Today's news -- April 27, 2017





Florida budget details still not out in public *

House and Senate leaders continued negotiating the state budget behind closed doors Wednesday, more than 24 hours after saying they had an early agreement on the overall size of the spending plan. Generally, a deal on the broad contours of the budget -- known as “allocations” -- would lead in short order to meetings by joint House-Senate committees to hammer out details of state spending for the year that begins July 1. But for a second day, optimism from legislative leaders that those conference meetings could begin produced no actual public negotiating sessions. “I think that we’ve reached an agreement on the substance of the budget, and I think we also have reached agreement on a way that we can get to conference,” Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said Wednesday morning. But lawmakers pushed back against the idea that a deal that many believed had been sealed Tuesday had fallen apart. “When we closed business yesterday, the major issues had been agreed on; at this point, there is some tweaking going on what I call second- and third-tier issues,” said Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican set to take Negron’s place late next year. The annual legislative session is scheduled to end May 5. But lawmakers face a Tuesday deadline to complete a full budget agreement or go into overtime, either through a special session or an extension of the regular session. That is because of a constitutionally required 72-hour “cooling off” period before lawmakers can vote on the budget. Negron confirmed some of the broad strokes of the agreement Wednesday morning. The Senate would get wins on higher-education funding and policy, as well as Negron’s plan to build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. In return, House leaders would largely get their way on public education. Local education property tax bills would not rise with property values; as a result, the increase in money for schools distributed through the state’s main funding formula would rise by a relatively modest amount per student. However, the House would also get $200 million for teacher bonuses tied to teachers’ performances on certain tests, and $200 million for its proposed “schools of hope” program, meant to encourage qualified charter schools to set up near academically troubled traditional schools. Those would be outside the Florida Education Finance Program, or FEFP, a formula usually used to calculate per-student increases in school spending. “It would be a mistake to only count in the education budget what comes directly through the FEFP,” Negron said. “I think there are other educational opportunities that we’ll give to our constituents, and I think that improves the overall quality of our system.” The Florida Education Association, the state’s main teachers union, lambasted the “schools of hope” legislation and similar ideas that have circulated in the Senate. “Legislation like this makes it clear that the real goal of some of our political leaders is not to provide a high quality education to our children, it’s to dismantle public schools and profit off our students,” FEA President Joanne McCall said.


Corcoran: Horse-trading in budget is ‘bad policy’ — except when it isn’t


Scott bashes “shortsighted” lawmakers over Visit Florida


House leaders mull plan to allow districts

access to charter giveaway funding *

House leaders are considering letting districts compete with charter operators for a pot of $200 million that would help them turn around failing schools. The chairmen of House education committees reached out to school district superintendents last week to solicit suggestions for changes to HB 5105, the so-called “schools of hope” legislation that is in play in the still-fluid budget negotiations. School district leaders are among the most powerful outspoken critics of the legislation, which would incentivize charter operators to open schools in communities where traditional schools are chronically underperforming. Broward County schools superintendent Robert Runcie and some of his peers pitched a plan to lawmakers: Let districts run “schools of hope” by giving them access to the additional funding as well as statutory and regulatory flexibility that would be afforded to qualifying charter operators. “What we’re arguing for is an equitable playing field, where we would have the ability to be able to compete for the dollars that are set aside,” said Runcie, leader of the nation's sixth-largest and state’s second-largest district, which includes Fort Lauderdale. The lower chamber’s Republicans are open to it, two leaders said Wednesday. Rep. Michael Bileca, a Miami Republican who chairs the House education committee and has been a chief proponent of the legislation, said the bill sets “a very high bar” for the performance of charter school operators that would be eligible to qualify for the incentives. If school districts could meet that bar by demonstrating success with impoverished students, they might be able to participate, as well. “Something we’re exploring is, if a district is able to achieve that in those high areas of poverty, that could open up some of the funding,” he said. As for whether a district could become a “hope operator” under the bill, Bileca said: “We’re looking at possible pathways for that.” The chamber’s top education budget writer, Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., said the legislation could ultimately create a scenario where a district is able to turn a failing school into a charter but maintain control over it rather than turning it over a private operator. Districts could try different strategies that wouldn’t be possible under current laws and regulations. For example, they could implement an enhanced version of a “principal autonomy” pilot program Diaz crafted last year, under which principals act as schools’ C.E.Os and are given more leeway in budgeting and staffing. Also, the schools wouldn’t be subject to teachers unions collective bargaining agreements, which Republican leaders see as obstacles to progress. The statewide teachers union, the Florida Education Association, has been an outspoken opponent of the plan, along with Democratic allies in the Legislature. Sharon Nesvig, a spokeswoman for FEA, said the union wants lawmakers to provide districts additional funds for offering social services to students. "But we do not support turning public schools into charter schools," she said, adding she also disagrees that charters operated by districts would necessarily fall outside union-negotiated contracts. “Contrary to the narrative, collective bargaining agreements aren't the problem," she said.


