Today's news -- January 10, 2017



Senate panel to discuss testing in public schools *

A Florida Senate committee will take up the hot-button issue of testing in public schools this week, with its chairman looking for ways cutback on the time students spend taking exams. "It's time for us to do a very, very serious look at the amount of testing we do," said Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, who is the chairman of the Senate's pre-K-12 budget panel. That committee is to meet Wednesday at 10 a.m. in Tallahassee for a workshop on K-12 testing policy and funding. Simmons said he thinks public schools face "tremendous, tremendous collateral damage" from current testing rules, including a loss of classroom time that hurts teachers abilities "to actually teach the students." The veteran Republican has been a long-time supporter of Florida's school accountability rules, which include using test data to judge student, teacher and school performance. But he said he'd be interested in looking at ways to curtail the number of tests given and to reduce costs. Testing has been one of the most controversial education issues in the state in recent years, and other lawmakers have suggested changes to state-mandated exams, including swapping national tests, such as the SAT, for state ones. But, so far, the alterations made have been relatively minor. The state's testing program includes standardized language arts and math exams for students in grades 3 through high school, as well as science and social studies tests for students in certain grades and classes. The 2017 testing season begins Feb. 27.


More Florida teachers qualify for smaller Best and Brightest bonus


Tax credit voucher warrants a court challenge *

Recent legislative claims of “record spending increases” on public education ignore two facts:

• Public school funding has not kept up with inflation.

• The Legislature has consistently undermined the education system to advance its “school choice” privatization agenda.

Since 1999, the Legislature has ratcheted up high-stakes testing, connecting it to teacher salaries and a punitive school-grading system, all in efforts to decimate professional morale and reduce public trust in our schools. Incredibly, however, financially strapped school districts have found ways to improve student performance under this paradigm despite the legislative squeeze. And make no mistake, the financial squeeze remains. Lawmakers have authored their privatization policy barrage while providing no increases, in terms of real, per-pupil dollars, since 2007. Meanwhile, the Legislature has spent nearly $3 billion on private voucher schools since 2001 through the Tax Credit Scholarship program. Tax-credit voucher proponents misleadingly characterize the Florida Education Association’s constitutional challenge to the voucher program as an “assault” on children. In truth, however, the lawsuit is trying to ensure a high quality education for all children, as Florida’s constitution demands. While our public schools are subjected to constant evaluation, testing and criticism, the Legislature has exempted voucher schools from the same treatment. Voucher students don’t take the same high-stakes, standards-based tests. Indeed, the Department of Education’s 2016 report finding that voucher school children scored tiny “negative gains” in both reading and math over the course of a school year, tells us nothing about how their performance compares to their Florida public school peers. The Legislature has failed to establish meaningful, apples-to-apples comparisons between voucher and public school students. Just because a school is private doesn’t mean that it provides a high-quality education. For example, some private religious schools that accept vouchers use a curriculum based on Bob Jones University’s Life Science textbook, which teaches the fiction that dinosaurs and humans were contemporaries. The Bob Jones curriculum, through its United States History for Christian Schools, also contends that the Ku Klux Klan was a respected Christian reform organization. Like it or not, it’s evident that some religious schools view indoctrination as more important than education. And since they receive public funds, that’s not OK in Florida. Florida’s “no religious aid” clause in the Constitution is stronger than most states’ clauses. The state’s Constitution not only forbids direct taxpayer aid to promote religion, it forbids indirect aid as well. A legislative act that reroutes would-be tax dollars to private, religious voucher schools flies in the face of Florida’s prohibition against indirect aid, and the current lawsuit should go forward to invalidate the voucher program. The school privatization movement has become a big industry in Florida, and it spends lavishly in school board and legislative elections. Privatization proponents have used dubious tactics to promote their agenda — they have even attacked this writer’s family. In their efforts to discredit my criticism of the voucher program, tax credit scholarship proponents have attacked my husband’s involvement with a special-needs school that accepts money from a different state program. Florida citizens should be very concerned that money and politics have been used to promote poor educational quality in our state. Constitutionally, the education of our children is a fundamental value for all Floridians. Substandard educational quality hurts us all. The voucher program should have its day in court.


