Today's news -- February 7, 2012



“How fitting that dissent among the Florida Senate's rank-and-file Republicans is threatening to head off the push to privatize 26 South Florida prisons and work camps. After all, the groundswell is due in part to legislative leaders' attempts to ram this massive privatization through their colleagues with as little debate or study as possible. Last year, top state legislators' effort to slip the massive privatization plan into the state budget instead of passing it in a stand-alone bill was slapped down by a judge as unconstitutional. This year, legislative leaders are at it again, and they've tried to ensure their privatization effort's easy passage by routing it away from legislative committees that usually scrutinize proposed changes to criminal justice and prison policy. But even that hasn't worked. Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, twice postponed votes on the bill -- one of his stated priorities -- last week because he did not appear to have enough support to pass it. He stripped one outspoken critic, Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, of his chairmanship of the Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee, which oversees spending issues involving prisons and the court system. But Sen. Fasano and other critics are right to object. This plan, believed to be the largest prison privatization in U.S. history, is being rushed through without nearly the amount of study an overhaul of this magnitude merits. State law requires that any effort to privatize a state function be backed by a rigorous cost-benefit analysis, but Department of Corrections officials have yet to complete one. A Senate bill would waive that requirement, a noxious end-run around a common-sense measure to ensure proposals like this actually cut costs. How much would this plan save state taxpayers? At this point, it's anyone's guess.”

-- Palm Beach Post editorial.


Savings tough to calculate in Florida prison privatization plan


Activists say “no” to prison privatization




Panel OKs bill forcing districts to share construction $$ with charters

Legislation that would, among other things, require county school districts to share a pot of construction money with charter schools was rammed through a Senate committee Monday, leaving 12 hostile amendments on the table. At issue is about $1.9 billion that 40 school districts raise from taxpayers mostly for construction projects. Current law allows districts to share some of that money with charter schools, but most don’t. Under the bill sponsored by state Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, that sharing would be mandatory. It would mean $140 million would be sliced from the construction pot and sent to charter schools. In Duval and St. Johns counties it would equate to $3.4 million. With budget cuts in recent years, opponents say traditional public schools simply can’t afford the loss. “We are not OK with this form of corporate welfare, especially when our traditional publicly owned schools are suffering,” said St. Johns County resident Colleen Wood, who helps lead nonprofit education group Save Duval Schools. Supporters said that because charter schools are public, money they pay for public education should not be cut off from the schools where they send their children. “Many like me have made a false assumption that their local tax effort follows their child or grandchild,” said Richard Swier, whose grandchildren attend charter schools. He said he was representing his grandchildren Emma and Ethan. Supporters of the legislation inserted names of their children and grandchildren into testimony throughout the hearing. Before debate began, Wise, the committee chairman, got a vote to allow consideration of the bill to be cut off after one hour, mindful that members still had two other bills to review before their three hours of allotted time was up. The move did not leave nearly enough time for the 80 public speakers to testify, or to consider the 13 amendments filed by state Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee.

Seminole challenges state over charter school appeals,0,2179928.story


Should fine arts factor into school grades?

The grades bestowed annually upon Florida public schools don’t consider how many students take fine arts courses. Sen. Nancy Detert thinks it ought to. Detert, R-Sarasota, is sponsoring a bill that would award bonus points to schools that increase the number of students taking arts and music classes. The Senate Education Committee gave its stamp of approval Monday. Detert cited a study showing that students who had taken fine arts courses did better than their peers on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests. “We saw the study and we know that it was across the board,” Detert said. “Black, white, Hispanic, rich and poor -- everyone did better in math and science.” The Florida PTA, the Florida Education Association and the Florida Music Educators Association all agreed. The lone voice of opposition came from the Foundation for Florida’s Future, an education think tank created by former Gov. Jeb Bush that supports school accountability and choice. Executive Director Patricia Levesque said she supports participation in the fine arts, but worried the measure would water down the school grading formula. “When you add measures that are not outcomes based and not student-performance based, there is an ability to have a lesser measure of quality on reading, writing math and science,” she said.


What’s next in education in the Legislature?