Senate panel spends all of nine minutes considering major change in schools policy


Testing bills push different education agendas *

The “Fewer, Better Tests” bill could overhaul standardized testing in Florida schools, should some version of it muscle through the state Legislature and emerge triumphant in final bargaining sessions. Senate Bill 926 and House Bill 773 -- originally a joint effort to slash and reform the assessment landscape -- have morphed into “education train” behemoths in recent weeks. Although the bills tout similar ideas, they’ve veered in different directions on reform approaches and now mother several pieces of legislation too fragile to stand alone. Beth Sweeny, the coordinator of governmental relations for the St. Johns County School District, said “trains” are strategically formed by legislators hoping to tack their ideas onto bills with probabilities of passing. She said she wouldn’t be surprised if SB 926 or HB 773 expanded even in the final hours. “It’s happening a little earlier than usual. We typically see these trains forming really in the last few days of the session,” Sweeny said. “I think more will be added. In the past we’ve seen 100-page bills that are the final product of these bills.” The original version of the “Fewer, Better Tests” bill proposed nothing in regards to reducing student assessments, instead shifting all testing to the final weeks of the school year as well as requiring timelier test results for teachers and parents. Sweeny said SB 926, filed by by Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami), was eventually amended to incorporate ideas by Sen. Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee) including eliminating several end-of-course exams for high school students; allowing school districts to use pencil-and-paper exams instead of mandating online exams; and studying whether SAT and ACT scores are viable substitutes for the Florida Standard Assessment. SB 926 slid through the Education Committee, amending in several components of other bills such as mandatory recess, high school graduation requirements and language on teacher bonuses, to name a few. The Education Committee also passed HB 773 earlier this week, which underwent a lengthy amendment from Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. (R-Hialeah) the night before. The bill reflects similarities to its Senate companion such as pencil-and-paper exams, shortened testing windows, quicker assessment results for teachers and parents, and a study regarding ACT/SAT scores in place of the FSA. It conservatively suggests eliminating only one end-of-year exam, Algebra II, and would require the Florida Department of Education to publish statewide assessment results and for the Commissioner of Education to hire a third party to create individual learning growth assessments allowing teachers and students to gauge yearly performance. Sweeny said Diaz also late-filed a 17-page amendment into House Bill 549 with the same test reform components. “At this point, I think something from one of those bills on the assessment side will pass,” she said. “But there are still two weeks left, so a lot could happen.” She speculates the final product will lean toward the more conservative House version. She’s certain there will be winners and losers at the end of the strategizing. “All of the bills are ending up in one big package with everyone trying to move it through. If one chamber has a policy the other doesn’t want, they roll things together so if they want one thing, they have to accept the other things,” Sweeny said. “I think there’s a little horse trading that goes on with this too.” Mark Pudlow, a spokesperson for the Florida Education Association, said education trains can be sneaky bills laden with unwanted policies. The final days of bargaining sessions usually happen away from scrutinizing eyes. “When we get into the case of legislators who stop holding public hearings and start meeting behind closed doors, things end up happening,” he said. He added that trains are an easy out for legislators who can later claim they voted on a bill for one policy, while shrugging off the others. Pudlow separately agreed with Sweeny’s prediction on the final version of the “Fewer, Better Tests” bill, saying changes, if any, will be modest. “I assume there will be some changes; it’ll probably be closer to the House version, which makes a half-hearted stab at eliminating some of the testing,” he said. A half-hearted stab may be better than nothing, but Michelle Dillon, the president of the St. Johns Education Association, has her doubts. Dillon said the bill only offers Band-Aid solutions to a bigger problem, which is high-stakes testing. She’s keeping her hopes realistic. “[I’m] cautiously optimistic, as the bill may morph into another creature,” she said. “I say it’s a small step in the right direction, but I fear it’s all talk and appeasement for the teachers and parents who have spoken up about the testing overload.”