Teachers unions mount campaign against DeVos *

National teachers unions are mounting an aggressive campaign against Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary, arguing that she is an ideological extremist with a record of undermining the public schools her department would oversee. The National Education Association, the largest labor union in the nation, is mobilizing teachers to call and email their senators, urging a vote against DeVos’s confirmation. The president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, delivered a speech Monday in which she said that DeVos endangers a new and fragile bipartisan consensus on the federal government’s role in education. “Betsy DeVos is not qualified, and even more than unqualified, Betsy DeVos is an actual danger to students — especially our most vulnerable students,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “She has made a career trying to destroy neighborhood public schools, the very cornerstone of what’s made our nation so strong.” DeVos is a Michigan billionaire and major Republican donor who, during the past two decades, has focused her energy and political contributions on promoting charter schools and taxpayer-funded vouchers for private and religious schools. [DeVos and her family members are major donors to the senators who will vote on her confirmation] She played a key role in shaping the freewheeling charter-school sector in her home state, which even some charter supporters say lacks quality, oversight and transparency. And she has been a powerful force in pushing for new voucher programs, donating to state lawmakers who favor such programs. She also has been openly hostile to teachers unions, describing them as standing in the way of an improved education system.

Weingarten said DeVos, a champion of private-school vouchers and public-private charter schools, lacks the qualifications and experience needed to lead the USA’s education efforts. "She hasn't taught in a public school,” Weingarten said. “She hasn't served on a school board. She never attended a public school, nor did she send her kids to one. She's a lobbyist, but she's not an educator. One wonders why she was nominated." In choosing DeVos, she said, Trump has turned a blind eye to the “many quiet solutions” offered by public schools, such as teacher collaboration, community schools, home visiting and other efforts focused on student well-being and achievement. The choice also ignores a bipartisan consensus forged last year by congressional lawmakers that returned a measure of control over public schools to the states after years of heavy federal oversight. Trump’s choice of DeVos, Weingarten said, was “the antithesis of public education and all it represents.”


DeVos hearing delayed

The confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s Education secretary pick, has been pushed back by almost a week, leadership of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions said on Monday night. Senate HELP's hearing for DeVos will now take place on Jan. 17 at 5 p.m., not Wednesday, Jan. 11, as originally planned, Sen. Lamar Alexander, the committee’s chair, and Sen. Patty Murray, the panel's top Democrat, announced. The two lawmakers said in a statement that the schedule change was made “at the request of the Senate leadership to accommodate the Senate schedule.” The move comes after Democrats, including Murray, had called for DeVos’ confirmation hearing to be delayed because the Office of Government Ethics has not finished its ethics review of the billionaire education activist’s finances. Democrats argued that the hearing should not be held until DeVos’ ethics and financial disclosure paperwork is finalized.


DeVos plays hardball with her wealth

“She is the most emblematic kind of oligarchic figure you can put in a cabinet position,” said Jeffrey Winters, a political scientist at Northwestern University who studies economic elites. “What she and the Kochs have in common is the unbridled use of wealth power to achieve whatever political goals they have.”


Big worries about DeVos

DeVos also faces a big challenge in explaining the damage she’s done to public education in her home state, Michigan. She has poured money into charter schools advocacy, winning legislative changes that have reduced oversight and accountability. About 80 percent of the charter schools in Michigan are operated by for-profit companies, far higher than anywhere else. She has also argued for shutting down Detroit public schools, with the system turned over to charters or taxpayer money given out as vouchers for private schools. In that city, charter schools often perform no better than traditional schools, and sometimes worse.


