the Senate wanted but more than the House's initial offer of $150 million. Despite promises by legislative leaders of greater transparency, the outline of the deal was known before any public negotiations took place. Detailed public negotiations were scheduled to start today. The budget must be finished by Tuesday for the session to end on time May 5. The state Constitution requires a 72-hour cooling-off period before lawmakers take an up-or-down vote on the final budget, which cannot be changed.


No budget deal yet, Latvala says


Negron and Corcoran take budget talks into their own hands


Up to the Senate to bring sense to Florida's budget


Too many agendas, too little competence


Scott enlists state bonds chief in fight for Visit Florida funding


House sets up $300 million tax holiday package for final vote


House pension reform package appears in Senate

Amid budget negotiations, the House and Senate may be using the revival of a controversial pension reform package as a means to get on the same page.  For the past few years, many Republican House Speakers -- including current Speaker Richard Corcoran -- have made making changes to the Florida Retirement System a priority. In particular, it’s making changes to the default retirement option, if a new employee doesn’t make a choice. The current default is the more popular retirement option known as the traditional pension plan.  So, House sponsor, Rep. Matt Caldwell (R-North Fort Myers) wants to change that to the 401K style investment plan. “And, so, all we’re doing is changing the default, the choice we make for them when they decline to make a choice after given multiple opportunities,” said Caldwell. “And, they still retain the option to switch. If at some point in the future they realize, you the state has defaulted me into the investment plan, but I really do want to be in the pension plan, they have the option to make that switch at any point.” Still, Rich Templin with the Florida AFL-CIO say while that’s true that a person can switch from the investment plan to the pension plan, there’s a caveat. “They have the option to go back into the pension plan, but it will cost them thousands of dollars out of pocket,” said Templin. “This is so important. There is no choice when you’re telling someone who is making $40,000 a year that they have to come up with thousands of dollars out of pocket to buy back into the pension plan.” Many Democrats and unions groups like Templin’s have opposed the default provision, saying the investment plan is more risky and changing the default could destabilize the pension fund -- which is seen as one of the best in the country as it’s 84 percent funded. Still, the House last week passed a bill along party lines with Democrats opposed. The Senate, meanwhile, never had a measure that included that provision … that is, until this week. In the past, the Senate has never had the votes. But, Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) -- the Senate’s budget chairman -- indicated it could be part of the ongoing negotiations with the House. “That’s part of what’s under consideration now,” he said, speaking to reporters Friday. “We’re working on that issue…you know, they have their priorities and we our priorities, and this is the time of year where we try to sync ‘em.” So, the bill had its first hearing in the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee Monday. As the panel chair, Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) is the bill’s sponsor. Along with the controversial default change, his bill includes a benefit for firefighters who contract certain types of cancers due to their job. And Baxley says with less than two weeks left in session, he just wants to get this over the finish line. “I mainly want to get this over to Appropriations so it can be part of that discussion,” he said. “This is a template. We may have some different tires and wheels on it before it gets out onto the floor. But, I really feel responsibility from this committee to move this into the process.” And, the measure narrowly passed Baxley’s committee 4-3 with Democrats opposed. It nearly became a casualty of Former Sen. Frank Artiles’ (R-Miami) resignation. Because he was no longer on the seven-member panel, the measure could have died on a tie vote. But, Senate President Joe Negron appointed his Majority Leader Wilton Simpson to fill that slot, so the bill still had a chance.


UF law students discuss, debate ahead of CRC meeting


Injured on the job? It might get harder in Florida to find a lawyer to take your case


Florida lawmakers want to eliminate the “tampon tax”'tampon-tax'


Water shortage declared throughout Southwest Florida


Florida wildfires draw attention to climate change


Bill would allow companies to charge for outside fracking


Sanders and 21 Democrats back bill to raise minimum wage to $15 an hour


As White House stonewalls probe, GOP chair accuses Flynn of criminal acts


The Flynn story isn’t going away


Here’s what we know so far about Team Trump’s ties to Russian interests


Trump’s tax plan: Low rate for corporations, and for companies like his


Key questions on Trump’s plans for “maybe the biggest tax cut”


Trump’s tax plan looks like a plutocrat’s dream


The Trump administration’s magical thinking on taxes would bust the budget


Laffer’s theory on tax cuts comes to life once more


Instead of launching tax reform, Trump could ground it


Judge blocks Trump effort to withhold money from sanctuary cities


White House slams “egregious” ruling on sanctuary cities


May Day to have immigrant tilt as the masses plan to protest Trump


Hundreds of Haitian Disney employees may have to leave U.S.


Republicans offer spending plan without border wall


Poll: Border wall funding isn't worth shutdown


Mexico talks tough to Trump as border wall funding appears to stall


Hatch says he can accept temporary tax cuts that raise deficit


Pelosi and Hoyer at odds over budget negotiations


House Freedom Caucus leaders back new health-care plan


Moderates chafe at Republican healthcare compromise


Study: Ending Obamacare subsidies would cost government more than it saves


Trump defends birth-control requirement under Obamacare


Republicans are still very far from repealing Obamacare


Republicans exempt their own insurance from their latest health care proposal


Apparently repealing Obamacare could violate international law


Obamacare should be fixed, not killed


Trump’s trade policy is in disarray


Trump is expected to sign orders that could expand access to fossil fuels


Trump review threatens to rip up Obama protections for wilderness areas


What Trump’s budget means for the Filet-O-Fish


Is it time to break up Google?


Spend a dollar on drug treatment, and save more on crime reduction


Road rage cases with guns more than double in three years, report says


A red state’s arts blues


Slow pace of Trump nominations leaves Cabinet agencies “stuck” in staffing limbo


Trump picks retired Marine general to lead Secret Service


U.S. military starts installing controversial anti-missile battery in South Korea


Chechnya’s crackdown on gays


Trump takes a selective approach to the promotion of human rights


Trump takes forceful tone at Holocaust remembrance


Money talked loudest at Trump’s inaugural


Call the state department's ad for Mar-a-Lago what it is: a plea for corruption


Group wants investigation into government promotion of Mar-a-Lago


Workers endured long hours, low pay at Chinese factory used by Ivanka Trump


Ivanka Trump is jeered in Berlin after defending her father


Trump scrambles to show progress as the 100-day mark approaches


Trump says his first 100 days have been a historic success. History disagrees.


In Florida, Trump set 100-day bar he now calls “ridiculous”


Release touting Trump’s 100 day accomplishments is riddled with errors





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