Today's news -- February 16, 2017



State per-student funding remains well below average *

Florida's public education spending per student remained below the national average and under many other southern states, according to a newly released National Center for Education Statistics report based on fiscal 2014. The report shows Florida spent $8,714 per student, compared to the national average of $10,936. Florida's per-student expenditures exceeded those of Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas anywhere from $100 to $1,100. But it logged in behind Alabama by $311, Georgia by $446 and Louisiana by $2,070, among others. Florida's 14 largest school districts, all among the nation's top 100 in terms of enrollment, fell within a fairly tight spending band between $8,000 - $10,000 per student that most systems hovered around, except for those outside major metro areas such as Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. Among them, Miami-Dade spent $9,106 per student, Broward $8,553, Hillsborough $8,685, Orange $8,726 and Palm Beach $9,500 (the highest among the 14 Florida districts on the list). The data arrives as Florida lawmakers debate whether to increase student funding, as Gov. Rick Scott has called for, or to reduce spending, as Florida House members have been preparing for. Education commissioner Pam Stewart presented portions of the governor's budget to the Senate PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday morning. The House PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee is scheduled to review programs for possible reductions today.


Senators question Scott's recruitment, retention plan *

Florida senators in charge of crafting the K-12 education budget for next year aren't sold on Gov. Rick Scott's ideas to incentivize future teachers so they enter and stay in the profession. Scott proposes the state spend $58 million on a variety of new initiatives -- including $10 million for a "one-time hiring bonus" for new teachers who score in the top 10 percent in their subject-area exam for the subject they'll teach. That idea, in particular, drew some resistance Wednesday from some senators on the PreK-12 education budget committee, mainly due to its similarity to the current "Best & Brightest" teacher bonus program, which controversially rewards top teachers based on their SAT/ACT scores in high school. "Best & Brightest" has been a House priority the past couple years, driven by now-Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes. Senators were reluctant to renew it last year through the annual budget but ultimately agreed to do so as a compromise with the House. This year -- even with half of the senators new -- the reservations about the program's rationale remain. And they're seeping into discussions about Scott's proposal (which notably does not include renewing "Best & Brightest"). "It concerns me that we continue to look for the best performers in college -- and not the best teachers," Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, said. Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, agreed:  "It seems to me that rather than just giving a check to a teacher upon graduation from college with no strings attached, we could perhaps offer some financial assistance with a contractual commitment while they're in schools of education," Young said. "If we're looking at recruiting and retraining, that seems a more targeted and efficient use of our taxpayer dollars." Education Commissioner Pam Stewart defended Scott's proposal, saying research shows "when an individual has strong content knowledge, that does translate into better performance in the classroom."


$200 million for teacher incentives? Lawmakers crafting plan to do it


Bill aims to reduce time spent on standardized tests

Leading members of the House and Senate unveiled legislation Wednesday that they said could help reduce the amount of time Florida public school students spend on standardized tests during the school year. But lawmakers admitted that the proposal (HB 773, SB 926), dubbed the “Fewer, Better Tests” legislation, would not explicitly do away with any exams. The proposal would require the state’s language arts and math tests to be administered in the last three weeks of a school year, with the exception of the 3rd-grade reading exam. It also requires that the scores for any tests used by local school districts be provided to teachers within a week, instead of the month currently allowed by law. And it calls for the state to conduct a study of whether college-entrance exams are closely aligned with Florida’s high school standards, with an eye on potentially using them as at least a partial replacement for the state’s graduation tests. The proposal comes amid a continuing stream of complaints from parents that children in Florida’s schools are over-tested. Lawmakers at the press conference said they had heard the gripes. “We got the message from parents and teachers about how they feel about the testing process, the anxiety that some of their students feel and really the common-sense approach of what they need and what kind of tools they need to make sure that their children or that their students are getting a year’s worth of learning in a year’s worth of time,” said Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor. Sprowls is set to become the speaker of the House after the 2020 elections. The legislation is backed by the influential Foundation for Florida’s Future, an organization founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush to guard his work on education accountability. The foundation and other testing supporters have come under siege from the public pushback against testing in recent years. Still, the legislation, highlighted at an event Wednesday at the Capitol, doesn’t get rid of any of the exams that parents, students and teachers have complained about. “It doesn’t eliminate any tests,” Sen. Anitere Flores of Miami, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said in response to a reporter’s question. When the reporter underscored the title that lawmakers gave the legislation, she pointed out that it would limit the amount of time when school districts can administer exams. “It does reduce the testing window, but I don’t know if actually eliminates any tests,” Flores said. Whether the bills could command support from groups like the Florida Education Association, the state’s main teachers union and one of the organizations pushing back on over-testing, remains unclear. Mark Pudlow, a spokesman for the FEA, said the group was still studying the proposal. “There are some elements of the proposal we agree with, others that may be concerning,” Pudlow said. “We’ll be seeking clarification on some of those areas of concern.”