Bonus criterion isn't state's “Best and Brightest” idea * (by Ramon Veunes)

A recent Miami Herald article describing how Miami ranks near the bottom -- 47 out of 50 -- of all major U.S. cities when it comes to housing affordability for teachers suddenly gives teacher compensation a bigger, real-world, dollars-and-cents significance. While the state's Legislature prepares to continue the Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program that's based on a teacher's college entrance exam score, teachers who are actually making a positive contribution to their students' learning are receiving nothing more than the paper equivalent of a pat on the back. I am one of those teachers. Recently, I received a letter from Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart congratulating me for being "one of the highest impact teachers in the state!" This determination was made "based on a state-level value-added model (VAM)" that "used each of the most recent three years of data" of my "former students' performance on statewide standardized assessments." While the VAM, and how it's calculated, has received plenty of well-deserved criticism, it is currently the only official way used to tie a teacher's effectiveness to actual student performance. And what does this High Impact Teacher achievement earn me? Not one shiny red penny. Meanwhile, the Florida Legislature has allocated $50 million in each of the last two years for the Best and Brightest Scholarship Program. This year, a House member proposed adding an additional $200 million to the program. The Best and Brightest bonus is determined in part by how high a teacher's score was on a college entrance exam, such as the SAT. Teachers who qualified received more than $8,000 under this program last year. In my case, I took the SAT nearly a quarter century ago. Under the criteria for Best and Brightest, I scored high enough on one of the two SAT categories, but to qualify, I would have had to score high enough on both. Let that sink in for a minute. I had a measurable real-life positive effect on my students' education for the past three years, and I am not getting any money whatsoever for this. Yet, legislators have determined that if I would have scored well enough on a test I took almost 25 years ago that has no definitive connection to my students' education, I would deserve thousands of bonus dollars. In case you're slapping your face at the baffling absurdity of it all, please rest assured that you are not alone! If you are a fellow teacher, a parent, or just a concerned citizen, you should contact your state representative and senator and let them know that you believe the allocation of the Best and Brightest Scholarship money based on the results of a teacher's college entrance exam test score is ill-conceived, at best. If you are a Florida legislator yourself, then it is your duty to talk some sense into your fellow legislators.

We should award the bonus money to the teachers who are actually providing a genuine quantifiable benefit to their students' education.

Most Broward teachers to get raises of 4 percent or higher (Anna Fusco quoted)


Pasco district, employees reach contract deal (Kenny Blankenship quoted)

Counsel: Duval contract does not protect teachers from criticism by School Board (Chris Guerrieri mentioned)


Hillsborough schools in “dire” financial shape while lawmakers keep up the pressure