Jeb Bush makes case for Trump’s education secretary pick


Cynthia Moore: School Board member, teacher and generous volunteer (HCTA mentioned)


District set to fire two teachers accused of giving hints on state tests (Kathi Gundlach quoted)


Campbell Brown’s move to Facebook is an education in poor reporting

Scott proposes freezing fees, Bright Futures extension

Seeking to keep higher-education costs low and help more students graduate on time, Gov. Rick Scott today will outline an ambitious legislative agenda to cap student fees, eliminate sales taxes on textbook purchases and extend the Bright Futures scholarships to summer classes. "Florida students should have every opportunity to earn a degree in four years without graduating with mountains of debt," Scott said in a statement. "While we have fought to make higher education more affordable by holding the line on undergraduate tuition, there is much more that can be done to help students." The newest twist in Scott's higher-education proposals, which he calls "Finish in Four, Save More," for the 2017 Legislature is an effort to curb fees. Students at Florida's 12 state universities pay about $200 per credit hour on average to attend school. But half of that charge is for fees covering services such as health care, student activities, technology and transportation. Scott wants to freeze fees for university students as well as for students who attend Florida's 28 state colleges. "I am calling on the state Legislature to freeze all fees at state colleges and universities," Scott said. Scott also wants to freeze tuition at the state colleges, as he has previously pushed at the state universities, saying it would make sure students "aren't burdened with the constant skyrocketing costs." Scott also is renewing his call to extend the Bright Futures scholarships to summer classes. The merit scholarships now only apply to classes taken in the fall and spring semesters. Making the scholarships cover courses during the summer will help students graduate in four years, said Scott, who has supported the scholarship extension since 2015, although lawmakers have yet to embrace the idea. Scott's proposal could compete somewhat in the 2017 legislative session with a plan from Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who wants to have Bright Futures cover the entire tuition cost for top scholarship students, known as "academic scholars." The scholarships now only pay about half the cost of fees and tuition. Scott is also renewing his call to eliminate sales taxes on textbook purchases by university and college students. The tax break would save students about $48 million a year.


Cuts are taking the heaviest toll on colleges that serve the neediest students


Report: Florida ranks 47th in country in child health care


Miamians spend nation's highest share of income on rent, census data shows


Like Pitbull deal, terminating Florida tourism chief will be pricey


State poised to allow aquifer pumping near Silver Springs


Privatization under Trump could carry a heavy price


GOP leaders vow to plow ahead with Obamacare repeal


Voters skeptical of Obamacare repeal without a replacement plan


Muted response from health lobby as Affordable Care Act faces repeal


Scott to Congress: Obamacare must be “completely overhauled”


Russia’s DNC hack was only the start


U.S. blacklists five Russians, a close Putin aide among them


Russian hacking a threat to U.S. democracy


Here’s a guide to the Trumpian spin on the Russian hacking report


Obama heads home to Chicago to say farewell the nation


How to watch Obama’s farewell address


Eight years later, “Yes, we can” became “Yes, he did”


Obama retools his political operation for post-Trump


Warren: “This is ridiculous,” no hearings until ethics concerns addressed


Trump's Cabinet hearings must be delayed, ethics lawyers for Bush and Obama say


Ethics reports lag for Trump nominees facing confirmation hearings this week


Restaurants run by Labor nominee report “disturbing” rates of sexual harassment


Sessions has spent his whole career opposing voting rights


Sessions could return criminal justice to the Jim Crow era


NAACP Legal Defense Fund takes aim at Sessions in new report on his record


Sessions has a history of blocking black judges


Faith leaders rally to protest Sessions’ nomination


Sessions sought criminal probe against a liberal group for engaging in free speech


Inside Sessions' strategy to combat racism allegations


Sessions failed to disclose oil interests as required, ethics experts say


Trump's promises to be tested early by Sessions confirmation fight


How Exxon, under Tillerson, won Iraqi oil fields and nearly lost Iraq


Rubio holds big cards in Tillerson confirmation


Activist implore Rubio to vet Trump’s Cabinet picks


Health nominee sought perks for medical industry donors


Cabinet nominees need extreme vetting from the Senate, not rubber stamps


Trump names son-in-law as senior adviser, testing anti-nepotism law


Kushner will sell many of his assets, but ethics lawyers worry


Trump pick plagiarized parts of her Ph.D. dissertation


Republican hypocrisy on Trump’s nominees


The epic showdown between Mitch McConnell and Mitch McConnell


Trump camp faces a complex scramble in avoiding potential conflicts


What Trump is really saying in his tweets: I’m weak


Trump, trapped in his lies, keeps lying. Sad!


Women’s march on Washington opens contentious dialogues about race


In statehouses won by GOP, first move is to consolidate power by hobbling unions



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