Jefferson likely to become first charter school district


Parents say something was amiss at closed voucher school


Santa Rosa teachers union criticizes use of private firm for substitutes


Conservative group: Trump, DeVos should kill agency, bring God into classrooms


DeVos: Protesters show hostility to change, new ideas in education


Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is linked to delayed brain development


Georgia doesn’t need vouchers


Texas: The fight against vouchers begins again


New Jersey: Links among charter school leaders, founders and Turkish cleric


Legislature tries to make university president applications secret


FGCU presidential candidate Grady gets eye-popping question


The argument against bringing banks back into federal student lending


Scott heads to Central Florida amid tourism, incentives fight


Fine warns Scott about his tactics


At closed caucus, Corcoran rallies lawmakers to keep fighting Scott


Enterprise Florida CEO says agency is worth saving


Negron names “advocates for school choice” to serve on constitutional panel


Florida group reports increase in special-interest spending


Florida death penalty fix on the fast track in Legislature


Listen to opponents of term limits for judges


Trump now condemns links to media as to why Flynn was jettisoned


What did Trump know and when did he know it?


Despite Democrats’ demands, broad inquiry on Russia ties isn’t assured


Pressure on Senate Intelligence Committee to deliver on Russia inquiry


The nation needs answers, not deflections, on Russia and Trump


For GOP, a dimmed zeal for investigations in Trump era


White House plans to have Trump ally review intelligence agencies


Five times Trump’s team denied contact with Russia


Trump ally admits “back channel” tie to WikiLeaks


Russia dismisses reports that Trump aides had contact with intelligence agents


Wasserman Schultz: Trump aides' Russian contact “reeks of collusion”


After election, Trump’s professed love for leaks quickly faded


House GOP leaders demand Justice inspector general probe leaks surrounding Flynn


Flynn saga shifts balance of power between president, Congress


Comey’s behavior looks worse and worse


Restaurants will test if the U.S. can stomach a day without immigrants


A day without immigrants protests planned today. Up next, a day without women.


Refugees in Florida are in the spotlight again. Here's what you need to know.


Miami has always welcomed immigrants like me -- don’t stop now


Is fear the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement goal?


Who will watch the agents watching our borders?


Report: Anti-Muslim groups triple in U.S. amid Trump hate rhetoric


Eight years in prison for voting illegally is a gross injustice


Austerity was a bigger disaster than we thought


White House proposes new rules to steady insurance markets under health law


Yellen and House Republicans clash over Fed’s performance


Warren questions bank lobbyist’s “inappropriate” involvement in Trump order


Puzder drops labor nomination, throwing White House into more turmoil


Labor unions take victory lap after Puzder withdrawal (Richard Trumka quoted)


Collins says she will vote against Trump’s EPA nominee


Acting EPA head: Hiring freeze challenges ability to get the agency’s work done


The Endangered Species Act may be heading for the threatened list


Trump’s pick for budget director just lost a crucial backer in the Senate


Priebus struggles to control fractious White House


Trump friends and donors jockey for ambassadorships


Miami Marlins owner is being considered for U.S. ambassador to France, report says


Trump, asked about anti-Semitism, brags about election victory


Trump, meeting with Netanyahu, backs away from Palestinian state


Palestinians dismayed as U.S. appears to back off two-state solution


Defense secretary Mattis tells NATO allies to spend more, or else


Where is Tillerson? Top envoy keeps head down


What should military leaders do if the president provokes an international crisis?


Americans are seriously stressed out about the future of the country, survey finds


Drip, drip, drip


Trump has turned evading responsibility into an art form


Why do smart people in the White House do stupid things? Trump tells them to.


FBI releases file on 1970s Trump housing discrimination case


Congressman says constituents asking for a town hall are “enemies” of democracy


Journalists, battered and groggy, find a renewed sense of mission


The value of American freedoms




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