Today's news -- February 9, 2012







Paranoia is justified on charter-school bill

In their despair, people who care deeply about public education in Florida sometimes get a little carried away. They mutter about dark forces that, in the guise of reforming schools, conspire to undo public education while they divert school money to their businessmen buddies. You listen the way you listen to conspiracy theorists, slightly embarrassed, thinking that all this just sounds too diabolical to be believed. Then Senate Bill 1852 was rammed through the Senate Education Committee this week. Champions of public education can invoke that old Woody Allen line: Just because they’re paranoid doesn’t mean somebody isn’t out to get them. Indeed, Committee Chairman Sen. Stephen Wise’s bill would devastate school district budgets, taking millions out of their construction and maintenance funds and sending the money to the private players, mostly landlords, behind the state’s charter schools. The bill would require school districts to share, proportionately, on a per-student basis, property-tax collections earmarked for construction, maintenance and leasing of educational facilities and equipment. Every urban school district in the state would get walloped. Broward schools figure passage of the bill would reduce their next fiscal year budget by $20 million. Miami-Dade, the state’s largest school district, figures to lose the most. Ron Steiger, deputy chief budget officer for Miami-Dade schools, calculated the losses. Charter schools would get 11 percent, or $37 million, of the next fiscal year’s $267 million construction and maintenance budget. That would be bad enough news for a district in which about 50 percent of the district buildings are 40 years or older, and 34 percent are 50 years or older. But the budget has another complication. Most of that remaining $230 million must go to pay off the district’s mandatory obligations, including some $180 million due as debt payment on bonds, $27 million for property insurance and $8 million to satisfy legal obligations stemming from the Americans with Disabilities Act. That leaves the district only about $12 million to spend on maintenance for the entire year. The consequences become more dire in subsequent years, when debt payment obligations increase, causing the district’s construction and maintenance to descend, if this bill passes, into the red. With less than nothing for maintenance. The school district would be forced to reach into a general fund already devastated by budget cuts and rising medical costs.


Florida House sets up budget for final vote

After more than five hours of debate, the House on Wednesday readied their $69.2 billion budget up for a final vote today. The spending plan includes a $1 billion boost for education, which is paid for in part, by a reduction in Medicaid reimbursement rates. State Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, who is the House’s top education budget-writer, said some of the money is backfilling, but the move still represents a concrete policy decision to inject more money into the system. “It is real money,” Coley said. Public schools saw a $1.3 billion cut last session. This increase largely puts the House proposal in line with budget proposals put forward by Gov. Rick Scott and the spending plan being crafted in the Senate.


House won't recommend PECO funds for traditional public schools

A proposed amendment to the House spending plan prompted a spirited debate about charter schools Wednesday. At issue: a provision in the budget that allocates $55 million in Public Education Capital Outlay dollars to charter schools. Traditional public schools, which once relied upon PECO dollars for construction and maintenance projects, wouldn't receive any. Rep. Martin Kiar, D-Davie, pitched an amendment that would split the funds evenly between traditional public and charter schools. "It’s really an amendment about fairness," Kiar said. House Republicans disagreed. Several noted that traditional public schools can levy property taxes to support construction and maintenance, while charter schools cannot. They argued that the PECO funds would help make up the difference. "It is a sad thing that after 12 years of education reform, we still have this debate," said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, a charter school supporter. "What we have here is a group of schools that are still being treated as stepchildren." Democrats like Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, pushed hard for the amendment, saying public PECO funds should not benefit privately owned charter-school facilities. "It was never the intention, when charter schools were established, for capital funds to go to charter schools,” Kriseman said. But in the end, the amendment failed -- and the House budget proposal will still allocate all $55 million in PECO funds to charter schools.


Seminole schools hit by state budget amendment

The Florida House is advancing an education budget with a warning shot to school districts and specifically to Seminole County schools: try to raise taxes, and we'll cut your salaries and ability to close schools. The House education funding bill, HB 5101, was amended Wednesday on the floor to explicitly prohibit school districts that have tried and failed to raise a half-cent sales tax from closing schools, cutting teacher pay, or eliminating art, athletics, music, or magnet programs. The amendment -- which would be in effect just one year – applies to just one school district: Seminole, where voters rejected a proposed half-cent tax in 2010. The school district is considering seeking a 1-mill property-tax increase this year. The amendment, offered by Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, and supported by Rep. Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary, was defended as an effort to force districts to be more accountable. However, it doesn't appear it will go far in the Senate. Senate PreK-12 education budget chief David Simmons, R-Maitland, said he wouldn't be offering similar language. "I do not agree with punitive measures for Superintendent [Bill] Vogel's good-faith attempt to bring an issue to public debate," Simmons said. The Brodeur amendment would require the district to complete districtwide rezoning and cut the salary of administrators making $100,000 or more by at least 25 percent. The district said 29 administrators would be affected. The district would also be prevented from closing off "other student options" such as magnet schools for addressing budget woes – Seminole has rejected three charter-school applications -- and any budget decisions would have to be made by the Legislative Budget Commission, a panel of lawmakers that meets in Tallahassee.,0,5244128.story


Sales taxes in the Internet age


Sales tax holiday is loony


Negron: Don’t call Senate budget a cutback

Official: 10 states get NCLB waiver

The Associated Press has learned that President Barack Obama today will free 10 states from the strict requirements of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law. The move gives long-sought leeway to states that promise to improve how they prepare and evaluate students. A White House official says the states are Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Tennessee. The official says the only state that applied for but was denied the flexibility is New Mexico, which is working to get approval. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the states had not been announced. The law requires all students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014. Obama's action strips away that requirement in exchange for a viable substitute plan.


District grades leave teachers bristling, officials defensive (B Grassel quoted)


Pasco schools fined for overcrowding (Lynne Webb quoted)


School board chair looks for Hernando cuts (HCTA mentioned)


Protesters greet Wisconsin governor in Naples (Joanne McCall quoted in first three, Bob Rushlow and Mark Castellano in the fourth)


Letters blast, insult Lee school officials (Mark Castellano quoted)


Now to rating parents: Where does it end?


State officials urge two-year hiatus on new school buildings


Florida ranks sixth in students passing AP exams,0,4239187.story


Millions will join NEA's Read Across America Day on March 2 (Dennis Van Roekel quoted)


AFT members carry common core standards forward


Break the cycle of cuts for Florida universities,0,2555686.story


Budget bill would make USF Polytechnic state’s 12th university


Tuition for higher ed likely going up, but details remain murky


UWF president accepts $41,000 bonus (Steve Belko quoted)


FSU student political parties debate (UFF mentioned)


The Scott record on jobs


Protesters sing “Hey Ricky” outside Scott’s office


States negotiate deal for homeowners over foreclosures,0,5624331.column


Berman back with new lies about unions

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