State educators wary of Title I provisions in House proposal


Senate honors Hukill with financial literacy bill


Crist asking Feds to require safety belts on all new school buses


Sowing climate doubt among teachers

The Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank known for attacking climate science, has been mailing a slim, glossy book to public school teachers throughout the United States. The institute says it plans to send out as many as 200,000 copies, until virtually every science educator in America has one. The book, “Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming,” presents the false premise that the evidence for human-driven climate change is deeply flawed. To understand where the Heartland Institute is coming from, consider a recent comment by its president, Joseph Bast, who called global warming “another fake crisis” for Democrats “to hype to scare voters and raise campaign dollars.” The book was first published in 2015, to coincide with the Paris climate conference and influence policy makers. The second edition was released this year with an instructional DVD. Public school teachers are not the only ones on the institute’s mailing list. College educators are getting copies of the book, too. One academic in Albany told me that hers arrived in an envelope bearing the headline of a New York Times article about an investigation into Exxon Mobil for possibly lying about climate change. “I was in a rush, and all I noticed was the word ‘climate’ in a New York Times headline,” she said. “That made me open it rather than throw it out.” The cover letter inside, however, made the book’s premise clear. “Claims of a ‘scientific consensus’ ” on climate change, it read, “rest on two college student papers, the writings of a wacky Australian blogger, and a non-peer-reviewed essay by a socialist historian.” In fact, multiple surveys of the scientific literature show that well over 90 percent of published climate scientists have concluded that recent global warming is both real and mostly the result of human activity. For example, a study in 2010 found that 97 percent of the 200 most-published authors of climate-related papers held the consensus position, and a survey in 2013 of 4,014 abstracts of peer-reviewed climate papers found 97 percent agreement. The Heartland-distributed book disputes the methods used in these and similar surveys but provides no definitive counterarguments against the overall weight of evidence. The fact is that survey after survey, involving multiple approaches and authors, finds a strong consensus among scientists who are most knowledgeable about climate change. This latest edition contains a foreword by Marita Noon, described by the book as a columnist for Breitbart and executive director of Energy Makes America Great. Noon introduces the book’s three authors as “highly regarded climate scientists.” Not quite true. Despite their academic credentials, none have the publication record of an accomplished expert in the field, though they may be lauded by the conservative media. Having been cautiously skeptical myself before reaching the consensus position, I remember that some legitimate uncertainty about the human contribution to global warming did exist within my specialty of paleoclimatology several decades ago. Since then, however, high-quality climate reconstructions from ice cores, tree rings, lake sediments and other geological sources, coupled with rigorous analyses of solar activity, volcanism and fossil fuel emissions, have made it clear that the recent warming is not simply a result of natural variability or cycles. Long after the newer, better data convinced me and the vast majority of other climate scientists of the powerful human role in global warming, climate-change deniers still cling to the outdated idea of natural causes. Unfortunately, many teachers seem unaware of this. A survey of 1,500 American science teachers published last year in the journal Science found 30 percent of those surveyed said they emphasized in their classes that recent global warming “is likely due to natural causes.” Less than half also correctly identified the degree of consensus among climate scientists that human activities are the primary cause of global warming. They may therefore be vulnerable to suggestions that they should “teach the controversy” for the sake of balance, particularly in places like Tennessee and Louisiana, where state law permits the teaching of alternative interpretations of evolution and climate change in public schools. The Heartland Institute is now exploiting this opportunity to influence the next generation on a national scale. The book is unscientific propaganda from authors with connections to the disinformation-machinery of the Heartland Institute. In a recent letter to his members, David L. Evans, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, said that “labeling propaganda as science does not make it so.” He called the institute’s mass mailing of the book an “unprecedented attack” on science education. Judging from the responses of educators I know who have received “Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming” in recent weeks, most copies of it are likely to be ignored or discarded. But if only a small percentage of teachers use it as intended, they could still mislead tens of thousands of students with it year after year.


Trump orders review of education policies to strengthen local control (Randi Weingarten quoted)

Pennsylvania law cripples traditional districts while giving charters “cash cow”


House votes to make secret the applicants for top college, university posts (UFF mentioned and Rich Templin quoted)


Coalition calls on states to protect student borrowers after DeVos betrayal (Randi Weingarten quoted)


State panel hears concerns about constitution revision

Issues as wide-ranging as an abortion waiting period, doctor-assisted suicide, a living wage, home rule for cities and counties and insurance reform were addressed by North Central Florida residents Wednesday evening to a state panel deciding the future of Florida’s Constitution. The Florida Constitution Revision Commission held a hearing at University of Florida’s Phillips Center for the Performing Arts to get ideas from the public -- and dozens of speakers took advantage of the opportunity.

