Today's news -- February 1, 2012


Education bill faces opposition by teachers, parent organizations

A coalition of Florida teachers and PTA organizations are opposing a K-12 education bill filed by state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R- Fort Myers, and known as “Parent Empowerment in Education.” Benacquisto’s bill, which passed a Senate education committee last week, includes several provisions, but the most important would allow parents “to submit a petition to the school district requesting implementation of a school turnaround option.” The U.S. Department of Education’s four “turnaround” models include replacing the principal, rehiring no more than 50 percent of the staff and reopening a school as a charter school (i.e. one that is publicly funded but privately managed). Parent Revolution, a California organization that “successfully pushed for that state’s first-in-the-nation parent trigger bill in 2010,” featured one of its organizers at a Tallahassee news conference held last week to support Benacquisto’s bill. Parent Revolution and the Foundation for Excellence in Education -- led by Jeb Bush, also represented at the news conference -- receive money from the Gates Foundation, which is involved at different levels in U.S. education policy, calling for the use of taxpayer money to fund charter schools and private schools, and teacher merit pay, among other changes. In November, the Gates Foundation gave the American Legislative Exchange Council (known as ALEC) more than $376,000 to “educate and engage its membership on more efficient state budget approaches to drive greater student outcomes, as well as educate them on beneficial ways to recruit, retain, evaluate and compensate effective teaching based upon merit and achievement.” Ceresta Smith, an educator with Miami-Dade County public schools, wrote last week that through ALEC, ”global corporations and state politicians vote behind closed doors to try to rewrite state laws that govern your rights. These so-called ‘model bills’ reach into almost every area of American life and often directly benefit huge corporations.” Mark Pudlow, a spokesperson for the Florida Education Association, said the “parent empowerment” bill “has been popping up in state legislatures across the country.” According to him, it creates “a parent petition process to convert traditional public schools to charter schools and allows them to be managed by charter school management companies.”


Prison privatization plan debated in Senate

Faced with opposition from Republicans and Democrats alike, Senate President Mike Haridopolos cut off debate Tuesday on a South Florida prison privatization plan that once seemed likely to be approved and now is being harshly criticized. Haridopolos had to extend the time for debate after a series of harangues, ranging from questions about the real cost-savings to the possibility of thousands of prison employees losing their jobs in a still-sputtering economy. Finally, he postponed further discussion until today. Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander and rules chair John Thrasher argued that prison privatization will offer savings that can be put toward hiring teachers and other public services. Even some of their Republican colleagues said they didn't buy it. Nearly 4,000 prison workers' jobs in 26 facilities could be affected. "They didn't prove to me -- and I think they didn't prove to many members of the Senate -- that there's a guarantee of savings," Sen. Mike Fasano said. The New Port Richey Republican submitted a list of amendments to the bill (SB 2038), including ensuring state corrections officers first shot at job in privatized prisons at the same salary and benefits and making sure populations at privately run prisons mirror those at state prisons. Another measure even killed privatization outright in favor of more legislative study. Fasano, known as a maverick among Senate Republicans, wasn't alone. Sen. Paula Dockery, a Lakeland Republican, said she wanted to see an analysis explaining exactly how prison privatization will save money. Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, all but made fun of savings estimates that started at $22 million to 45 million and were revised down to $16.5 million. The Legislature first passed a South Florida prison-privatization plan last year. The Florida Police Benevolent Association, the union that formerly represented corrections officers, sued the state over it. A judge ruled the plan was unconstitutional because it was approved as part of the annual budget and not as a separate law. Attorney General Pam Bondi is appealing the judge's decision. This year's legislation is intended to work around the judge's ruling.


Groups speak out against privatization plan


Evers, files conflict-of-interest disclosure, may still vote on prison privatization issue


Objections to pension changes take sponsor by surprise


Local pension measure squeaks by House panel


Under tentative pact, Volusia teachers to get 1.5 percent pay hike (Andrew Spar quoted)


Staffers union reaches agreement in Brevard; still no deal for teachers (Richard Smith and Dan Bennett quoted)


AFT task force takes new look at teacher preparation


Lawmaker pitches school tax swap

Cash-strapped school districts may soon have an alternative to the property tax revenue that funds construction and maintenance. A House panel on Tuesday approved a measure that would allow Florida school boards to levy a half-penny sales tax in exchange for a reduction in school property taxes. The revenue could only be used for capital projects. If the law were to pass, school boards would have to put the tax swap on a countywide ballot, and a majority of voters would have to approve it. Rep. Erik Fresen, a Miami Republican sponsoring the bill in the House, said the sales tax would provide “a steadier, more predictable revenue stream for the school districts, while providing some tax relief for the voters.” Florida school districts have taken a financial hit as property values have dropped -- and as state lawmakers have reduced the amount of property taxes school boards can levy in the first place. The result: Districts across the state have had a difficult time funding maintenance and repairs.


Debate heats up over bill allowing private school athletes to play at public schools


Scott says he's opposed to college tuition hike

The first budget confrontation of the legislative session emerged Tuesday when Gov. Rick Scott declared his opposition to an 8 percent tuition increase at state colleges and universities that Republican lawmakers support. "I don't believe in tuition hikes," Scott said. "We have to do what the private sector has done and what every family has done and that's tighten our belts. … That's the first thing I want to focus on, is how we can reduce our costs rather than how do we raise tuition." The House Appropriations Committee is expected to vote today on a preliminary budget of $69.2 billion that includes an 8 percent tuition hike -- the same as in the current year's budget, which Scott signed into law in May without objecting to a tuition hike. Rep. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, who chairs the House budget panel, issued a statement defending the House's support for a tuition increase. "The cost of postsecondary education in Florida is almost the lowest in the nation," Grimsley said. "Allowing tuition increases helps keep Florida nationally competitive." Grimsley said Florida ranks 45th out of 50 states in the cost of undergraduate tuition, now about $184 per credit hour or $5,531 for a full year of 30 credit hours. Scott flatly rejected the logic that tuition needs to increase because it's too low. "I want the cost of living in this state to be lower than other states. I don't want it to be higher," Scott said. "Would you think that way in business?" The Senate has not prepared its budget but support for a tuition increase exists there, too. Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, who chairs the budget subcommittee on higher education, disagreed with Scott. "I have great concern because we're cutting back on dollars, and education has been cutting back every single year for the last four years now, and to come one more year where we have to reduce money and say 'no tuition increases' is very difficult," Lynn said.


Florida lawmakers wrestle with ways to fix STEM-degree shortage


Senate panel kills immigration tuition bill


College says it exaggerated SAT figures for ratings


Gaming the college rankings


University students recoil at Koch influence


Appeals court upholds redistricting amendment


Senate panel to move on Internet sales tax bill


Florida's shift to private managed care means longer Medicaid waiting lists, study finds


UF survey: Florida consumer confidence surges upward in January


Budget deficit tops $1 trillion, but is falling, report says


Turning the “Buffett rule” into law


Indiana poised for right-to-work era; protests planned


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