UCF prof: Poverty explains a lot about school rankings

A University of Central Florida professor saw the rankings of Florida’s public schools, ran some numbers and determined that statewide nearly half the difference in rankings could be explained by the varying rates of poor children enrolled at the different campuses. When you attempt to account for that demographic variation, you find that some schools that show only so-so may actually be doing a better job than some A-rated schools (that just happen to enroll very few kids from low-income families), said Stanley Smith, on the faculty at UCF’s college of business administration. His quick analysis jives with the complaints of many educators, who said the rankings didn’t take into account the impact of poverty on academic performance. Smith shared his findings with the Florida Education Association, which, in turn, made them public in its weekly update about the 2012 legislative session. Smith said he ran a regression analysis, focusing mostly on Seminole County, where he lives. He found that poverty (as measured by percentage of students who qualify for the federal government’s free or reduced-price lunch program) accounts for “74 percent of the variation” in ranking points in Seminole. When he adjusted for that, he found that some of Seminole’s C-rated schools -- Casselberry, Hamilton and Midway -- outperformed some A-rated ones. Statewide, poverty accounts for 47 percent of the variation -- and also probably leads to the same masking of schools doing a good job with the students they enroll. His conclusion: A simple ranking as the state did is “not a good indicator of what the schools are doing with their specific students.”

Giving parents the runaround on school turnarounds

Federal school "turnaround" strategies that call for firing teachers, replacing managers, or closing or converting public schools into charters are often met with resistance and anger among the parents whose children attend those schools. A recent study by Public Agenda, which focuses on how to market the concept of turnaround strategies, fails to address the substantive concerns of resistant parents nor questions the soundness of these strategies as a way to improve schools, according to a new Think Twice review. The report, What's Trust Got to Do With It? A Communications and Engagement Guide for School Leaders Tackling the Problem of Persistently Failing Schools, was reviewed for the Think Twice think tank review project by William Mathis, an education researcher and former school superintendent who has studied school turnaround strategies. As Mathis points out in his review, the report never treats seriously the substantive concerns of resistant parents; it never questions the fundamental strategy that it proposes communicating about. "While the report endorses and encourages the federally promoted turnaround approaches, it does not include a discussion of the considerable body of research that raises questions about the effectiveness of these models," Mathis writes. "In fact, the efficacy of all these turnaround reforms is simply assumed." Mathis criticizes the report for being "paternalist and arrogant" in its "criticism of parents not knowing what's good for them."

Find William Mathis's review on the Great Lakes Center website at:
Find What's Trust Got to Do With It? at:


Lake teachers blame test mania on Scott (B. Grassel quoted)


Okaloosa teachers have no need to grovel


Union vote averts closing schoolhouse doors because of funding crisis (Dennis Van Roekel quoted)

Prayer isn't the problem, but panderers sure are


Biden touts college affordability plan in Tallahassee


Florida enters uncertain battle over district lines

Florida is supposed to be the Sunshine State, but the outlook is cloudy for the future of the congressional delegation there. A constitutional amendment enacted into law by voters in 2010 prohibits the creation of lines "drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent." How courts interpret that language -- part of the amendment shorthanded as Fair Districts -- may determine the future political makeup of the delegation. And because there is little legal precedent on a law such as this, the outcome is anyone's guess. "This is really uncharted territory -- for both parties," influential Florida Democratic strategist Steve Schale said. A compromise congressional redistricting map, hashed out between the state's two GOP-controlled legislative chambers, passed the state House last week and is expected to soon pass the Senate. Republicans expect Gov. Rick Scott to sign it into law. But before those lines, which would solidify the strong GOP advantage in the delegation, can be put into effect, they must pass both federal preclearance under the Voting Rights Act and the scrutiny of the state courts. Democrats are certain to sue over the lines as soon as the map becomes law, arguing that it violates the Fair Districts standards. "The maps are drawn to Republican advantage and incumbent protection," a Florida Democratic operative familiar with the redistricting process said. "What they have done is basically cement the partisan advantage from their maps 10 years ago in this map." Republicans counter that they were nonpartisan in their drawing of Congressional lines and followed the law as it was written. They insist they met their primary obligation under the new state constitutional language: to prevent a map that resulted in the diminishment of the opportunity for minority voters to elect candidates of their choice. Because the crux of Democrats' case will be on the political bent of the lines, they'll be burdened with trying to prove GOP intent, as the law doesn't prohibit gerrymandering, only doing so intentionally.


Stimulus dry-up hurts Florida's economic recovery


Bill aimed at helping Fidelity run a state retirement program passes first House stop


Floridians oppose cutting hospital funding, industry group says


Department of Health reorganization plan worries counties


Corporate sponsors for state trails?


Pythons’ toll demands action,0,2152090.story


Opponents trap Senate ethics bill in committee


The payroll tax fight re-emerges


Latest employment numbers show continued recovery (Richard Trumka quoted)


The middle class is being squeezed out


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