Among them were local elected officials seeking measures that would ensure the rights of cities and counties to govern themselves without undue prohibitions from the Legislature. Local activists asked for a living wage and the restoration of voting rights for felons who have served their sentence. Residents asked for reforms to insurance, for greater rights for gun owners and funding for public schools. “As someone who feels strongly that public education has been a way to a better life for Americans for the last century I urge you to protect our children’s rights to a fully funded public education system and not allow voucher programs or charter schools to diminish our public schools,” said Jean Robinson. “Good public schools are an asset for companies coming to Florida ... Public schools are also a means by which many Floridians have raised themselves out of poverty.” The process of revising Florida’s constitution happens every 20 years. A panel is formed to travel the state to gather ideas from residents. Commissioners decide which proposals will be put on next year’s general election ballot for voters to ultimately approve or reject.


Changing FRS pension to 401(k) too risky


Bill takes Sunshine into the dark


Local government authority is under attack


House votes to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients


House passes increased homestead exemption measure


Emergency division had to “let a few folks go” as part of reorganization


The people have spoken: They want more government


Trump isn’t saving jobs: Thousands have left country since he took office


Russia still looms over Trump and Congress


Flynn under Defense Department investigation over foreign payment


House Intelligence panel’s Russia probe back on track after rocky start


Why won’t Congress really investigate the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia?


White House proposes slashing tax rates, significantly aiding wealthy (Randi Weingarten quoted)


Trump’s tax proposal: What it means for the rich, for the world and for you


This isn’t tax policy; it’s a Trump-led heist


Trump’s tax proposal would open an enormous loophole for his own companies


Trump’s laughable plan to cut his own taxes


Trump under fire over “huge tax cut for the rich”


Trump’s tax plan is a reckoning for Republican deficit hawks


Trump, in new tax plan, promises to do what Reagan couldn’t


Treasury Secretary confirms Trump plans to break promise, not release tax returns


Trump banks on a big tax announcement to help build his 100-day resume


I'm an American living in Sweden. Here's why I came to embrace the higher taxes.


Hard-line Republican caucus backs revised bill to repeal Obamacare


Trumpcare becomes even more cruel


New Trumpcare plan “makes bad bill worse,” AARP says


Anthem threatens to leave health exchanges if subsidies are halted


Mulvaney and Pelosi feud over Obamacare funds


Ryan moves to ax lawmaker exemption in Obamacare repeal bill


Democrats take shot at Curbelo, Mast over congressional carve out


VA limiting new hiring as it aims to widen privatized care


House Republicans introduce stop-gap bill to continue budget talks


Trump’s border promise might be hard to break


Who’s going to pay for Trump’s wall? How about nobody.


Justices alarmed by government’s hardline stance in citizenship case


Defiant Trump vows to take immigration case to Supreme Court


Sessions vows to press legal fight on sanctuary cities


Trump “absolutely” looking at breaking up 9th Circuit


Office to aid crime victims is latest step in crackdown on immigrants


Immigration sweep in Florida nets 73 with criminal records


Poll: Miami-Dade voters don’t want immigration crackdown


Leon schools designated as “safe zone”


The Roberts court, 2017 edition


Here’s the FCC’s plan to undo its own net neutrality rules


Trump's plan to overturn net neutrality rules to face “a tsunami of resistance”


The low-inflation world may be sticking around longer than expected


21,587 reasons to fix forensic science


After hate crimes, victims get stuck with the bill


Trump’s order on national monuments decried as corporate “giveaway”


Circling back to voters, 100 days into Trump era


The education of Donald Trump


Trump’s can’t-do record


Trump's first 100 days were a stress test for democracy


Democrats to force vote on bill requiring Trump to release his taxes, visitor logs


White House: Ivanka Trump will have “no authority” over fund to help businesses


Bribe cases, a secret Jared Kushner partner and potential conflicts


GOP’s attack on voting rights was the most undercovered story of 2016



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